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Stress-Reducing Habits for Better Mental and Physical Health
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Stress is not always a bad thing, but many people get in too deep. Pressures at work, overscheduled days, and unexpected challenges, among other things, can leave you overwhelmed and stressed out.
Too much stress can damage your physical and mental health. It’s fatiguing and exhausting to constantly feel this way. Eliminating some of the things that trigger stress is helpful, but over the long term, you need better strategies.
These simple lifestyle habits are things you can do every day, or several times a week, to reduce your overall stress and improve your health and wellbeing.
What Exactly is Stress?
Stress is a reaction that all people experience when faced with changes, especially challenging changes. The body responds to these stressors physically and mentally. The body’s stress response helps you cope with and adjust to changing situations. Stress is not strictly bad. There are two categories:
- Eustress. Positive stress pushes you to try new things and to accomplish goals. There may be some apprehension and worry associated with certain life changes, but if they ultimately motivate you to improve your life, you’re experiencing eustress.
- Distress. Stress is negative when it results from something bad happening or a negative change. Distress also occurs when you start to feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and unable to cope in the face of changes or challenges.
Some eustress in your life is positive. Even a little bit of distress isn’t terrible. However, when stress threatens to overwhelm you or persists for long periods of time, it can be damaging.
The Problem with Chronic Stress
Chronic stress is long-term stress. The body and mind are not meant to be in a state of constant stress. The result is a series of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms:
- Headaches and other pains
- Racing heartrate
- High blood pressure
- Tense muscles and jaw clenching
- Reduced immunity and more frequent infections
- Digestive problems
- Panic attacks
Another problem with chronic stress is that it can lead to complications. It can be detrimental to relationships and work, for instance. You may also engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms—drinking too much, using drugs, overeating—that can cause more problems.
You can’t prevent all stress in your life because stressors will always arise and your body will respond. No one has so much control over their lives that they can completely prevent distress. You can, however, eliminate some of the sources of stress in your life and work on your stress management.
For example, you can cut out toxic friendships or change your job. On the other hand, there may be people you can’t completely eliminate from your life, and earning a living is necessary. Eliminating some stressors is possible, but ultimately you need to learn how to reduce and manage the stress they cause.
How Stress-Reducing Habits Can Help
Because avoiding stressful situations completely is impossible, you need some other stress reduction strategies to mitigate the negative effects. Stress relief is not complicated. Simple actions can prepare your mind and body to cope better over time. The more you engage in these habits, the better able you will be to handle stress in healthy ways, without getting overwhelmed.
Top Stress-Reducing Habits to Add to Your Day
Practice these healthy habits regularly to manage stress on a daily basis. You can’t avoid every stressful situation, but habits focused on keeping the body and mind well and relaxed prepare you to cope. Use these both in response to a stressful event and regularly for overall better health.
#1. Physical Activity
This goes without saying for personal trainers, but get active every day to reduce stress. Physical activity is one of the best forms of stress relief. It boosts endorphins, the neurotransmitters that make you feel good. Exercise also helps distract the mind by putting focus on the body.
Any type of exercise, even just walking or doing chores, can help you avoid ruminating on stressful situations. It relaxes the body too, reducing muscle tension associated with stress. If you only engage in one healthy habit for reducing stress, make it daily exercise.
Workouts that focus on breathing and mindfulness are particularly useful for reducing stress. Try adding a weekly yoga or tai chi session to your regular workout routine to bring the body and mind together for greater resilience against stress.
Compared to other relaxation strategies, exercise excels. Check out this post on using activity to manage stress for more detailed information.
#2. Mindfulness Meditation
A mindful-focused workout is a great place to start, but if you can fit in an actual meditation session every day, you’ll see a real difference in your stress level. Meditation can seem intimidating to beginners, but it’s very easy. Start slowly, with just a minute or two per day, and work up to longer sessions for better results.
Any type of meditation practice will be helpful for reducing stress, but mindfulness is particularly useful. Mindfulness simply means focusing your attention on the present moment. To meditate this way, sit in a comfortable position in a quiet spot. Close your eyes and focus on your deep breathing and your senses in the moment. It takes practice and time to be able to tune out thoughts and really focus on your body in the present.
This type of meditation likely reduces stress exactly for this reason. It takes your mind away from all the thoughts racing through your mind and triggering stress. Numerous studies have proven that this is a valid way to reduce stress. It can also help manage anxiety and depression.
#3. Spend Time Outside
Spending time outdoors, especially in a natural area, can help you reduce and manage stress. A daily habit of going outside, even for just a few minutes may be useful. Although the connection is not fully understood, studies show that there are big benefits to mood when you go outside regularly.
One study looked at more than 19,000 people and found that those that spent at least two hours in nature per week had better overall health and well-being. Time outside reduces stress, boosts mood, and alleviates depression and anxiety.
#4. Socialize with Friends and Family
Another proven stress buster, especially when it becomes a regular habit, is socializing. Having a strong social support network behind you helps you cope with life’s difficulties and unexpected situations. Your network helps you feel connected and valued.
To maintain this network, you have to make a habit of spending time with people. The more you can do it, the better. Studies show that social time with friends releases more oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel good and relieves stress.
Spend time with people to relax and have fun. It doesn’t have to be a therapy session, although talking out problems with a friend can also be helpful. To get more bang for your buck, combine social time with a workout or a walk outdoors.
#5. Prioritize Sleep
Even a small amount of sleep deprivation can have a big impact on mental health, including stress and how you cope with it. Unfortunately, poor sleep and stress exist in a cyclical pattern. When you’re stressed, it’s harder to sleep. Inadequate sleep only worsens your stress.
To reduce stress, you must focus on and prioritize sleep. One of the best ways to improve sleep is to create a relaxing and structured bedtime and waking routine. Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends, and get up at the same time. Before bed, turn off devices, do something relaxing, and avoid caffeine or alcohol. Keep up with these habits regularly and you’ll find it easier to get a full night’s sleep.
A healthy diet is important too. The better fueled the body and mind are, the more resilient they will be to stress. Help clients develop a nutrition plan to make healthy eating a habit.
#6. Don’t Forget Ditch Bad Habits
Stress can lead to some bad habits. Many of us turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage stress because they feel good in the moment and are often easy. In the long run, these habits will only worsen health and stress.
As you begin to add healthier habits to your normal routine, use them as replacements for the bad. Everyone is different, but common negative coping mechanisms include emotional overeating, compulsive shopping, drinking, using drugs, playing video games, or binging TV shows.
Stress is a real problem for so many people. We tend to live overscheduled lives and often feel pressured to work more, earn more, and do more. Taking time to relax, manage stress, and enjoy life is so important. If you can make some of these things habits, you’ll soon begin to shed your stress.
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