It’s common to feel stress at times in your life, but when chronic stress takes over, it can lead to physical ailments and reduce the quality of your mental health. “Chronic stress is the base of the pyramid for so many physical illnesses, especially coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Andrew Shatte, psychologist and author of “The Resilience Factor.” “Un-stressed people are better able to dispel their negative feelings and find themselves feeling happier and more optimistic, which in turn has physical health benefits.” Safeguard your emotional and physical well-being with strategies to reduce stress in your life.
De-clutter and de-stress
Toss out the old and make room for the new because clutter that builds up in your home, at work and even in your vehicle can cause unneeded stress. Taking a few moments to tidy up each day can ease your mind and help you to be more productive and accomplished, says Dr. Andrew Shatte. “Start small with a single drawer or the area around your desktop for the mail you’ve stacked up on the kitchen island,” he says. “You’ll feel instant calm and relief with a very tangible sense of having done something.”
Give yourself time
When in a hurry and rushed from point A to point B, the opportunity for stress runs rampant. James Porter, president of StressStop.com, an online resource for stress reduction, suggests expecting delays and giving yourself more time each day. “Expect stress because it happens – don’t be surprised by a traffic jam, a flat tire or an equipment breakdown,” he says. “Allow extra time for things that take longer than you think because time pressure is an underlying cause of a lot of stress.”
Keep a gratitude journal
It is easy to see when things go wrong in your life, and being stressed amplifies this pattern of thought. The more you see going wrong, the more stressed you feel, says Leo Willcocks, Australia-based author of “DeStress to Success.” An easy way to build your stress resilience is to keep a gratitude journal, detailing at least five good things about your life each day. “In the journal, make an active effort to flip your thinking around and notice the good things that are occurring,” he says. “This shifts our perspective and emotions to a balanced state.”
Let the dogs out
Pets are often the key to calming you when anxiety takes over. If you’re feeling stressed, take Fido for a walk or play a game of fetch with man’s best friend. “Pets give us so much affection and allow us to give them affection,” says Dr. Andrew Shatte. “Even just grooming them gives us a soothing respite from our harried lives.” While grooming your dog, Shatte recommends taking a slow breath in for one brush stroke and breathe out for the next. “Controlled breathing is a great relaxation technique,” he says.
Alleviate some stress and share the benefits of your time and care. Random acts of kindness can help you to focus on the needs of others versus the challenges in your life that are causing stress. Volunteering, such as at a homeless shelter or for a beach cleanup, may help you alleviate stress while lifting your mood. “Since depression and stress involve a focus on the inner world, focusing on others shifts your thinking,” says Erena Digonis; New York-based psychotherapist and certified health coach. “When you help others, the feel-good hormones in the brain, such as oxytocin, get activated.”
Sleep it Ooff
If you feel stressed or anxious, it may be likely that you’re not getting enough ZZZs each night. A lack of sleep affects your level of stress significantly, says Dr. Andrew Shatte. The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least seven to nine hours per day for adults. “People who are good sleepers are stronger than bad sleepers at handling distracting thoughts and emotion control,” he says. “One quick and easy way to alleviate stress is to get serious about your sleep. Think you don’t have time for it? Trust me, you don’t have time to ignore it.”
Eliminate toxic friendships
Friends are an essential component of your social well-being, but when toxic relationships are elevating your stress level, it may be time to cut toxic friends loose. “It’s tough when you have invested so much time and energy into a friendship, but there can be times when maintaining these relationships take an extreme emotional toll,” says Rhonda Richards-Smith, Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. Take a step back and assess your stress level when interacting with friends to determine if the friendship is worth keeping. “If not, cherish the good times you had, the lessons you learned and move on,” says Richards-Smith.
Just say no
It’s natural to want to please others, but when agreeing to requests and favors that leave you feeling overwhelmed and stressed, it’s time to say “no” for your own sake. Limit your commitments with one little word to relieve some stress. “Saying ‘no’ creates boundaries for people, which makes their lives more manageable,” says Amy Chang, San Diego-based psychotherapist. “Sometimes, we are fearful that people may not like us if we do not comply with their requests, but if at your expense, you want to make sure you are taking care of yourself first before taking care of others.”
Stop the negative self-talk
Many people assume that stress is caused by others, but it is possible to bring on the stress yourself with negative self-talk and overly critical self-judgment. According to Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin, a Los Angeles-based psychoanalyst, when you speak to yourself critically, it causes anxiety and escalates stress. Phrases such as “How could you do that?” and “You’re so stupid – you should have known better” add unnecessary stress to your mind and body. “Notice the way you talk to and about yourself and be a supporter rather than a critic,” says Savelle-Rocklin.