We've come to the final post in my Stress 101 series. Thus far, we've covered the sources of stress and the effects of stress. Today, it's time to discuss how exactly to manage and reduce stress in order to take back your health! Plus, with the holiday season completely upon us, there's no time like the present, as the holiday season often produces an increase in stress in most of us.
Managing and reducing stress isn't easy - it takes constant, concentrated efforts day in and day out. It's all to easy to fall back into our stressed out pathways, but true health only comes when we start to manage our stress. Stress can literally rob us of our health and happiness, and I'd argue that it can even kill us.
Please note that these suggestions for managing stress will not work for everyone. You have to do the work to determine what does and doesn't work for you with regards to reducing your stress. However, you actually have to try. Dismissing a suggestion because it seems "woo-woo" or "crazy" won't help your situation. Relax, calm down, and keep an open mind and I know you'll be surprised at the results.
How to Manage and Reduce Stress:
Relax, Breathe, and Calm Down
When we are stressed, we often get that feeling of complete overwhelm and busyness that crawls up inside of us. In order to properly reduce and manage stress, we must take some time to breathe deeply and relax. This allows us to get into a parasympathetic state where our body is relaxed. If we spend too much time in the sympathetic state (fight or flight state), we aren't doing our body or stress levels any good.
If you are stressed, the last thing you need are more items on your to-do list. Learning to say "no" to the activities, people, and things that don't bring you joy is a huge step in clearing your mind and body of stress.
Finding Joy in the Little Things
When we are stressed, it's far too easy to get caught up in the monotonous cycle of everyday life. You have to go outside of yourself to find little things each day that bring you joy. It can be something as simple as a little decoration on your desk at work that makes you smile.
Lavender is one of the best essential oils to help you calm down, but there are other great options as well including Frankicense and Serenity (a blend by doTerra). You can find more options here. Personally, I diffuse lavender before bed and also use serenity mixed with coconut oil before bed on my skin to help me relax, but simply smelling those oils can make a huge impact too.
If you aren't exercise, heading outside for a leisurely walk in nature will go a long way in reducing stress. Yoga is another popular option as well as it helps center the mind and body. I also recommend smart weight training for those that are stressed, as excess steady-state cardio (running, the elliptical, or biking typically) will only make your stress levels worse.
We've talked about sleep a lot in this series on stress, but for good reason. Stress and sleep are so intimately combined. In order to reduce stress, we must be getting enough quality sleep. I'll refer you to my previous series on sleep with part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.
Obviously, we need to be eating plenty of real, whole, nourishing foods in order to combat stress. I recommend avoiding common inflammatory foods like grains, conventional dairy, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, vegetable oils, trans fats, and food dyes and colors. These foods make our stress situation worse, as they rob our bodies of crucial nutrients. Focusing on real, whole food and eating in a PFC balanced manner that helps support your blood sugar is the best way to help continue to reduce and manage stress.
I started acupuncture over a year ago as a way to help reduce the impact of stress on my body, and it has been truly transformational for me. Acupuncture helps reset the bodily systems that may have been disrupted by stress. I highly recommend it for anyone dealing with stress, hormonal disruption, or any other ailments. Trust me - it's not as scary as it appears.
Developing a self-care routine is a huge factor in recovering from stress. Taking time to yourself, sitting in silence, getting a massage, doing activities that bring you joy, loving your body and yourself - these are all huge pieces of self-care that cannot be undermined. If you refuse to make self-care a part of your lifestyle in favor of giving everything to other people, you will eventually not be able to help out those you love because you refused to help yourself when you needed it the most.
Healing your gut health is vital to reducing inflammation and stress in the body. I recommend eating a real food diet, taking a high quality probiotic supplement or eating probiotic rich foods, and focusing on sleep. You can read more about other gut healing strategies here.
Taking time out of your day to write down your thoughts is a great way to rationalize those thoughts. So often, we get too caught up in our own minds that we have a hard time realize what thoughts are actually realistic and rational. Writing down what is on our mind is very helpful in this process. In addition, practicing gratitude in journaling is also helpful in reducing stress as it helps us remember all that we have to be grateful for instead of going down the negative path.
Seek Out Help
When in doubt, seek out the help of a counselor or health coach (like me!) to help you on your stress journey. It's not easy, but it's also even harder to go at it alone. I've been there, and I've found the best way to combat stress is to have a team of support on your side to help you through the good times and bad.
Other Strategies to Manage and Reduce Stress:
Book a massage
Hire a housekeeper once a month
Call a friend or write a letter to a friend
Sit outside and get some sunshine (vitamin D is super helpful!)
Take 5 deep belly breaths before each meal or major event of your day
Eliminate negative thinking patterns
Dealing with stress isn't easy, but trust me when I say that your health depends on it. Take it one day at a time, and slowly but surely, you'll find your stress levels going down bit by bit. It won't happen overnight, but it still is possible!