Many of us underestimate the impact of stress on our health and overall happiness. We get used to being chronically stressed out, or we chalk up pressure at work to being a necessary part of the job. We ignore feelings like mild anxiety, worry and momentary despair without taking action to protect ourselves from these emotions.
But stress accumulates over time if it goes unaddressed. We hold onto it, and it inevitably surfaces in one way or another.
Maybe you toss and turn and lose sleep.
Or self-medicate at night with wine or carbs.
Maybe you live with a short temper and take it out on your kids or partner.
Or maybe you just carry it around like a grey cloud that hangs over your head, eating away at your happiness a little each day.
Over time, unmanaged stress takes away from the quality of day-to-day life. Not to mention how it can negatively impact your physical health (think weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, brain fog, back pain, migraines, inflammation…).
The good news is, you can train yourself to cope more effectively with stress and become more adept at protecting yourself from its harmful effects.
Here are 3 tools for your anti-stress arsenal:
1. Train yourself to recognize the warning signs.
A ping of anxiety in your stomach. Heightened irritation towards one of your coworkers. A recurring thought in your head that you find yourself repeating (like, “I’m doing the best I can” or “FML”). The more you learn to recognize the physical sensations, emotional cues and mental loops that you experience when under stress, the earlier you’ll pick up on your distress and the less likely you’ll be to push it aside and ignore your body’s signals.
2. Choose to prioritize your wellbeing over the stress.
Give yourself a personal mandate and permission in moments of stress to step away from those thoughts and feelings, no matter how urgent they feel. Differentiate between the event causing the stress and the feelings and thoughts it’s giving rise to within you. Remind yourself that you have control over your reaction to stressful circumstances, and remember what truly matters: your health and happiness. If it helps, imagine pushing the stress out and away from you instead of holding it against your chest/heart. By distancing yourself a bit, you’ll be able to cope from a clear-headed place instead of being swayed by the tide of your emotions or negative thought cycles.
3. Know what soothes you.
Spend a few minutes creating a list of ways to quickly shift your mindset and internally relax when things get hectic. Keep the list on your phone and supplies at your desk. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Get up from your desk and make a cup of hot tea or lemon water to sip. (I like Kusmi’s detox teas.)
- Put in headphones and listen to music or soothing meditation sounds like crashing waves or a rain storm.
- Know a 5-minute loop outside of your office (ex. around the bock) that you can walk for a quick shot of fresh air and sunshine.
- Read a book or a favorite blog for 10 minutes. Keep a running list of newsletters or articles that you want to read for fun when you need a breather.
- Plug into a 10 minute meditation on an app like Headspace or Calm.
- Run to a favorite nearby store or coffee shop to give your brain and body a break from your office environment.
- Do a breathing exercise to release tension and slow down a racing mind. An easy one to remember is 4-square breath: inhale through your nose for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts. Repeat for 4 cycles.
The key is to create a list of activities that you can access from your desk at any time to make you smile, give you some needed perspective or help you remember to breathe.
Is stress interfering with how much you enjoy your life? Want some support in getting it under control? Let’s talk!