A US poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 1 in every 4 respondents reported “a great deal of stress” in the previous month. In that same study, 50% of all adults claimed they experienced a “major stressful event” in the past year, which translates to 115 million people.
The Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom recognizes stress as a serious problem. In the UK, mental health problems affect between 20% and 25% of all adults, with stress and depression being two of the top concerns. Another British study showed that a startling 44% of adults suffer from long-term stress. Obviously, stress is a problem.
There would be no need for concern if stress didn’t cause so many serious health issues, to your body and your mind. Chronic stress, and even infrequent stress and anxiety that is handled improperly, can promote the following dangerous and even deadly health conditions:
- Lack of control over your emotions
- Dental problems
- Poor relationships and love life
- Sleep disorders
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Parkinson’s disease
- High blood pressure
- Skin conditions
- Hair loss
- Shorter lifespan
- Premature aging
- And more …
Stress can be toxic, even disabling. It is a normal part of the human condition, and unavoidable to some degree. That being said, you can dramatically limit your exposure to stress and also improve how you to respond to stress and anxiety. The following 10 tips can help men, women, and children of all ages and cultures take control over stress in their lives.
1 – Stay Active
Exercise should be looked at as a miracle activity. This does not apply only to the things you routinely think of as exercise, like jogging, lifting weights, or walking on a treadmill. Any time you are physically active, you promote a healthier mind and body.
Today people are largely sedentary. We are not constantly on the go, hunting and gathering food, and avoiding predators like our cave-based ancestors. That means you may have to find time in your daily routine to enjoy physical movement.
Studies show that if you add just 1 hour of moderately intense to intense physical activity to your life every day, you benefit from stress-relief and stress-prevention, keep your mind and body sharp, and live longer than people who don’t exercise and stay active.
2 – Meditate for Stress-Relief and Prevention
The exact origins of meditation are unknown. However, archaeologists and literary scholars agree that the practice of meditation has been around since at least 3,500 BC. The earliest documented records of specific methods for meditation date back to at least 1,500 BC. For centuries human beings have used mindful meditation for stress relief, as well as many other mental and physical benefits. A regular meditation practice is also good for preventing stress from occurring in the first place.
3 – Take an Objective Look at the Situation
We often tend to exaggerate the events and situations in our lives. This is actually a human act of self-preservation. Something stressful occurs, and your natural reaction is to exaggerate its level of importance. This ensures that you will take some type of response, and is linked directly to our fight or flight process. Unfortunately, that process can create hormonal imbalances which cause physical and mental stress.
Look objectively at what is causing your stressful situation. Observe as if you were watching a movie or reading the situation in a book, and not experiencing it yourself. This allows you to properly prioritize the level of stress which is occurring and handle its treatment accordingly.
4 – Eat Right
Your level of fitness and health, especially internally, has a lot to do with how much stress you encounter in your life. For instance, a link between an unhealthy digestive system and higher than average levels of stress has been recognized by many scientists and health authorities. So if you have some type of problem in your digestive tract, your gut or your intestines, this can lead to stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, depression, anxiety, and stress can also contribute to, or even cause, a rash of digestive problems.
Once you have a poorly functioning digestive system, and/or frequent stress, this creates an unhealthy cycle that feeds upon itself, increasing your anxiety and instances of depression. Eat more fresh, raw, and organic fruits and vegetables, and less processed food. Drink lots of water. Practicing smart nutrition keeps your internal processes working properly and has been proven to prevent stress, as well as improve your ability to respond to stress when it occurs.
5 – Limit Your Triggers
You probably know several things that get you anxious, depressed, or stressed out. One simple way to deal with stress is to limit your exposure to those “triggers”. Sometimes we develop unhealthy habits, and often times this is an unconscious process.
Take a minute to write down those things which elevate your stress levels. Look at the list and put a check mark by all of those people, places, and things that you have control over. You may not be able to stop interacting with a particular coworker who consistently cranks up your stress levels, at least on the job. However, you can limit your exposure to that person away from the job, thereby lowering the possibility that they will cause an anxious situation you have to deal with.
6 – Promote Stress-Free Environments
The majority of your life is spent at work and home. In many cases, you have at least some level of control over your environment in those two places. Limit the number of visual distractions at home and on the job. Do the same for noises and sounds you have control over.
Your mind is constantly and unconsciously trying to process every bit of information it receives through your five senses. That is what your sensory network is for, to help you process your environment. When you cut down on the number of distractions demanding attention from your brain, you limit the possibility you will develop stress, anxiety, and depression.
7 – Give Yourself a Timeout
Some parents give their children a “timeout” when they have been acting up. This gives the child time to think about how they were behaving improperly. You can also give yourself a timeout the next time stress hits. This allows you time to calm your brain and reset your mental processes, while lowering the level of anxiety and stress you are experiencing.
Give yourself 10 or 20 minutes to listen to some soothing music. Meditate or enjoy a quick session of Pilates or yoga. Get a massage, take a walk, or simply find a quiet, calm environment where you can relax. This strategy doesn’t prevent stress, but does effectively treat stress and anxiety after they strike, and can be practiced just about anywhere.
8 – Cut Back on Caffeine, Tobacco, and Alcohol
Beer, wine, alcohol, coffee, energy drinks, and sodas can lead to unhealthy energy spikes and crashes. Tobacco causes a multitude of negative health conditions. All of these situations can cause increased levels of anxiety, depression, and stress in your life. Aside from the physical connection (caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol are unhealthy when not taken in moderation), there are emotional issues that can arise as well.
Someone who takes drugs or alcohol frequently suffers from an emotional loss of control to some extent. A chain smoker becomes anxious and “freaked out” if they can’t feed their nicotine habit the instant that they need a fix. When your intake of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine controls you rather than the other way around, your emotional and physical states of being can suffer substantially.
9 – Spend Some Time with Nature
Did you know that walking in nature actually changes the structure of your brain? Your hormones largely affect your emotions. Those same hormones are directly linked and controlled in many ways to neurological processes. One of your brain’s most important jobs is to process sensory input. There is recent research (in the early 21st century) that indicates a simple walk in a park or field can soothe your mind and deliver stress-relief because of the way your brain, hormones, and emotions are interconnected.
Gregory Bratman was a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University in the United States in 2015. He and other researchers found that walking briefly through a lush, green, natural environment for just a few minutes made people happier, more attentive, and stress-free than if that same time was spent walking near heavy traffic. Similar research performed at the University of Oregon in the US, and published in the Wall Street Journal, reports the same healthy link between nature and lower levels of stress and anxiety. Spend more time with nature when you are feeling stressed out.
10 – Get Enough Sleep
It turns out that your parents knew what they were talking about when they sent you to bed early as a child. Kids’ bodies are constantly changing and growing. Because of this they need more sleep on a consistent basis than adults do. Adults still need to get plenty of rest themselves, however. Multiple sleep studies dating back to the 1950s in the United States consistently show that 7 to 8 hours of rest on a nightly basis is needed by adults for proper mental and physical health.
When you do not get enough sleep, all of your internal systems are thrown “out of whack”. This causes a number of stressful and anxious situations, not just running late for work because you can’t get out of bed in the morning. People who are tired in the morning often reach for sugar and caffeine-laden energy drinks and sodas throughout the day. These cause energy spikes and crashes which lead to heightened levels of anxiety and stress.