best ways to reduce stress

With the ongoing global health crisis, stress is a word most of us are becoming very familiar with. Ask yourself, how are you really doing right now? How are you feeling? Thinking? Eating? Living?

It’s a challenging time for all of us. Having your grown children at home (or not seeing them at all), working from home, watching the news, or being alone or cooped up inside without any respite is like putting your mental well-being into a pressure cooker. And yes, we are all ready to just pop!

Especially during this difficult time, it’s important to alleviate your stress as it will also help keep your immune system and your health in check.

But first. What exactly is stress? Stress is a physical response to a stressor. The stressor activates the brain to release hormones to prepare our bodies to respond to a challenge or threat. Our bodies were physiologically designed to fight off what I call the “hungry tiger scenario” in a quick flight or fight response: eat or be eaten. But our body’s stress response mechanism was not meant to handle long periods of elevated stress hormones.

Chronic stress can set off a chain reaction of health effects, leading to disease-causing inflammation, wear and tear on your heart, stomach and muscles, and a number of illnesses. You may experience low blood pressure, low libido, dizziness, exhaustion and anxiety, and develop unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, eating junk food, skipping meals, smoking or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

While we cannot change the stressor, we can change our response. The key is focusing on what you can control, and letting go of that which you cannot.

You may want to explore some of these stress reduction practices. Start with one and see what works best for you.

1. BREATHE. Implement a daily relaxation practice, such as meditation or yoga. It can also be as simple as stopping every hour to be alone for a few moments and just focus on your breathing. Take 10 slow breaths and relax your nervous system.
2. TIME MANAGEMENT. Understand and implement better time management. Learn efficiency, prioritize your tasks, and don’t pack too much into a day.
3. NUTRITION. Many of us are increasingly turning to bags of sweets, salty-crunchy, wine and refined carbs right about now. And it’s probably not because you’re hungry. We are eating because we are stressed, bored, lonely or tired. But it’s critical to listen to your body and to make sure you are eating quality nutrients in the form of fruits, veggies, lean proteins and healthy complex whole grains. Certain foods actually make us feel better and improve our immune and stress response while other foods aggravate our stress response.
4. SLEEP. Sleep is essential to combatting the stress response, so make it a priority to get your zzzs. Now that you don’t have to rush to your workplace (It’s down the hall!), it’s easy to succumb to sleeping in. But don’t. Get up and stick to normal routines – e.g., shower, eat breakfast. Get a good night’s sleep by having a healthy bedtime routine. Perhaps go to bed a bit earlier than usual.
5. EXERCISE. This is one of my favorites. Exercise is critical to our mental health. Working out releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and alleviates the feeling of flight or fight. Getting outside for exercise is an added bonus for fresh air, nature, and exposure to the sun (some added vitamin D). Being outside is also proven to help with depression and anxiety.
6. HERBS & VITAMINS. Adaptogenic herbs and some B vitamins can help regulate cortisol levels and reduce our stress response.

Many of us are so focused on caring for everyone else around us that we often neglect to take care of ourselves. And the result? We suffer. We gain weight, feel overwhelmed, exhausted and unbalanced.

So give yourself unconditional permission to focus and care for yourself. Self-care is the core of our health and happiness and can help you overcome stress with ease. How do we embrace self-care?

First, change your mindset. Start by letting go of past actions, experiences or people that no longer serve you. Keeping yourself in the present, as opposed to ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, will bring you inner peace.

Next, incorporate mindfulness. Being mindful is the simple practice of slowing down and enjoying each step, each breath. How often have you driven somewhere and once you arrived, realized you didn’t remember the route you took or notice anything about your surroundings? Mindfulness occurs when you pause to take a breath of fresh air, feel your leg muscles working as you walk, aware of each foot as it meets the pavement, and notice the grass and trees around you.

Establish a healthy, relationship with food. To eat mindfully means you know what you are putting into your body, how much you are eating, and the pace at which you eat. It means you are enjoying each bite and the company surrounding you, rather than shoveling a sandwich down your throat in one hand while checking your phone in the other hand.

Finally, incorporate gratitude as a habitual part of your life. Gratitude is more than simply feeling thankful for something. It’s a deeper appreciation done unconditionally to show people they are appreciated. It comes with a plethora of benefits – reduced stress, decreased anxiety and depression; improved sense of well-being, openness and calm; strengthened interpersonal relationships; improved optimism and happiness, discipline and focus; better physical and mental health; and an overall better life.

Oscar Wilde said it best, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

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