Hopefully, the holiday season gave you a chance to refresh your mind and body and reflect on the year that has just passed. Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes stressful situations can occur in our lives that are beyond our control. With a whole new year ahead of you, it is important to train the mind and body to stress less when such situations present themselves.
If not managed properly, stress can cause illnesses, relationship breakdowns, hardships and tragedies. By stressing less, you will be less of a ‘reactor’ to external situations, but be in more control and capable of designing a happier, calmer life.
What is stress?
Cortisol, the stress hormone released when we are in fight or flight mode, was good for our ancestors who had saber tooth tigers chasing them. But how does cortisol actually help our performance in the workplace? The caveman was a basic model of what we are today and would shake the effects of cortisol off if he had survived. Although humanity has vastly evolved since then, we have come to accept that stress is a part of our life while having no real understanding of how to release and manage it.
Stress is a fear-based emotion and it is astonishing that some have the belief that stress is good for our performance. The release of cortisol is a natural response to deal with a stressful event; thus, it is more important for the body’s relaxation response to be activated so the body’s functions can return to normal following a stressful event. In our current high-stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal, resulting in a state of chronic stress. When stress compounds on a day-to-day basis without any form of release, this could have disastrous consequences.
The chart below puts together stats from a number of sources (Beyond blue, Heart Foundation, Safe Work Australia, Diabetes Australia) and highlights the potential effect stress is having on our nation.
How to stress less
So, how can you stress less? Stress is manageable, but it does take deliberate action. Here are 10 ways to stress less that you can implement into your daily routine.
1. Stress less by meditating
Scientific research continues to suggest the many benefits of meditation, which includes improved relaxation and the ability to deal with stress. We provide meditation classes for individuals and groups, as well as corporate meditation for workplaces, and even free informational talks, so please do contact us if you would like to find out more about meditation.
2. Stress less through exercise
According to Mayo Clinic, “Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries.” There are numerous short and long term benefits of exercise.
For one, exercise releases chemicals in your body called endorphins, which can boost one’s mood and battle stress and depression. According to WebMD, endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.
Some simple ways to exercise to stress less:
- Take some time out to walk around the office or neighbourhood
- Choose stairs instead of escalators/elevators
- Add exercise into your morning routine (sit ups, push ups, burpees, star jumps and on-the-spot jogs don’t require equipment)
- If you spend most of your time sitting or in front of your computer, take regular breaks to stretch and rest your eyes
3. Stress less by deliberately taking breaks
It is always important to take deliberate breaks. Those with busy schedules may think that taking time out may hinder them from their work, but it can in fact do the opposite: resting the body and mind can help you come up with new ideas or tackle challenges with a whole new approach. As mentioned previously, stress relief is also important in the long run as it helps prevent illnesses and makes challenging situations more manageable.
Breaks could include:
- Dedicated ‘phone off’ days
- Spending time with loved ones
4. Stress less by speaking to someone you trust
Having negative emotions and stressful thoughts is a natural part of human life. Bottling these emotions and thoughts can have detrimental effects to your wellbeing, so it is important to find a trustworthy and understanding person to speak to about these issues.
According to the Better Health Channel, talking to someone you trust can help you:
- Sort through the problem or to see the situation more clearly
- Look at the problem in a new or different way
- Release built-up tension. This can help you to gain new insight into the situation that is causing the problem
- Find out that you are not alone. You may find that many other people share your feelings
- Identify options or solutions you hadn’t thought of before
If necessary, you may need to speak to a professional. Beyond Blue, Kids Helpline and Lifeline are some organisations you may contact within Australia.
5. Stress less by fostering more positive thoughts and emotions
Being positive does not have to mean having a ‘forced’ mood that masks your true thoughts and feelings. Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the university of North Carolina, published a paper on the many benefits of positivity – one core benefit of being happier is that it opens you up to opportunities that you normally would not have access to.
Having a more positive outlook towards life can improve relationships, work-life and overall wellbeing.
Some ways to enhance your positivity:
- Having a journal, or taking five minutes out every morning to reflect on that things you are grateful for
- Pursuing a passion or having a hobby
- Implementing the ‘21-day no complaining experiment’
As you may have noticed, a number of these points are mentioned throughout this blog post – they are, in a sense, correlated and all work together to minimise stress in one’s life.
6. Stress less by stopping and smelling the roses
Similar to taking breaks and fostering more positive thoughts and emotions, it’s important to stop and enjoy the moment. Being grateful for the smaller things, such as the plants on a sidewalk or the simple act of waking up to another day of opportunities can compound to a phenomenal, stress-free life.
Having gratitude also releases a chemical called serotonin into your system. Serotonin is a chemical that causes happiness.
When is the last time you have stopped and smelt the roses? Now is the perfect time to do it.
7. Stress less by eating healthier
A healthier living can prevent/cure illnesses, strengthen focus, improve relationships, boost self confidence and greatly enhance your overall wellbeing. Starting your journey to a life of healthier eating is surprisingly easy.
Here are some easy, general tips. However, please consult a professional for advice relating to your specific needs.
- Drink plenty of water. Try substituting soft drink or coffee with water – if you have become too accustomed to soft drink or coffee, try to make it gradual
- Opt for fresher foods as opposed to fast food and take away
- Eat main meals regularly – don’t skip meals
- Eat plenty of vegetables
8. Stress less by taking up a hobby
Having a hobby can help you reduce stress and force you to commit to a lot of the steps above: taking a break, fostering thoughts and emotions, as well as eating healthier (if you take up a sport).
According to positively present, hobbies can:
- offer a new challenge
- unite you with others
- provide an outlet for stress
- promote staying present
- have physical health benefits
Don’t know what hobby to take? Take time to think about things you enjoy. Experiment and have adventures. Some hobbies could include joining a sporting club, working on a project with friends, writing a book, learning chess, learning an instrument – the options are endless.
9. Stress less by doing a good deed
According to WebMD, there have been a number of studies on the positive effects of altruism – apparently, doing good can improve your lifespan and reduce stress (including the psychological changes that occur when stressed). Studies showed that even the act of watching somebody doing a good deed increases in antibodies associated with the immune system.
There are two sides to doing a good deed. Helping another person also increases the happiness of the recipient. Serotonin flows in a person’s system when they feel significant or important.
Some ways you can instantly do a good deed:
- Genuinely praise someone for their accomplishments, or thank them for times they may have helped you
- Giving someone a thoughtful gift
- Signing up to volunteer work
- Reminder a loved one how important they are in your life
- Helping a stranger
10. Stress less by getting proper sleep
There are endless amounts of research on the benefits of sleep. According to a study by Harvard University, the process of sleep has a profound impact on learning and memory. “Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.”
Here is a table of the general recommended sleep time required for various age groups (information from here):
- Newborns (1 to 2 months) – 10.5 to 18 hours
- Infants (3 to 11 months) – 10 to 14 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 3 years) – 12 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years) – 11 to 13 hours
- School-aged children (5 to 12 years) – 10 to 11 hours
- Adolescents (12 to 18 years) – 8.5 to 9.5 hours
- Adults (18 years to the end of life) – 7.5 to 8.5 hours 1
Having trouble sleeping? Stress can be a major cause of a sleepless night. The steps listed above, such as meditation, exercise, and practicing gratitude are all ways to improve your sleeping patterns. You can also read our post about how meditation improves sleep.
For more advice on a stress free life, please consult Streamline Meditation. Part of this information was drawn from Troy Drake’s blog on LinkedIn. Troy is an accredited Facilitator & Trainer of Streamline Meditation and helps every day people stress less.