How to Prevent Stress From Taking Over Your Life
In our fast-paced modern-day lives, sometimes the demands of work and personal responsibilities can cause a lot of stress. The World Health Organization defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation”. Stress is a natural response of humans, it helps us face the challenges and threats we may encounter in our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some extent, however, the way we respond to stress makes a big difference to our overall well-being.
Stress can be caused by a variety of situations, hey can range from mild annoyances such as being stuck in a traffic jam or having an upcoming deadline or exam, to more serious problems including traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one and a serious illness, big life changes such as moving to new country or unemployment. The main stress hormone in the body, produced by the adrenal glands, is cortisol. It is our bodies’ built-in alarm system, and necessary for regulating certain bodily functions in the face of threats. However, a constantly increased cortisol level can be dangerous.
Also Read: How to cope with exam stress?
Stress affects not just the mind but also the body. A little bit of stress can be good and can motivate us to perform the tasks we need to. However, too much stress can be dangerous. It can worsen your mental health and cause a lot of emotional distress. It may even manifest as physical symptoms such as changes in appetite and sleeping problems. A lot of people turn to unhealthy coping strategies like smoking and drinking. These only provide very temporary relief and do more harm than good in the long run. Here are some healthy ways you can cope with stress and prevent it from taking over your life:
When your body is healthy, so is your mind.
Physical activity helps improve your mood. It does so by stimulating the release of hormones like endorphins and endorphins and endocannabinoids that help relieve pain and improve sleep. You might have heard of the phrase ‘runner’s high’. Euphoria senses that some people experience after long runs. People who exercise also report less anxiety. While dedicating time to activities such as swimming, running, and cycling is beneficial. Even if you don’t have the time for these, you can make simple changes to incorporate more physical activity into your routine.
This can include using stairs instead of the elevator, biking instead of taking your car, and cleaning your house by hand. A form of exercise that is an especially good stress reliever is yoga. There are many different kinds of yoga, but the yoga forms that focus on slow movement, deep breathing, and stretching exercises are the best for stress management. They may help in lowering your cortisol levels, blood pressure, and heart rate, and reduce anxiety and stress.
2. Maintain a Balanced Diet
Your diet affects all aspects of your health, including your mental health. A study reported that people who consume highly processed foods tend to have high-stress levels. Intake of a balanced diet can help manage stress. Snacking and eating a lot of junk food is a common stress response. You should try to minimise consuming processed foods and eat whole foods instead. Foods with complex carbohydrates and lean proteins, like fish, meat, eggs, and nuts are especially healthy. Antioxidant-rich foods such as beans, fruits, and ginger help protect your cells against the damage that chronic stress may cause. A lack of nutrient-rich foods can cause deficiencies of nutrients that are essential for mood regulation, such as magnesium and Vitamin B. Dietary supplements can also help overcome this lack of nutrients.
Caffeine is a chemical that stimulates the central nervous system. It is present in coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Everyone has varying degrees of caffeine tolerance. Overconsumption of caffeine can worsen anxiety and cause sleep problems, in turn causing stress. To reduce stress, you should cut back on caffeinated beverages and replace them with herbal teas and more water.
3. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Schedule
Lack of sleep is both a cause and consequence of high-stress levels. If you don’t get adequate sleep, you may get caught in the vicious cycle of poor sleep and high stress. Setting a sleep schedule in which you get a full 7-8 hours of sleep without breaks can be helpful. Limit your screen time and consumption of caffeine before bedtime. Instead, engage in activities that promote better sleep, such as meditation and stretching.
4. Employ Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques can calm your nerves instantly and provide relief from stress. Including them in your everyday routine has varied benefits, including better sleep, relief from chronic pain, increased energy levels, and less anxiety and stress.
- Meditation: Meditation is one of the best ways of relaxing your body and mind. Find a quiet place to sit and focus your thoughts on a singular word, phrase, or object. You can also use audio files available on the internet for guided meditation. Meditation can be coupled with breathing exercises for maximum benefits.
- Deep breathing: Deep breathing sends more oxygen to your brain. It is a great way to calm your sympathetic nervous system, which gets activated when there is a perceived threat, and controls the body’s fight or flight response. Take in a deep breath for 5 seconds, hold it for two seconds, and then release it slowly for five seconds. Repeat the process until you feel deeply rested.
- Guided Imagery: You might have come across a recent relaxation trend – ‘going to your happy place’. More formally known as guided imagery, it involves visualising scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. You can sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and think of a place that makes you feel relaxed, imagine the presence of a person who soothes you, or conjure up an experience that makes you calm and happy.
- Body Scan: In this relaxation technique, deep breathing is combined with muscle relaxation. After deep breathing for a while, focus on one part of the body at a time (such as your foot, or your shoulders), and mentally release any physical tension you feel there. Then do the same for other body parts. This can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection and leave you feeling relaxed and de-stressed.
5. Connect With People
Humans are social beings, and social support from friends and family is crucial while coping with stressful times. Spending time with loved ones, having conversations or doing activities you enjoy can boost your mood and strengthen you while dealing with the stress of work and life challenges. Finding a sense of community and helping others – through volunteering and community work – can also be mentally rewarding and help with stress.
6. Limit Social Media and News Consumption
Constantly being bombarded with the news of world events and occurrences can be a big source of stress. It is good to keep yourself informed, but hearing about or looking at traumatic incidents can be upsetting. Limiting your social media or news consumption to a couple of times in the day and disconnecting yourself from screens can help you relax.
7. Avoid Procrastination
Procrastination refers to the act of delaying tasks till the last minute or right before their deadline. This practice is very closely related to increased stress levels, especially in students. It has adverse effects on your health and sleep quality and also harms your productivity. If you are a regular procrastinator, making daily to-do lists and schedules can be helpful. Give yourself realistic deadlines, and reward yourself for progress. Work on your list of tasks one at a time. Getting even small tasks done can help reduce stress levels drastically.
Also Read: The Psychology of Procrastination