Work, bills, life transitions, family issues, dieting, decisions to make, ties to cut, relationships to forge, problems to handle, appointments to juggle, kids to raise, health obstacles to work around—it all stacks up to that 5 letter word we use on almost a daily basis: STRESS!
It doesn’t matter how “go with the flow” you are. We all come into contact with stress in our lives at some point or another. Stress, like change, is unavoidable. But it’s not the stress that’s the problem. It’s our response to the stress that determines how much of a toll it will take on us.
Think of the last time someone asked you how are you. Most likely, you said something like, “Good. How are you?” Or maybe the classic, “Busy. Good, but busy.”
If it’s a friend or acquaintance doing the asking, we might open up a bit more and say something along the lines of, “Pretty good. Things have been a little stressful lately, but I’m sure they’ll calm down soon.”
We love to candy coat the stress in our lives, glossing over how we really feel (which is something like, “I’m totally STRESSED!! I can’t catch a break and feel like I’m ready to snap. Things have been crazy lately and I don’t know when they’ll calm down and it’s driving me nuts!”).
While it’s true that we can take steps to minimize the stress in our lives (learning how to say no is a good place to start), it’s inevitable that at some point or another it’s going to come knocking. And we better be prepared!
I want to share with you 5 stress busters that I practice on a weekly basis to help me handle whatever life hands me that week. (Take, for instance, yesterday: in my office, it was check writing day to dear old Uncle Sam plus a bunch of other bills. What a way to zap a person’s positivity! I could’ve used a serious stack of super healthy cookies to get me through.)
I’m far from perfect, but here are some great steps to take to handle stress naturally.
1. Don’t skip meals!
When we’re stressed, healthy meals eaten at regular intervals are often the first thing to get thrown out the window. Huge mistake! Eating three balanced meals per day is key to keeping blood sugar levels steady, which in turn keeps our brains and moods in a happier place. Breakfast is notoriously skipped by “stressed out” people, but I would argue that it sets the stage for the entire day and skipping it is sure way to mess with your metabolism.
I eat about every 3 hours, which usually works out to Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner (and sometimes an evening snack, too). This eating pattern does wonders for my mood! Plus, taking even just 10-20 minutes to pause from the hustle of the day and eat a meal or snack helps me refocus, giving me the opportunity to step away from the “problem of the day” for a bit.
2. Begin most days with movement.
It’s a simple fact: When you exercise, you feel happier! And when you exercise before you’ve even had breakfast, the sense of gratification is magnified even more. Whether it’s a quick walk around your neighborhood, an interval circuit in your living room, or an invigorating sunrise yoga class, get moving in the morning!
Morning exercise is one of my most regular personal habits. Once it’s done, it’s done…meaning that I won’t be staring at the clock mid-afternoon knowing that I’m going to need to squeeze a workout into the rest of my day somehow. It also motivates me mentally to push through tough tasks that might arise, giving me a boost in confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Fun fact: Studies have shown that early morning exercisers are more likely to make healthy food choices throughout the day. So starting your day in motion could be the thing that keeps you eating clean from morning until night!
3. Talk (or write) it out.
Stress happens to all of us, but it becomes a stronghold when we bottle it up, try to push our stressors under the rug, or ignore it completely. Talk it out! Find a friend or family member who can lend a listening ear to whatever it is that’s eating at you. I’m grateful for supportive parents and a sister who will hear me out on just about anything. Tears, rants, problem-solving, soapbox moments—they hear it all!
And while we’re on the topic of opening up, let’s talk about journaling, too. If you think it’s corny, I get it. For some, writing just doesn’t come naturally. It feels like work. But personally, journaling has been an integral part of my life for years. When I can’t talk to someone or don’t feel like sharing, writing out my frustrations helps to lighten the load and give me an outlet to vent. I don’t do it every day, but I know that when I need it, it’s there for me.
You don’t have to be a great writer. You don’t even have to read what you write! Just let the words flow out until you’re done, close the notebook, and shelve it for next time. Because there’s always a next time. :)
4. Hit the pause button with breathing.
You can access your breath anywhere, at anytime. Your breath is your body’s best built-in stress reducer! On the busiest or most draining of days, several minutes spent releasing thoughts and just breathing is a perfect way to reset your “fight or flight” mechanisms and bring your mind and body back to a place of balance.
And like I said, you can do this anywhere! Maybe you’re sitting at your desk, riding your bike, commuting in traffic, chopping veggies, waiting in line, shuffling kids around, paying bills—anything. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, on some level you can always bring your focus back to breathing deeply and letting go of your thoughts for a bit.
I’m doing this more frequently and I’m finding that it also helps release tension in my neck and shoulders, where I tend to carry stress. The power of breath!
5. Get some perspective.
There have been stressful times in my life when I’ve been so wrapped up in one problem or set of problems that I completely lose sight of the big picture. In cases like these, getting a little perspective is almost guaranteed to reduce stress. Perspective comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping what you’re doing to go do something completely different. Run some errands, call a friend who’s not involved in your stress situation, plan a weekend trip, visit a relative, engage in a hobby—the point is to shift the focus off of yourself and what it is your going through, and instead focus on an entirely different person or activity.
I’ve done this many times. When I come back to the problem, it often doesn’t seem as big as what I originally made it out to be or—even better—I can more clearly and quickly navigate my way out of it.
Tell me: What works for you when it comes to handling your stress? We’ve all got it! Share your solutions in the comments.