I'm going to preface this post with this statement: I rarely get sick. Aside from the odd cold, I don't really get sick. I rarely get those stomach bugs that knock you off your feet for a day or more.
I like to credit that to healthy eating and exercising. However, this past week, I came down with something awful. And I always try to figure out the source of the bug, kill it and get back to living.
I find that I will often fall ill when there is a lot of stuff going on. In other words, stress makes me sick. It's my body's way of telling me to slow down. After the way things have been going lately, I don't blame it.
So there I was, watching all the episodes I could stand of Fuller House and thinking about everything that needed to be done that day, but could not muster up any energy to do any of it, I was flat out done.
Seriously, thanks body.
But, it got me thinking: I need to reduce the bad stress in my life. See, not all stress is bad. It can vault you in "the zone", increasing your focus, alertness and productivity. But, as many of us know too well, too much stress can be dangerous. It happens when you are in "the zone" a bit too long, and your heart starts racing, your breathing quickens and your blood pressure rises. Side effects aren't just physical either. There have been times where I've taken on too much that my confidence in my ability to do each thing well plummeted.
It is dangerous, unhealthy and uncomfortable. So it's important to intentionally take steps to reduce the amount of stress we experience every day.
Here are six tips that have helped me slowly (and reluctantly - I like to do all the things) learn to slow down. I hope they work for you, too.
I think it's important to understand the source of your stress. For me it's taking on too much at one time. Maybe it's different for you. Once you know what those things that trigger those bad stress responses, you'll be more equipped to manage the stress effectively.
Check Your Diet
I've been there. A quick hit of ice cream. Or one, two or four cupcakes. The food we eat doesn't simply provide fuel for our bodies, but what we eat has a huge role in how we feel, too. The worst offenders: caffeine, alcohol and sugar. You drink so much coffee to get through the day and grab those quick, sugar-laden foods for small bursts of energy. Throughout university, this was a consistent pattern for me. Now that life has not only not slowed down since then, but sped right up, getting my diet on track has really helped me how I experience and manage stress. Some of my sure-fire tips to ensure proper nutrition include
- Plan and prep meals ahead of time.
- Keep healthy snacks in the house.
- Keep a balance. Eat the darn cupcake. Just don't eat four.
Move Your Body
Running is ridiculous. Believe me, I get it. But I also love it. I do it for the endurance. I do it for the strength. I do it for the runner's high. Exercise increases the brain's production of post-workout endorphins, or those feel-good chemicals. Exercise can also improve your sleep (more on this in a bit). It doesn't matter if it's a simple walk or an all out sweat session. Getting that blood flowing and those endorphins pumping definitely helps manage that stress.
Talk to Yourself
Positive self-talk goes a long way to reduce stress. And I'm pretty bad at it. However, I've been getting in to the habit where I ask myself, "would I say this to my best friend?" Because generally we don't tell our friends how awful they are or that they'll never be good enough or that they can't handle this situation. No way! We do what we can to encourage and build them up. So why do we talk to ourselves so negatively? I'll be the first to admit it: positive self talk is hard! It's intentional. It's deliberate. And it's necessary.
When things get a little crazy, I read this and remind myself of these promises.
Have a Laugh
I have found that one of the best stress busters is to laugh. Nothing drives away those negative thoughts and feelings like a overwhelming flow of positive ones. That's why they say laughter is the best medicine. In the short term, laughter can not only release that mental tension, but also physical tension, which leads to an overall state of bliss and relaxation. Well, maybe not. But you're on your way. It's also good over the long term, helping relieve pain, elevate mood and improve your immune system.
If you need a head start, here are 66 videos of babies laughing. Because you can't NOT laugh when a baby laughs like this.
Get Some Shut-Eye
This is often a catch-22. Which came first: poor sleep or the stress? Unfortunately, these two situations form a destructive pattern. And it doesn't take much to feed this pattern. Only a few hours less sleep can increase irritability, exhaustion, and well, stress. So to help reduce stress, I've had to increase sleep. And it's hard. Staying up until 3am thinking about everything you have to do is easy, but it's unhealthy. Here are some strategies I've tried and love:
- Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it.
- Get in some exercise.
- Set up your bedroom properly.
I saved this one for last because it's the best. Deep breathing can help reduce blood pressure, lower your heart rate and allow you to calm yourself and focus. I have found that this technique works best for in-the-moment stress relief, but it has some really good long-term and short-term benefits.
What are your top tips for reducing stress? Let me know by commenting below, sending me a little note or tweeting me @BrittanyBrander.
Until next time,