The kids will not stop yelling at the mall. You have a deadline to meet and tons of work undone. You have just realized you have maxed out your credit card and are deep in debt.
There is one word that aptly describes this scenario, and that is stress. Stress is part and parcel of daily life. This is simply because stress is the body’s way of reacting to demands or threats. Ideally, when you begin to sense danger approaching, regardless of whether it is all in the mind or it is tangible, the body gears up to defend itself – an involuntary process that is referred to as the stress response.
This happens because it is the body’s natural way of keeping safe from harm. When this response is functional at optimum levels, it allows you to remain alert with an ability to focus. In fact, research goes as far as showing us that stress can actually help save a life – say by allowing the body more oxygen intake to run away from a potentially harmful situation.
Needless to say, stress is what helps achieve goals and tackle challenges head-on. To put it in simpler terms, this is what helps a student study for their exams instead of binge watching trash TV. It is also the reason why one is keener when preparing for a presentation that determines their promotion. This is what is referred to as positive stress.
Beyond a certain point however, stress stops being positive and starts impacting one’s health negatively, often leading to health conditions. Left unchecked, such a high level of stress not only lowers the quality of life; it also reduces productivity and strains relationships. Below are the top 10 ways to reduce stress quickly and effectively.
1. Identify the Root of the Stress in your Life:
Reducing stress effectively starts with pinpointing the root cause of the stress. While this sounds so easy to do, it is not as straight-forward as it sounds. Granted, it is easy to spot stressors such as settling in a new town, losing one’s job or even a sudden illness.
The challenge lies in identifying the source of long-term stress that can be very intricate. Part of the reason why this happens is that it is easy to ignore one’s thoughts, emotions and habits because over time they have become a default response.
To pinpoint the source of stress, use the following simple tips:
- Are you overwhelmed and constantly trying to figure out how to do a million things at one go, regardless of the fact that you cannot recall when you last took a step back to analyze the situation?
- Has stress become part of your daily life, so that you find yourself saying things like – my workplace is always hectic – or does it constitute part of your personality that is – I admit I get nervous a lot?
- Do you view stress as a normal thing that one can deal with successfully or is it always someone else’s fault or doing?
The reason these questions are important is because they help you accept the role and responsibility you have within the stress experienced. This is the first step to reducing stress quickly and effectively.
2. Connect with your Support System:
This is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress levels. An excellent support system makes a great difference for an individual struggling with stress. Such a network often includes family, friends, and colleagues at the workplace as well as former school mates. Often, such people may not only be able to provide practical help, but also go a long way in helping one to relax.
The activities that usually accompany these bonding sessions are typically full of laughter and good cheer. Laughter is the best medicine, goes the saying. But what exactly is the science behind this idea?
Laughter reduces the concentration of stress hormones in the body, and increases the production of endorphins. This is an important stress reliever because endorphins enhance one’s well-being and helps stabilize moods. Additionally, talking to close friend or family member also goes a long way in helping find solutions to deal with the stressors.
3. Get Adequate Rest Each Night:
All of us are well aware that stress leads to poor sleeping patterns and insomnia. Sadly, one of the main reasons why stress occurs is because of poor sleeping patterns. If this is left unmanaged, it creates a vicious cycle that throws the body’s system out of balance.
Sadly, it tends to worsen over time. As expected, the best way to counter this is to get enough sleep. It is recommended to aim for between seven and eight hours a night, but this typically varies from one person to another depending on pre-existing conditions.
Below are some of the simple ways to help you get a good night’s rest:
- Make your bedroom or sleeping area a peaceful haven. Get rid of clutter and ensure that it is free from distractions. Interestingly, gadgets are one of the ways in which people distract themselves and fail to get adequate rest.
- Ensure that your lights can be dimmed to allow the body to relax quickly.
- Create a sleeping routine that will help alert the body it is time to sleep. This may include meditation, reading, listening to music or simply having a long warm shower using your favorite gels.
4. Build up on Healthy Habits:
In line with poor sleeping patterns, unhealthy eating habits have also been shown to impact one’s stress levels. Some of the most common include excessive alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, binge eating and drug addiction among others.
These habits, while seemingly providing a way to cope, only do so temporarily. In the long term, they are a rocking chair with devastating effects on the body as they do not provide any solution’s to life’s problems. To counter this, it is important to get to the root of the matter at hand and the source of the stress.
NOTE: It is important to mention that generally, men are more likely to indulge in these habits for the simple reason that women are more likely to talk to and get help from within their social networks. It further highlights the need of a support system amongst one’s social circles.
5. Take on New Challenges:
Getting out of your comfort zone has a remarkably positive effect on the body and mind as it helps to build up one’s confidence. Teach yourself to set goals and not to run away from challenges. Whether it is learning the ropes at a new job, settling to a foreign country or even getting a new hobby, these challenges help to build mental fortitude and therefore help one to cope with stress. By creating an environment where you are constantly learning something new, you are equipped with more knowledge and can make better decisions.
6. Take Self-Care Seriously:
In the mental health field, one of the most popular quotes is, “You cannot pour from an empty cup”. What this simply means is that it is impossible to care for others and function well without first taking care of yourself, hence the word, self-care.
Self-care, by definition, refers to actions that one may undertake for the purposes of reaching optimal health, physically, mentally and emotionally. As such, activities revolving around self-care may range from walking in the outdoors, to meditating, journaling, therapy and even gardening.
Other activities may include taking ‘me-time’, travelling and yoga. The most important thing to know about self-care is that it allows the body to de-stress, effectively dissipating stress quickly.
7. Lead an Active Lifestyle:
One of the ways in which the body can cope under intense stress is when you exercise regularly. Granted, exercise does not make the stress disappear, but it does an excellent job at diffusing the emotionally charged situations. This is helpful because it clears one’s thoughts, allowing you to think through issues with greater clarity.
Exercising regularly does not necessarily require you to be a gym buff. Sometimes even half an hour of brisk walking or swimming does a great deal. The idea is to be consistent, and if need be, work your way upwards in terms of exercise intensity and time taken. Other simple ways in which you can incorporate exercise into your daily life include:
– Walking your dog
– Cycling to work
– Taking the stairs instead of the lifts
– Getting an accountability partner to work out with
– Strolling to the grocery store
Most importantly, make sure that you enjoy whatever you do to get you moving!
8. Listen to Soothing Music:
One of the ways to de-stress is to listen to relaxing music. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, or like you cannot possibly cope with life’s demands, take a break and play calm music. Scientifically, this has been shown to have a positive effect on the body and brain.
One of the most important ways in which this is achieved is with the reduced production of a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol belongs to the family of stress hormones which, when in high concentrations, causes stress and burn out. IF you’d like, you may take on classical music. If this is not your favorite genre, find music that soothes your weary soul.
9. Have a Positive Outlook in Life:
This is a question of whether the glass if half full or half empty. One’s outlook on life determines the lens with which they will view life. Look at the bigger picture. If the outcome of the situation at hand will not matter in a month, or a year, then it may not be worth getting upset over. This point of view is helpful as it helps you shift perspective and channel your energy elsewhere.
In some instances, one way to manage stress is to use stressors for a more positive result. For instance, if traffic jams make you nervous, how about using the time to read while on the subway? Or perhaps drive as you listen to your favorite podcast? Do you find that you are constantly rushing to work and feel stressed out about dropping the kids off at school? How about using that time on the daily commute to bond with them before the day starts? There are simple ways to alter stressful situations by simply re-framing the problems.
10. Take Deep Breaths:
This may sound cliché, but taking a deep breath is one of the greatest stress busters. This explains in part, why monks are intentional about breathing. Shallow breathing, that is very common among many people, causes stress.
This is in sharp contrast with deep breathing that allows oxygenated blood to get to the organs, helps clear the mind and centers the body.
Below are easy steps to use when taking deep breaths to manage stress.
- Sit upright on your chair, making sure your feet touch the floor flatly and place your hands on top of your knees.
- Breathe in as deeply as you can, all the while focusing on the lungs as you take a full inhalation.
- Hold your breath for a second and then exhale deeply.
- Repeat this as often as you need to.
Additional tips that you may use to manage stress include practicing gratitude, learning to forgive, letting go of toxic relationships and accepting that stress can be dealt with. In the event that chronic stress is not managed using the tips above, it is important to seek professional help. This is because chronic stress often causes seemingly unrelated health issues and can lead to a mental breakdown.