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Stress. Something most of us are probably a little more familiar with than we’d like to be. Whether it comes from scrambling to meet deadlines, financial distress, family feuds, social dynamics, or in the form of something else entirely, you can probably name five things that are stressing you out at this very moment. And that’s okay! Stress is normal – so long as it’s an amount of stress that doesn’t interfere with you being able to go about your day. We know what stress is and we know we have stress… but do we know how to manage it so that it doesn’t become dangerous?
The American Institute of Stress conducts a national poll every year measuring the levels of stress in America. Considering the pandemic and the toll it has taken on the world, it is not surprising to find out that stress levels are on the rise according to the results of the poll. Similarly, the American Psychology Association conducts an annual survey of stress levels across the United States and has found comparable results. Some of the top contenders for causing stress were the increasing cost of everyday living such as gas, groceries, and electricity, as well as the current state of the world and personal finances. Sound familiar? Most likely. If you are anything like the average American, these causes of stress are pretty relatable. Not to mention, the age of retirement is continuing to increase as we see people working for longer and longer, which results in these major stressors continuing to have a big impact on our elderly population. Stress has increasingly woven itself into much of our community and is threatening to cause lasting damage to our society.
While stress is normal and can even be an effective motivator when experienced in short, appropriate amounts (think of the clarity you get from a 45-minute workout), chronic stress can have tremendously negative effects on the body and mind. When experienced over a long period of time, stress and the coping mechanisms that often accompany it, can perpetuate disease and make recovery much harder. Managing and controlling stress levels can be crucial in maintaining health and well-being.
Although reading all of this might make your stress levels feel even higher, don’t panic! Fortunately, you have the ability to implement some strategies that have been shown to decrease stress levels to a tolerable, beneficial amount. The following domains are impactful areas of people’s lives that can be fostered to reduce stress if implemented properly.
This can look very different person to person. Physical activity has been proven to improve mood and decrease stress levels. Movement ranges from walking your dog to playing recreational sports with friends to hitting the gym hard with your headphones and zoning everyone else out. Find a way to move your body every day that you look forward to doing and that brings you joy.
Sleep is the only time that your brain truly recovers. In order to properly manage your mood and your stress levels, you must prioritize getting enough sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours. Try creating a “sleep routine” where you establish habits that you practice each night before settling down for bed. This can include dimming the lights in your house, limiting screen time, lighting a candle, or anything else that relaxes you and prepares your body and mind for rest. Many people also find forms of meditation to be extremely beneficial in aiding relaxation and recovery.
What we eat dictates in large part how we feel. A diet made up of skipped breakfasts, meals on the run, and processed foods leaves us feeling low in energy, irritable, and unprepared to handle the regular stressors of life. Aim to eat a varied diet of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates such as beans, sweet potatoes, and whole grains. To complement a proper diet, drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated and functioning properly.
Do the things you love! It sounds simple, but we rarely leave ourselves time for the people and activities that we love. Spending time every day doing an activity that makes you happy can help to reduce stress by breaking up your day and providing distraction and satisfaction. Surrounding yourself with people who love you is a good reminder that you are supported and can take on the challenges of your day-to-day life. Go to community gatherings, call your friends and family, take classes – stay connected!
Consider these areas above in relation to your own life and think about where you can grow to better buffer your stress. To better assess your own stress levels so you can begin taking action to manage them, visit https://www.stress.org/self-assessment!
Image 1 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-matters-most/201701/10-new-strategies-stressmanagement
Image 2 – https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-relieve-stress/
Sleep Foundation – https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
Social Security – https://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/IncRetAge.html
The American Institute of Stress – https://www.stress.org/self-assessment American Psychology Association – https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/health