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Looking for some practical tips for managing your stress? This article is for you! Keep reading to learn some methods you can start doing today to decrease your stress and live a healthier, more balanced life.
Stressors are everywhere (hello, COVID-19…) In our modern society, we come in contact with so many more stressful situations than we did even a few decades ago. Heck, even a few years ago!
As women, we’re expected to work full time, keep the house clean, take care of the kids, spend time with our partners, have a social life, and still fit in time for self-care.
It’s a lot. And unless you make a huge life overhaul, those stressors that come along with living in today’s world aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Unfortunately, these never-ending to-do lists and insurmountable expectations are starting to take their toll.
Mental, emotional, and physical stress can impact almost every area of your health. Things from stomach troubles to poor skin, and even a lowered immune response can all be a result of a life that’s too stressful.
It’s up to us to put in place some boundaries and practical steps to start better managing our stress. Without them, stress can control our lives and sabotage our health.
In this article, you’ll learn five of my best tips for managing stress that you can start doing right now.
It’s my hope that you can use these tools to help live the life you crave, without it derailing your health.
Tip #1 for Managing Stress: Learn Your Limits
Is saying “no” hard for you? If so, this stress management tip is for you.
Overcommitment is one of the primary avenues of mental and emotional stress we face today.
If you’re the average woman, you’re juggling a handful of daily tasks, all while trying to be available at the drop of a hat for friends and family.
I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, if it’s starting to affect your health – mentally or physically – it might be time to learn how to set some limits.
The first step in learning your limits is to understand how you’ve gotten yourself overburdened in the first place.
Is it because you don’t want to say “no?” If so, can you dig deeper into why saying “no” is difficult for you? Are you worried you’ll disappoint someone if you have to decline?
Or is it more internally driven, do you want to be the one who can do it all? (Hint: you can’t, and that’s okay!)
Next, I want you to print out a weekly calendar and block off at least 10% of your awake time for self-care, relaxation, or whatever helps you de-stress.
This could be 20% of every day, or a bigger block of time on a single day, like a Sabbath.
Once you’ve blocked that time off, you can go ahead and schedule in your non-negotiable things – like going to work, driving the kids around, cooking, and eating.
And the time you have left is what you then have available to use as you wish.
Giving yourself set limits on what you can do in a day is a great way to limit the stress you can put on yourself and help to ease you back into a more health-promoting lifestyle.
Tip #2 for Managing Stress: Control Your Thoughts
Did you know that you actually have control over your thoughts? In fact, your thoughts are one of the only things you have control over!
Those spiraling, stressful, “what if” scenario thoughts – the truth is you don’t have to think them.
Learning to control your thoughts is one of the most useful – but often hardest to implement – tips for managing stress.
The fact is that it’s not the situations around us that cause stress. Rather, it’s our thoughts about those situations and circumstances that creates the stess. Even in objectively stressful circumstances, like the loss of a job or a major illness, we still have control over our internal reaction to that circumstance.
Taking control of your thoughts and shifting your mindset away from stress takes time. But with these quick, practical tips, this can be a great way to work towards managing your stress.
The first step in controlling your thoughts is to notice the situations and circumstances in which stressful ones arise.
Is it when you’re stuck in traffic and the never-ending to-do list once you get to work is running through your head? Or is it when you’re preparing to have a difficult conversation with a friend and hundreds of “what if” scenarios are playing in your mind?
Once you start to notice the thoughts that stress you out, you can start taking action steps to stop them. It can be as simple as replacing that stressful thought with a more neutral or even uplifting thought.
You aren’t forced to continue entertaining these stressful, potentially harmful thoughts.
And when you realize you’re thinking about them, I recommend arming yourself with a phrase, mantra, or Bible verse to take your mind in a different direction.
This change is a powerful one that likely won’t happen overnight. But, once you begin to learn to take control of your thoughts, you’ll find your days are much less stressful.
Tip #3 for Managing Stress: Don’t Discount Physical Stressors
Physical stressors have just as much input into your overall “stress bucket” as mental and emotional ones.
If you have your mindset in check but are still killing yourself at the gym five days a week, your body is likely still stressed and your health suffering because of it.
One of the most common physical stressors that I see in my clients is exercise that is too frequent and/or too intense for their bodies. And occasionally I work with clients who don’t move enough, which can contribute to more stress as well.
That’s why one of my best tips for managing stress is to start exercising at a level that is conducive to a healthy stress response.
Both cardio and intense weight training can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol rises during an intense workout, but it’s the systemic inflammation that the exercise causes that keeps your stress levels high.
The inflammation process triggered by intense training increases the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body. These cytokines activate the HPA axis, start a stress response which includes the release of cortisol. This increase in cortisol levels from intense training can push your already stressed body and mind over the edge.
If you find that you’re feeling exhausted, mentally, and physically, after working out, it might be time to slow down for a bit.
Low-intensity exercise actually reduces circulating cortisol levels. So, if you’re stressed and don’t want to make it worse, try trading your intense exercise routine for something a little more calming.
Yoga, walking, tai chi, or swimming are great ways to move your body that won’t kickstart a stress response.
And if you still crave some intense, strenuous exercise on occasion, do it early in the morning. Morning is when our cortisol levels are the highest and doing more intense training at that time will help to minimize the negative impact of exercise on your stress levels.
Tip #4 for Managing Stress: Pick the Right Stress-Management Tool for You
Implementing some high-quality stress management techniques is my next tip for managing stress.
We can’t get rid of all the stressors in our life. It’s just not possible. So learning how to make the stress you do encounter each day a little more manageable is a great skill to have.
There are hundreds of stress management techniques and recommendations that you can find on the internet. The most important part is that you find ones that are meaningful to you and that you’ll be able to commit to the long-term.
A nightly yoga routine isn’t going to help you manage your stress if doing yoga makes you frustrated. And a journaling practice is only a good stress management tool if you remember to do it.
When trying to choose some stress management techniques, make sure that they’re right for you.
“Right for you” means you like doing them, you have the ability to do them regularly, and for you, they truly do reduce stress.
Some things that work well to help me manage my stress are doing a daily bible study and writing out my planner for the day in the morning. Starting my day off with an uplifted mood, a centered mind, and a clearly focused to-do list helps me feel far more prepared to tackle the day. I also enjoy walking my dog in the afternoon to take a mental break from work. And in the evening, I enjoy doing a devotional with my husband for quality reconnection time.
What works as a stress management technique is going to be different for everyone. And while finding the one that works best for you may take some time and effort, it’s definitely worth it.
Tip #5 for Managing Stress: Take Care of Your Body
Managing stress can only get you so far. If you’ve depleted from a lack of sleep, dehydration, or a poor diet, your baseline stress levels aren’t going to be doing you any favors.
This is why taking care of your body is so important when it comes to managing your stress.
First, make sure you’re well hydrated. I recommend aiming to drink about half your body weight in ounces every day.
For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll want to aim for at least 75 ounces of water. If you’re working out or highly active, you’ll need to adjust the amount you drink accordingly.
Studies show that being slightly dehydrated can increase your baseline cortisol levels. This puts you at greater risk of overflowing your stress bucket and feeling the negative health effects.
Second, prioritize sleep. Aim for getting quality sleep between seven and nine hours every night.
Even after one night of sleep deprivation, studies show that cortisol remains elevated into the next evening. And if you’re not getting enough sleep on most nights, these effects compound themselves filling up your stress bucket.
If you have trouble falling asleep, try implementing some of those stress management techniques from tip #4 before bed. Getting into a good wind-down routine from your busy day can make a huge difference in your sleep quality.
And finally, eating a diet of mostly real food can be so helpful when it comes to managing stress.
Diets that are high in processed foods and refined carbohydrates can lead to poor blood sugar control and higher cortisol levels.
Instead of reaching for that packaged snack or sugary drink, aim to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. These foods help to balance blood sugar, keep you full longer, and give your body all the sustainable energy it needs to take on the day.
External stressors aren’t going away any time soon. So giving your body the support it needs to be able to deal with them will help be able to still feel great even when dealing with stress.
The Bottom Line on Stress Management
When it comes to practical tips for managing stress, you don’t have to make it complicated.
The most important thing is that you choose some techniques that will actually make a difference in your stress levels, and that you’ll be able to commit to long-term.
You don’t need to implement all these tips right away. Start with the one that resonates with you the most, and go from there. What matters is that you’re working on reducing your stress so that you can improve your health.
You don’t have to live a life of constant stress and the health effects that come along with it. But it is a conscious choice to change your lifestyle and mindset, and it’s one that will take practice and persistence.
Once you start toning down your stress levels and healing your body and mind, I bet you’ll find that you can still live the life you crave but from a healthier, happier perspective.
Now you tell me, how do you manage your stress? What’s one tip you would add to my list? Share your thoughts in the comments.