These are stressful times, no question. In between the health issues, the social issues, and the heat, it seems the whole world is in an uproar.
All of this can raise your stress to harmful levels — but the good news is it doesn’t have to. You don’t have to let everything that’s going on around you increase the amount of stress you’re feeling. Instead, you can adopt habits that don’t increase your stress and all the bad things that go with increased stress levels — including higher blood pressure, poor sleep, potential heart issues, increased susceptibility to disease, and many more.
Here are some of the best simple stress reducers that can help bring a little calm into your life.
The good news about stress-reducing exercise is that it doesn’t have to take hours and it doesn’t have to generate gallons of sweat. Just about any type and any level of exercise can help reduce the amount of stress you feel.
Why? Exercise releases endorphins; the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain that help counteract stress. Also, with many forms of exercise, the amount of concentration you devote to the exercise helps distract your mind from obsessive thoughts that can lead to stress. Think of it as meditation without meditating.
Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Exercise is even better for you if it’s an activity that you love — and just about any activity can be an excuse for exercise, including gardening and other yard work, building and refinishing furniture … even kneading bread dough.
Sewing? Well, that might be hard, but you can read and watch TV while pedaling an exercise bike, and even this story was written while standing up — a simple form of exertion that has been proven to have positive stress-reducing benefits for desk-bound folks.
Everyone’s path to activity is going to be a little different, so choose something that you love that doesn’t hurt when you do it, work it into your daily routine, and enjoy all the benefits.
For many people, eating is their first reaction to stress. Lots of us stress-eat, and even though we often feel guilty about it, we continue to do it anyway.
We can’t always keep ourselves from diving head-first into the Cheetos, but we can work to keep the occurrences down to a minimum. Some of the best ways to avoid falling to a vicious circle of stress-eating include:
Eating three balanced meals to start with. If you start with a healthy base that includes the right amounts of protein, fruits and veggies, and vitamins and minerals, the temptation to go off-script will be lessened.
Making healthy alternatives accessible. If you need something to eat right now, make sure the first thing you see is a bunch of grapes or carrots and hummus, and not a bag of cookies. In this case, out of sight really can be out of mind.
Making lifestyle changes around times when you normally stress-eat. If your binge time is after 9 p.m. at night, make that the time you play piano, clean toilets, or do some non-food-related activity that occupies your mind and your hands.
Setting aside a very small window for stress-eating. This is a bit of a slippery slope and definitely not for everyone, but if you absolutely need a stress-eating time, make it once a week for no more than 20 minutes.
See above, but double the warnings. Stress-eating and stress-drinking are both unhealthy, but stress-drinking can have some very bad and well-documented outcomes.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA), 14.4 million adults have alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse contributes to more than 88,000 deaths annually and costs the U.S. almost $250 billion a year.
Responding to stress by having a drink is a powerful urge, but it’s an ineffective response — not only because of the social costs of alcohol abuse, but because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, putting you in an even deeper hole instead of helping you out.
If you have questions about the over-consumption of alcohol while social distancing, the NIAAA has resources that can help.
Sleep gives your body a chance to recover from all you ask of it these days. More importantly, it does the same thing for your mind.
Getting your eight hours of sleep is more important now than ever. If you find it hard to get to sleep and stay asleep, try staying away from devices and screens late in the evening, and make your room as dark and cool as you can.
Carving Out “Me” Time
Especially for parents, these days are nonstop studies in doing your work, doing your chores, and keeping the kids entertained. “Me” time seems like an impossibility.
Here’s the thing: You can’t bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. You need to focus on doing what you can do. And you need to give yourself some time to recharge.
As Harvard Health notes, you need to “allow yourself to physically, mentally, emotionally check out on a regular basis” by “intentionally creating ‘shutdown’ time in your schedule.”
Tony Bennett, the Stevens Point kid who won a national collegiate basketball championship with the University of Virginia, is fond of quoting the phrase “give it your best and live with it.” That’s what you have to do these days — and that means doing the right things to take care of yourself.