Stress is an inevitable part of life. From work deadlines to financial pressures to relationship issues, we all encounter things that can leave us feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and emotionally drained. While a little bit of stress can actually be beneficial by motivating us into action, prolonged and chronic stress takes a major toll on both physical and mental health. The good news is there are many effective strategies for reducing stress so you can find inner peace and contentment even in the midst of outside turmoil.
Start from Within
The first key in managing stress is to identify your personal stress triggers. Make a list of the people, places, things and situations that cause you the most tension. Are there certain times of day when you feel more stressed? Do arguments with a family member leave you feeling agitated for hours afterwards? Once you know what specifically induces stress for you, you can start to develop coping mechanisms tailored to those unique triggers.
Having strong social support can greatly reduce reactions to stressful incidents. Talk to close friends and family members about what’s bothering you instead of internalizing every worry and concern. Keeping emotions bottled up leads to increased feelings of anxiety and isolation. Knowing you have people in your corner who care about your wellbeing makes a big difference. You may also consider speaking to a therapist if you don’t feel you have adequate social support.
Establish Healthy Habits
Incorporating healthy daily habits goes a long way in managing overall stress levels. Make sure you are eating a balanced, nutritious diet full of lean protein, fruits and vegetables. Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol and reliance on sugary, fatty comfort foods. Stay hydrated by drinking at least 64 ounces of water per day. Regular exercise is also vitally important, as physical activity releases endorphins which boost mood as well as alleviate muscle tension. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day of cardio, strength training and stretching.
Prioritize restorative sleep so you wake up feeling refreshed instead of fatigued. Keep screens out of the bedroom, stick to a regular sleep schedule and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. Use white noise or relaxing music to drown out disruptive sounds. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night in order to function at their best.
Journey Into Mindfulness
There are many relaxation techniques that activate the body’s calmness response to counteract the fight-or-flight response triggered during tense times. Regulated breathing is one of the fastest ways to get anxiety and stress hormones under control. Close your eyes and take long, slow breaths, making each inhale and exhale last for 5-10 seconds. Visualization is another relaxing tactic involving picturing a peaceful scene like walking along the beach or through a flower-filled meadow. Let your senses come alive imagining the sights, sounds and smells of your serene visualized location.
Mindfulness meditation has become an enormously popular stress relief strategy. The goal is to zone in on the present moment instead of rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Simply sit comfortably, pay attention to your inhales and exhales and observe any thoughts or sensations that arise without judgment or attachment. Yoga, tai chi and qigong also cultivate mindfulness through coordinated breathwork and flowing movements.
If your mind tends to race with stressful thoughts at night, keep a pen and pad beside your bed. Jot down anything that’s nagging at you before bed so you can let it go for the night knowing you can address it in the morning. Maintaining a regular journaling practice is also beneficial for processing emotions and clearing mental clutter.
While just about any physical activity can ease stress after a long tense day, certain workouts are particularly soothing. Try swimming laps at your local pool or community center, as the repetitive motions paired with floating in the water has an extremely calming effect on the nervous system. Gentle forms of yoga and Pilates that emphasize deep breathing and lengthening muscles help release stored tension in the body. Quiet nature walks give you the benefits of fresh air, vitamin D from daylight exposure and the restorative sounds of birds chirping which dial down stress hormones like cortisol.
Dance workouts to fun music you enjoy give an instant mood boost while getting your body moving in a stress-busting cardio workout. One study found African and Latin dance to be especially effective at reducing anxiety, worry and other distressing emotions. Pound out your stress to the beat! Gardening is another hands-on hobby that activates pressure points in the hands and feet similar to reflexology treatments. The life affirming act of growing flowers, herbs and vegetables reconnects us to our natural world, infusing a sense of peace.
Let It Go
While stress is part of life, you get to decide how much power you give it over your health and happiness. Instead of endlessly ruminating over things beyond your control, consciously shift your focus onto thoughts and activities that bring you joy, contentment and meaning. Spend quality time connecting with supportive loved ones, immerse yourself in worthwhile work and hobbies that interest you and make self-care through proper nutrition, exercise and relaxation a priority. Adopting healthy daily habits keeps your body and mind resilient in handling whatever stresses that come your way.