We all have stress right? Some of us more than others. Not all stress is bad, but for the most part, the stress I will be talking about in this post can be devastating. According to The American Institute of Stress, there is acute stress, chronic stress, eustress and distress. Research has show that somewhere between 75-90% of most illnesses that people go to the doctor for are caused by stress. Here are some examples of each type of stress.
This essentially is our fight or flight response. This is a necessary evil as our body needs to identify when to defend itself. When you are scared or your body thinks something bad is going to happen, it will make a quick decision that will allow you to fight the stressors or run away from them.
This type of stress is a result of “positive” events in our lives like; marriage, promotions, starting a family, etc. Even though these events are joyful, they bring with them a lot of stress.
Distress can be acute or chronic and includes events like; divorce, legal issues, injuries or illness, etc
This stress can be caused by an endless amount of things like ones appearance, finances, parenting skills, careers, living situations and so much more. This type of stress if left uncontrolled, can impact your mental and physical health. We often neglect to address chronic stress.
I want to focus this post on chronic stress, as it can be your worst enemy. Take a look at how chronic stress affects your body. As you can see below, stress can significantly impact your physical and mental well-being. Stress can cause insomnia, make it difficult to lose weight, and decreases your immunity. These factors are just the tip of the iceberg and do not even include societal pressures, natural disasters, politics and outside influencers. This post would be ten pages or longer if I included all the information I wanted to, so I will save a bit for future more in-depth posts.
Chronic stress has been shown to impact your chances for developing heart disease, cancer, depression and the list goes on. Additionally, according to the Mental Health Foundation, 46% of people reported that they ate too much or ate unhealthily, 29% reported that they started drinking or increased their drinking, and 16% reported that they started smoking or increased their smoking all due to stress. Also, 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed, and 61% reported feeling anxious. Chronic stress, if left unchecked, can worsen mental health issues that can eventually lead to some considering suicide and self harm. Identifying unhealthy coping mechanisms (being socially withdrawn, doing mindless activities for hours, using drugs or alcohol, lashing out, etc.) can be a good first step in combating chronic stress.
Here are some practical and “out of the box” ways to cope with chronic stress:
1. Get Organized and Practice Feng Shui –
While this might seem easy, it isn’t always the case. Some people have mountains of stuff to sort through and organizing itself can cause more stress. If you can get through the initial pain of organizing it will be well worth it. It can be painful to let things go, which is why we let stuff accumulate in the first place. Think of it like this, “mess equals stress.” The more you have the more it seems like you have to deal with and the less likely you will be able to find what you need efficiently. This can negatively influence your ability to process information and focus on what is important. There are many studies that back up this tip. Check out Lifehack.org’s Ultimate Guide on De-cluttering or watch the newest Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo for some practical ways to conquer this task.
Feng Shui can help channel the good and bad energy in your home. By practicing Feng Shui you will create more harmony in your home. Any major disturbance in energy will create and imbalance and can result in stress. The Feng Shui principles say that creating balance between Yin and Yang (the two opposing forces discussed in Chinese philosophy) as well as the Five Elements, which include water, wood, fire, earth and metal, will help to enhance your overall sense of well-being. For example, a home with too much Yang (too bright, lots of straight and sharp lines) can create a stressful environment. Likewise, too many fire elements (deep reds and triangular shapes) will do the same. Pinterest has been my best friend for improving the Feng Shui in my home.
2. Check Your Genetics –
You many not have heard of MTHFR yet, but it is the acronym for a gene (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) that produces an essential enzyme. The acronym for the enzyme is also MTHFR. Genetically it can impact your emotional and physical health, including how you handle stress. Some of the mental health issues linked to those who have a MTHFR mutation, are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, as well as numerous physical issues. The presence of an MTHFR mutation can also alter one’s response to medications, including antidepressants and supplements. Without going into all the science behind why this mutation does what it does, you may want to consider seeing if you are someone with this mutation. Once you discover if you have this mutation, you can attack your stress with a whole new set of goggles and create a better game plan for dealing with stress. You can do more thorough research after finding out if you have the mutation. There are several options to get tested. I have know providers that use SpectraCell Laboratories with confidence and it will cost about $140.
3. Be Mindful of What You Can Control –
Many times stress can be related to things you simply cannot control. Try to let go of what you cannot control and focus on what you can control. You cannot control traffic, but you can control what you listen to or whom you talk to while driving (e.g. classical music, podcasts, audio-books or a supportive friend). You cannot control the fact that you have homework, but you can control how to tackle your homework (e.g. take breaks, listen to calming music, ask for help, do the easy or hard stuff first depending on which stresses you out more). You’ve got to keep your own head above water.
4. Eat –
Personally my stress levels go through the roof when I haven’t had anything to eat. I get “hangry” (hungry + angry) quite often…once I eat, I feel a million times better. Eating and eating the right things can help prevent and alleviate stress. This holds true for others as well. Let’s say you are in a good mood, but your child is on a rampage. Consider the HALT acronym, are they hungry, angry, lonely or tired? All of these play a big part in stress, but notice hunger comes first. First, by eating you will balance out your blood sugar, thus helping your mood. Second, eating foods that are high in vitamin C, magnesium and folate, will help lower the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), and produce dopamine, which is a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, thus helping you keep calm. There are many foods that can help and Health.com has a great article on the 12 Best Foods for Stress.
5. Sleep More or Less –
The reason why I suggest sleeping more or less depends on your current habits. You may need more sleep if you have insomnia or have too much going on in your life. On the other hand if you are sleeping too much, it might be a sign of depression or another medical concern. Creating a sleep routine with good sleep hygiene can help you attain your own personal optimal level of adequate sleep. If you need more sleep make sure you have a dark, cold environment, diffuse essential oils and use white noise or nature sounds to help lull you to sleep. If you are sleeping too much, set your alarm for 15-30 minutes earlier than you would like and consciously make an effort not to hit snooze. Other factors that impact sleep include; the quality of your sheets, your bed itself, the use of electronic devices (emitting too much blue light), and diagnosed mental and physical illness. What you don’t know can hurt you , so make sure you check with your doctor to rule out medical conditions. This is my favorite sleep mask and helps with headaches too! For more on external sleep factors click here.
6. Avoid Watching the News –
If you’re anything like me, the events of the world can get to you. These days you don’t know if what you are watching or listening to is real or fake. Did you know that the majority of news broadcasts are owned by a limited number of companies? These companies have say over what is shown in the media (think about that for just a minute). The news can then makes it’s way to social media. Most news stories aren’t that positive to begin with and play on our fears. Ultimately “news” is a business and they are trying to keep us tuned in 24/7. They know that psychologically we want to know every detail about such and such crisis and they exploit that. Research has shown that watching this negativity tends to make viewers catastrophise and worry more, leading to more stress. If you must stay informed, set limits on the time you spend watching negative news stories and make sure you trust the source.
7. Set Boundaries and Say No –
Setting boundaries and saying no takes practice. We do not want to hurt others feelings and therefore we sometimes over commit ourselves out of guilt. You are paying a big price for your peace of mind. Keep in mind that being overloaded is individual to each person. Just because your co-worker can juggle 10 projects with apparent ease doesn’t mean you could or should. Only you know what’s too much for you. Saying no isn’t selfish, just like saying yes to everything isn’t healthy. Doing too much can make you super stressed and sick. Watch out for those energy vampires that will keep trying to suck as much out of you as they can.
A fellow blogger over at Live Mentally Well, mentions setting priorities. Try setting priorities with which you can identify and know what would be a hard “yes” and a hard “no” going forward. If it’s something you feel strongly about, by all means do it. If not, take a pass. An example would be always saying yes to self-care, but always saying no to selling all of your daughters Girl Scout Cookies. Weigh the stress factors; how long you will need to be invested, what will be invested and if there are other ways to help or accomplish something easier. Finally, stop feeling guilty or obligated to do something. If you want to do it…do it! If you don’t want to, don’t do it…it’s that simple (truly).
Give a hard “no”! Being passive will create room for you to give in. DO NOT use phrases like “maybe,” “I’m not sure if I can,” “I don’t know yet.” This is part of being authentic, be honest about why you cannot or will not do something, there is no need to lie. Nine times out of ten, people don’t even need to know why you cannot do something, nor do they even care.
8. Prepare Yourself –
Being prepared is a great tool to implement immediately. Prepare as much as you can for any scenario, day, event or situation. Things get easier when you are not feeling rushed. Some ways to prepare include; setting out and ironing your clothes for the following day, scheduling appointments ahead of time and marking them in your calendar with reminders, setting your bills to auto-pay and meal prepping. Preparing for adverse weather, a change in plans or for things like flat tires and bad hair days, will save you tons of time and prevent you from being as stressed as you could have been if you weren’t prepared. You can even prepare for bad mental health days, but designating a “venting” buddy or someone who will hang out with you at the drop of a dime.
9. Use Technology Wisely –
While technology gets a bad wrap sometimes, it can actually be very helpful in reducing stress. Think about all the things you can accomplish with your smart phone for instance. Not only can you manage your day to day, you can also use self-care apps, sleep and nutritional monitoring apps, create notes and lists, set reminders and so on. Having access to the internet lets you look up almost anything you need to know and connect with people all across the world. You can use your technology for good. So when you are feeling stressed, pop open YouTube and listen to an inspirational speaker, open up your e-reader and lose yourself in classic literature or set your phone to “do not disturb” and live in the now!
10. Self-Care –
Self-care is one of the best ways to reduce stress. I talk about self-care all the time because I learned the importance of it while in nursing school. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of others. There are so many ways to practice self-care, so you need to find what works for you by trial and error. You don’t have to spend hours at a time to practice self-care, it can be as short or as long as you like…even 15 minutes can work wonders. Check out my previous post for some easy ways to practice self-care and my favorite self-care products.
Try your best to reduce stress as much as you can. You will see amazing things happen to your mind, body and soul.