Tips for Stress Management
There’s a lot going on in the world these days, and most of us have found it very overwhelming. Researchers at the University of Vermont have created an instrument that measures global happiness. For more than a decade, the Hedonometer has been analyzing the word choice of about 50 million tweets a day. It uses the collected data to measure global happiness. According to the Hedonometer, May 31, 2020 was the saddest day in the history of Twitter. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Hedonometer has seen some record-breaking lows in happiness. We are not ok, and social media reflects that.
Stress has many negative health implications. When we are stressed, our body goes into its primal “fight or flight” response. This response triggers a release of hormones that, while they do serve a purpose, have negative effects on our bodies when they are present in excess. These negative effects include weight gain, difficulty sleeping, wrinkles, dark circles and bags under the eyes, increased chance of depression, acne, increased chance of heart disease, and more. It is important that we learn to effectively manage our stress for the sake of our health. Here are a few suggestions on what you can do to lower your level of stress and anxiety.
Human beings are creatures of habit, and most of us are not in the habit of taking care of ourselves. I know it can be difficult with our busy schedules, but try to set aside a little bit of time each day, or maybe a time each week, to devote to doing something you enjoy. Maybe read a book or watch your favorite TV show. You could go for a walk or a hike, or maybe hit the gym. Exercise is also important for stress reduction. Set a specific time, a specific amount of time, and make a commitment to it. Put it in your calendar. Set an alarm. This will take discipline, and don’t be surprised if it feels like a herculean effort is necessary to protect your personal time, but it will be worth it!
Taking back control of your thoughts is an important step towards stress reduction. So many of us don’t even realize the toll our thoughts take on our mental and physical health. Thoughts and feelings are useful information and help us navigate our world, but letting go of them is equally important. Try this exercise when you have a quiet moment.
Seat yourself in a comfortable position, and close your eyes. Take a moment to focus on your breathing, then envision yourself by a stream with leaves floating past you. Shift your focus to any thoughts you may be having, or anything you may be feeling. Name that thought or feeling and “place it” on a leaf floating by. Notice it, name it, and let it go. Don’t judge the thought or feeling. Don’t label it as “good” or “bad.” Simply observe its existence, and let it go.
It’s important to practice meditation for a few minutes each day in order to increase your self-awareness. Self-awareness is a skill that must be practiced in order to use it effectively during your day-to-day life. You may find it difficult at first, but don’t give up or be discouraged! You are doing the best you can, and that is enough.
Good sleep hygiene is imperative for so many reasons. Not only will it help reduce stress and anxiety, it is also a piece to the puzzle of good skin and healthy weight, among other things. I know that it can be difficult to sleep, especially if you are already dealing with stress and anxiety. Here are a few tips and tricks that might make it a bit easier.
Establish a bedtime routine. Give yourself time to decompress from the day, but try to not wind down with more screen time. The blue light our gadgets emit disrupts our natural sleep cycle. Start your wind down process at the same time every night. We thrive on routine.
Try to establish your bed as a place solely for sleep. This means no eating in bed, reading, scrolling through social media, or watching TV. Don’t let your body get used to being awake in bed. If you find that you can’t fall asleep after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed for a little bit. Maybe sit on the couch and read, or grab a drink of water. Then try again.
I’ve found that the podcast Sleep with Me has been extremely helpful. Drew Ackerman (aka Dearest Scooter) essentially bores you to sleep with his nonsensical stories that are full of tangents and have no real direction or plotline. His bedtime stories are just interesting enough to take your attention away from the thoughts circulating in your head, but not interesting enough to keep you awake and engaged.
Exercise has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress. Aerobic activities increase the brain’s production of endorphins, the feel-good hormones. Regular exercise causes your brain to regularly release these hormones, which will in turn boost your mood. Exercise provides additional stress relief by engaging the body’s fight or flight response and helping your systems practice working through it. This helps protect your body from the negative effects of stress. Exercise has also been proven to improve sleep quality. Even just five minutes of aerobic exercise can help reduce your level of stress.
Taking care of yourself will require effort and energy. It may seem counterproductive at first, but devoting time to self-care will result in more available energy to invest in your other daily tasks. Be kind to yourself through this process. You’re doing the best you can, and that is enough.
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