Work. School. Illness. Family. Money. These things and more can trigger stress. As we go through life, most of us experience some form of stress at one point or another. Our to-do list at work grows and there never seems to be enough time in a day, exams are just around the corner, or perhaps you or a loved one is sick and there is fear of what is to come. Oftentimes we react to these pressures by ‘fight or flight’.
When put in a situation of avoiding physical harm, our blood flow goes to the muscles needed to either fight or flee and our brain function is diminished. This can lead to the inability to ‘think straight’ which can cause problems at work and at home. When stressed for long periods of time, our bodies increase cortisol levels which increase blood sugar and blood pressure. This is why people often gain weight when stressed.
When we are in ‘fight’ mode in a state of stress, it can negatively affect relationships and even ruin our reputation when we become aggressive towards others. Sometimes ‘flight’ mode can save our lives when in a dangerous situation. However, when faced with normal everyday life situations and cannot cope, this instinct can make the situation worse by ignoring the stress and not facing it. A third, and less known, reaction is ‘freeze’ mode. In certain situations, we tend to hold our breath. When we take a deep breath or sigh, that’s our body’s way of catching up on oxygen intake.
What can we do to combat stress? Here are a few tips to manage stressful situations.
Manage your technology habit
This is easier said than done when you get hundreds of emails and notifications on your phones each day at work and home. Rather than opening emails as soon as they come in, try focusing on checking emails during a certain time(s) each day. If you have notifications set up on your phone for emails, turn them off. This is one way to control the chaos rather than it controlling you. When working on a project at work, it’s easy to get distracted by emails and the next ‘thing’, but focusing on one thing at a time allows us to manage stress and actually get more done.
Manage your eating habits
Eating complex carbs such as whole-grain bread, pasta, and oatmeal will give your brain a boost to make serotonin. Complex carbs also help stabilize your blood sugar. Oranges are full of vitamin C which has been shown to manage the stress hormone cortisol. So before taking on a stressful task, eat an orange! Black tea also lowers cortisol so a cup of hot tea can help manage stress. Not enough magnesium in a diet can trigger headaches and fatigue, which compounds the effects of stress. Eating leafy greens such as spinach, or a salmon filet will boost your magnesium levels. Crunching on nuts, celery and carrots can release a clenched jaw that is brought on by stress (plus they are good for you and better than a bag of chips).
Get a good night’s sleep
Taking a relaxing bath or a shower before bed can help you unwind and relax before going to sleep. Use this time to sort out any worries or concerns of the day and avoid carrying the load before going to bed. If you have a to-do list to tackle, write it down so you don’t wake up thinking about all the things you have to do the next day or week ahead. The soothing aroma of lavender-scented candles, balms, and essential oils also can help relieve the tensions of the day.
Stay physically active
Exercise is good for your physical health and your mental health. Exercise increases your endorphins which make you feel good about yourself and improves your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems all of which help protect your body from the effects of stress. Regular exercise can lower symptoms of mild depression and ease your stress levels to help you stay in control of your life.
Learn to say no
If you are a people pleaser, sometimes it’s hard to say no. If you are constantly rushing from one thing to the next and trying to do too many things in a short span of time, it’s probably time to start saying no. Saying yes when you don’t have the bandwidth prevents you from honoring your existing commitments. You may have heard of the 80/20 rule – when 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. By saying no, you open the door for other people to take on some responsibility. Saying no also allows you more time to manage your own stress without piling on more than you have time for.
Manage your time more effectively
All of the things mentioned so far are part of how you manage your time. Making time for yourself is the key to managing stress. Taking time to exercise, prioritizing your day, saying no, eating right, and not being glued to your phone are all part of managing your time. Better planning, better prioritizing, delegating tasks, organizing your office, and even cleaning your house, will help relieve and manage stress.
After practicing some of these stress management tools you still feel anxious, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about other ways to reduce stress and anxiety.