Break Free from the Bonds of Stress
Let’s all just agree stress sucks. Big time. Nobody likes to feel overly stressed. Sometimes life just seems so overwhelming that you just want to hide under the blankies and never come out. As cozy as that sounds, it’s really not the best way to deal with it. Sorrynotsorry. When it comes to destressing, a proactive approach gets you quicker – more sustainable – results. Here are 4 ways to help you live a less stressful life.
1. Simplify life
Our brain goes into overdrive whenever we have too much going on. Worrying about an important deadline a week beforehand isn’t very productive. There’s nothing you can do about it, yet your wonderful brain decides to dwell on it anyway, often making it a bigger deal than it actually is. In the Tom Hanks film, “Bridge of Spies”, his character often remarks to the captured spy that he doesn’t seem very worried. His response every time was, “Would it make a difference”?
One of the best ways to decrease stress is to simplify your life. The first step is to set your boundaries and then decide to honour them. It’s actually OK to say no. Say no to the obligations you think you must do in order to stay in control, but are in effect obstacles to your productivity and sanity. Say no to yet another family dinner. Say no to a 100-hour work week. Say no to trying to make 60-seconds happen in only 45. Say no to the next networking event. Instead, say yes. Yes to 30 minutes of me time. Yes to delegating. Yes to focusing on creative solutions. Yes to self-care.
Meditation is an amazing way to train yourself to declutter the mind, similar to the way a fitness coach will pump up your muscles. Even by meditating for a couple of minutes a day, you can greatly increase your relaxation and decrease your stress. If you’re a beginner, the best way to start is to focus on your breath. When you become aware of stress, tension and anxiety growing to uncomfortable levels, take 60 seconds out to just breathe. Say (in your head) “inhale” on the inhale, “exhale” on the exhale.
I used to say I couldn’t meditate to save my life. I didn’t understand all the hype of being still and “emptying your mind”. My mind would wander everywhere, I’d get fidgety, and end up wasting valuable time that could have been spent thinking a problem to death. Then I learned how easy it really was. And that everything that occurs during meditation is actually part of it. And I tricked my ego into letting go of my brain long enough to find the calm inside the storm.
There are many benefits of meditation in addition to decreased stress, such as lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, deeper relaxation, improved concentration and focus, and a reduction in depression, anxiety or pain. Research indicates that meditation can aid in creating new neural pathways in the brain, allowing for a decrease in the activity in the amygdala – the part that tells you there is danger – and an increase in the parts of the brain that retain long-term memories and emotions.
3. Be Healthy
Two important aspects of decreasing your stress level are staying active and eat healthy.
If you stay active by incorporating regular exercise – even if it’s a quick walk around the seawall – you can decrease your stress levels dramatically. It’s important to choose something that you enjoy doing. Don’t go to the gym if you hate it. Instead try dancing or swimming or learn how to hula-hoop. If you have fun there is more chance you’ll stick with it in the long run.
The second component of staying healthy is making discerning choices with your food. During times of stress we tend towards filling the void with whatever is handy and “energy-boosting”. Unfortunately these comfort foods are usually the worst remedies because you end up feeling lethargic and your defenses toward effectively handling stress are shut down. Make a point of keeping a stash of more satisfying snacks that are nutrient, vitamin and mineral rich.
4. Be Social
Social engagement is a great way to reduce stress. It helps you avoid the negative reaction of demotivation and isolation that can often accompany chronic stress. There is nothing more calming to your stress levels than communicating with a close friend. Reach out to your friends and family (not the annoying in-laws) and get connected. No, tweeting or texting with them doesn’t count. Find a good set of ears. Opening up to someone can sometimes be a little awkward at first, so make sure you’re in a zone of safety and you can trust your friend to listen, be compassionate and show empathy. And remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships.
Try out these tips to help you improve your approach to stress. The goal is to find ways to remain calm in the crisis moment, as well as managing life so stress doesn’t get in the way of you enjoying every single day. If you’re finding that doing it on your own isn’t getting you where you need to, seek out a wellness professional. We’ve got many strategies to help you reduce stress and love life.