Is it me, or has the idea of stress and being so stressed out become a familiar constant in our lives?
When did it suddenly become OK for us — expected really — to consistently feel as if we’re at our wit’s end, running around with frazzled nerves, tight shoulders, and a to-do list that resembles a small novel? Now more than ever it seems as if we’re all wearing many, many hats. We have our jobs, our side hustles, our blogs and websites, toss in a few Pinterest quotes about working hard and being nice, and it’s easy to understand why stress is at an all-time high.
And I’m right there with you. Last week, my stress got the best of me and I woke up on Saturday morning with a nasty cold, a cold that has lingered for about a week. Coughing and sneezing … not my preferred way to spend a weekend and most of the week. It came on suddenly and without warning, but as I look back now I can see clearly: I wasn’t giving myself enough time to rest — really rest — I was feeling anxious about a few things, not eating as well as I should, and not taking care of myself. Sometimes life has to knock you down first to make you realize that change is in order.
According to the American Institute of Stress — yes, there’s an institute for stress — that’s how bad this is — our stress is slowly killing us. It raises the risk of disease, makes us overeat, and causes us to lose countless hours of sleep. It’s scary stuff, but stress isn’t something we need to accept as a truth in our lives and the good news is there are things you can do right now to cut stress from your life:
Clear the clutter: Where are you right now? Are you at your desk? Sitting with your laptop on your couch? Look around, if what you see causes your heart rate to rise, take care of it. Now. Don’t wait. My desk at work was a mess, scattered with DIY scraps, jewelry from shoots, and too many coffee mug rings to count – it wasn’t pretty, until I finally took the ten minutes I needed and cleaned it all up. Now when I arrive at work each morning I feel as if I can start fresh and clear-headed.
Clutter impacts us more than we realize and can be a major contributor to stress in our lives. Think about it: you had a tough day at work or at school only to come home to a messy house, a sink full of dishes, or a disorganized closet. No fun. Devote a little time each day to dealing with the clutter until it’s finally taken care of. Do something small, like cleaning your desk or hanging up your clothes, and I can almost guarantee the weight on your shoulders will lift a little.
Keep a calendar: Personally, I’m not a fan of the calendar on my phone, I like to have my whole month laid out before me in a small day planner. However you decide to keep it, a calendar will allow you to see the month ahead, be intentional about scheduling activities and events, and likely save you from double-booking yourself. Write down when things are due — projects, homework, bills… — color code it if you need to, and carry it with you.
The next time someone asks if you’re free, you’ll be able to give them an answer with confidence.
Schedule time to relax: Now that you have a calendar, it’s important to pencil in time to just be. Don’t fill up every Friday night or weekend, give yourself time to just do what you want to do. It could be devoting an hour each day to your yoga practice, or, if you’re really booked, ten minutes of meditation or reading. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that you truly care about that relaxes you and that doesn’t qualify as work.
Take care of yourself: Exercise makes us happy. It has also been shown to significantly reduce stress. Do you need any more reason to make movement a part of your life? Get out and get some fresh air. Even if you’ve been under the weather, as I have this week, and unable to do any strenuous exercise, go out and take a walk. Taking a break from your screen or from your work isn’t just good for your soul, it reduces stress, gets your blood flowing, and helps clear your mind of any worries, allowing positivity to flow in.
Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep patterns. Stress reduction and rest go hand in hand when it comes to improving your health and we should all be getting more sleep. Sleep recharges you for the next day, allowing your body the time it needs to heal itself, and cutting that time short leads to all kinds of health issues, stress being one of them.
Something that will help you sleep? Eating well. All of these factors — exercise, sleep, nutrition — they can either improve your stress or contribute to it, depending on which end of the spectrum you fall. Lowering the amount of caffeine and refined sugars in your diet will likely improve your quality of sleep, which in turn will lower your stress levels.
Be gentle with yourself. With so much noise coming at us from all angles, it’s tempting to push yourself to your limits.
I’d love to know: what are your techniques for dealing with stress? Please share in the comments.
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