The hectic pace of our daily lives often has us wondering about the simple ways to de-stress and unwind from all the havoc we seldom manage to escape. The lack of quality sleep, too many chores, too much paperwork in the office, constant rush, and unhealthy irregular meals do huge damage to your health.
It’s time to call for a change when it comes to relieving the accumulated stress induced by these factors. By taking small steps, your quality of living can improve significantly. All you need is a good plan and a strong will to make things better.
These slight changes to your lifestyle can make a huge difference. Sometimes it might take a few extra hours of quality sleep or decreasing the self-imposed workload. Taking care of your diet, surrounding yourself with positive people and spending time with animals may also prove to be extremely helpful. Let’s see how and why.
1. Get some sleep
Sleep scientists are constantly reminding us just how important it is to have quality rest. We strain too much, sacrifice a lot of nerves and energy in order to perform better at work and deliver our maximum potential, all the while our minds and bodies sustain significant damage. This is where sleep makes the scene, bringing unparalleled benefits to our physical and mental health.
Think about sleep as a reset/refresh button on your computer. We all tend to click this every so often. Seeing as the human brain is much more complex than a nanochip, you can only imagine the perks of reset/refresh button when applied to our brain. In fact, sleep deprivation is just as dangerous as any life-threatening condition, especially if it’s an ongoing situation.
Not every sleep cycle is created equal. Sleep patterns differ to a great extent in that your 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. nap is not as beneficial as sleeping through 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sleep efficiency is best achieved if you doze off before midnight, allowing the brain to go from a non-REM to REM phase, thus making a full cycle of quality restorative sleep. Non-REM phase precedes REM and it refers to the light-sleep stage when we can be easily woken up. As our heart rate slowly drops, we enter the REM stage which is when we start dreaming vividly and it’s more difficult to wake us up. It takes around 90 minutes to go from non-REM to REM.
2. Learn to say “No”
Drawing the line and not biting off more than you can chew is actually one of the pivotal changes you can make to improve your stress management. By knowing your limitations, you won’t find yourself in a situation where you’re losing sleep in order to deliver unrealistic results.
There is a great difference between ambition and reality. Many successful people often say that you should under-promise and over-deliver so that you might even surprise yourself when completing a task. Then, you can set the bar higher and eventually work toward achieving more ambitious goals. Failure causes stress, which is one of the hardest with which to cope because we question our worth and reassess our abilities, only to end up thinking less of ourselves. The downward spiral has a domino effect; you might even catch yourself thinking you can’t do anything right.
The key here is to learn how to appreciate the small successes and take one step at a time. That way, you will be less likely to make snap decisions and errors, leading to stress.
3. Pet a dog. Even better – get a dog!
There is so much more to our furry companions than throwing balls and taking cute pictures. The bond between dogs and humans is one of mutual affection. There are extremely low or nonexistent chances of betrayal, no matter how long the friendship lasts. Having this kind of solace and trust in another being is rarely found in human-to-human interaction, thus providing an emotional safety net when feeling under stress.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is one of our body’s alarms that signals that we might need a break. Bigger the stress equals higher levels of cortisol in our system.
Petting a dog or a cat for at least 10 minutes a day was discovered to reduce cortisol levels dramatically. In fact, “since oxytocin (the happiness hormone*) is released by sensory stimulation, the interaction between the dogs and owners may have decreased cortisol levels and heart rate via oxytocin released into the brain.” (Patersson et al. 2011) If you find a dog or a cat too big of a commitment, someone you know will surely have a pet. All you need to do is call them, drop by, and spend some time in their furry company. In a blink of an eye, you’ll feel less anxious and more relaxed.
4. Mind what you’re eating
It’s never been easier to cheat your body with junk food that can lull you into a sense of a full stomach and a sound mind. What happens inside is nowhere close to anything good. The so-called comfort food provides a temporary feeling of ease, and this is especially the case with greasy food and sweets. They are known to activate the same areas of the brain as drugs do, which means they can be highly addictive.
Emotional eating, as it’s sometimes called, has no health benefits whatsoever other than it makes us feel better for a short period. In addition to this, many studies have discovered a drastic plunge in the mood after the consumption which can be explained with a sudden vanishing of the great feeling we just experienced and maybe even guilt for having consumed so many calories.
To reduce stress, we should focus on the foods that lower cortisol levels in our system. They certainly don’t involve mac and cheese, juicy burgers, and brownies. Banana, pear, green tea, yogurt and even dark chocolate are all said to have cortisol-lowering properties. These make highly valuable snacks that you can always carry around in your bag and pop them out when the going gets tough.
5. Spend time with positive people
Time and time again, every one of us realizes that we nurture relationships that never really motivate us and instead, they only suck the energy out of us. If a colleague or a friend makes you feel inadequate or less self-worthy, then it might be time to see things through and distance yourself from them.
This doesn’t imply that you should burn your bridges, never returning their calls, but simply try and reduce the duration and the frequency of your get-togethers. In case you can’t avoid them, reduce communication to a minimum without being impolite and obviously uncomfortable. With time, you will begin to feel less stressed and more ready to direct your energy on the things that really matter to you.
6. Stay active
Nothing quite beats the benefits of physical exercise when it comes to stress management. Paradoxically enough, the more stressed we are, the less we have the will to exercise and this is where it’s rather easy to find yourself in an infinite loop of procrastination. Among the usual suspects of excuses, the ever-so-popular include: I’ll just go tomorrow, it’s raining, I don’t have the equipment, and so on. However, once you realize that even a 15-minute walk can reduce stress significantly, you might think twice before taking a cab or a bus straight from a hard day at work. Even when you’re feeling you don’t have a single atom of strength in you, that’s the best time to give your body a boost by taking a vigorous walk, ride a bike, or go jogging.
If you manage to combine exercising and spending time in nature, the benefits are actually manifold. Many studies have confirmed that the direct neurobiological impact of nature improved stress resilience and found that “natural environments facilitate physiological, emotional and attention restoration”. (Berto 2005)
7. Don’t panic!
Last but not least, try and develop a defense mechanism you can activate when you feel like you just can’t cope anymore. Nothing matters more than your well-being and no amount of stress should interfere with your life. At the end of the day, the world will keep spinning with or without you. The sooner you realize that, the more you begin to understand that every problem has a solution, no matter how far-fetched or out of reach it might seem at the given moment.
Count to 10 and allow some time for things to simmer down. Set aside some time to think about your self-worth and the ways of overcoming a particular problem that’s causing the stress. This rational approach is tremendously important as it lets you be more objective, realistic, and most importantly, calm.
Although we are helpless against avoiding stress at all times, the least we can do is to try taking the necessary steps towards reducing it. Though seemingly impossible, the most complicated of problems usually have simple solutions and stress is no exception to this rule.
- How to Sleep Better
- Different Stages of Sleep and Why They Matter
- The Types of Toxic People You Should Avoid
- Tips for Eating Healthy No Matter How Busy You Are