Stress is a normal part of life. Whether it’s from daily triggers like heavy traffic or money worries, or from unusual circumstances like a sick loved one, stress is something everyone has to deal with. While some stress can be good—spurring you to work harder on a presentation, for example, or getting you out of danger when your fight-or-flight response is activated—experiencing it too much and too often can have adverse effects on your health. It may make it harder for you to sleep at night, set off your anxiety, and even increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Short of moving to the mountains to live a Zen-like existence, you really can’t eliminate all stress from daily life. So, the best thing to do is to learn some stress management techniques.
Your Guide to Stress Relief
The following are some expert-backed ways to manage stress:
Address the common stressors. Harvard Health Publications’ Your Portable Guide to Stress Relief lists 10 common stressors and what you can do to minimize their negative impact on your life. Below are some of the stressors and how to manage them:
- Always being late. Time management is key. Take time to plan out your day, prioritizing certain tasks and discarding others, and allotting yourself extra time to deal with traffic, for example.
- Feeling cranky. Hit the pause button. Then determine if the crises that you have in your head are overblown and thus overwhelming.
- Spreading yourself too thin. If you feel like 24 hours in a day is simply not enough to do everything you have to do, then you might have to let go of at least one thing on your to-do list—will your life really fall apart if you put off cleaning your house for a couple of days? You can also split errands or chores with your spouse or older children. Remember: You don’t have to do it all by yourself.
- Not getting any me-time. Who has the time, right? But you have to make time—even if it’s just a few seconds! Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “joy expert” and bestselling author of Search Inside Yourself and Joy on Demand, says that there is power in taking just one mindful breath amid a hyper-busy day.
Find a relaxation technique that works for you. Meditation takes practice and not everyone has the time to devote to getting better at it, so find other mechanisms that work for you. Some of the relaxation techniques in psychology are progressive muscle relaxation (where you tense up then relax every muscle in your body, working from your head to your toes), breathing exercises, visualization, and even clinical hypnosis.
Live a healthier lifestyle. Eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity (try looking for a sport that you enjoy), and getting enough sleep not only help you physically but can do wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing as well.
Seek out a soothing scent. A study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found that lavender oil caused “significant decreases of blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, which indicated a decrease of autonomic arousal.” It also put study subjects in a better mood. Try putting some soothing lavender essential oil in a diffuser to help you stay calm.
Be your own cheerleader… instead of being your own biggest critic. Practice silencing the voice in your head that tells you that you can’t do something or that you’re bound to fail and replace it with a more encouraging voice. When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, try to shift the conversation you’re having with yourself: Instead of thinking, “There’s no way I can do this,” tell yourself: “I’ll give it my best shot”; instead of “I can’t possibly finish this huge project on time,” think: “I’ll take it one step at a time.”
Be grateful. While you’re practicing positive self-talk, you can also think about the positive things that you have in your life. Studies have shown that gratitude is an effective form of stress relief. Having a gratitude journal, where you write down what you are thankful for at the end of each day, can help you relax. It can be something as simple as a pretty sunset or an encouraging message from a friend, to big accomplishments like a promotion.