Stress is inevitable in our technology-ridden, lighting-paced, tornado-whirlwind lives. Heart Health Month is here to remind us – among many things – that stress also happens to be one of the leading causes of heart disease and heart attack. There are three types of stress: there’s Unavoidable Stress, which comes as a result of poor health, losing a job, or the tragic loss of a loved one. There’s Natural Stress, the kind we put on ourselves to be successful and meet our goals. And then there’s Avoidable Stress, such as running late, being disorganized and sweating the small stuff. Saying stress that many times just totally stressed me out.
Well, sadly there is no magic stress pill for any of it (at least not one that’s good for you), but there are some very specific things you can be doing NOW to relieve, manage and avoid it. Fight the beast with these 18 tangible things you can start doing right this second!
1. ACCEPT STRESS
Before we get started, hear me loud and clear: There will ALWAYS be stress in your life. Always! It will never be perfect; the most you can do is to not let it overwhelm you. YOU’RE in the driver’s seat, in control, and your goal is to keep stress packed in the trunk: You know it’s there and that you have to deal with it, but it isn’t screaming in the back seat for more Cheerios. Once you accept that stress is inevitable, you just have to learn to make the best of it. That’s where the rest of this list comes in.
2. CALL AN OLD FRIEND
This is therapeutic for so many reasons! Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships will fulfill you and help you live joyfully. Expressing your feelings freely, like you can with an old friend, is a great way to relieve stress. It sure beats perusing photos of random people you went to high school with on Facebook.
Carefree laughter is the OPPOSITE of stress, so you can quite literally turn a stressful situation around (temporarily, at least) by surrounding yourself with funny. Hit up a comedy club, call your funniest friend (which accomplishes #1 as well!), or resort to the world’s most ridiculous comedy parade on earth: YouTube. Start with THE FLIP SIDE – if you are a man or a woman, you MUST see this. And if you only have 8 seconds to spare… DARE YOU try to say this out loud.
4. PAUSE… THEN RESPOND
Things happen all the time that make us upset, annoyed and downright furious. BUT, next time something comes your way – PAUSE. Before reacting from the gut and letting your emotions fly, take a step back from the situation. Assemble your thoughts. This short moment of introspection could save you from a turning into your stress monster alter-ego.
5. CLEAN YOUR DESK
Papers everywhere, water bottles from god-knows-when, and twelve and half business cards laying around? I’m talking about my desk – and if I’m describing yours too, it’s time for an intervention. A cleaning tactic that’s worked for me lately is PRETEND CLEANING IS FUN. Smile! Put on music! Stretch in between paper piles! You’ll feel worlds better. Now on the count of three, let’s both go get the Lysol. 1, 2…
6. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR FINANCES
Yes, this one’s a little more complicated than watching a YouTube clip. Debt and money matters are the sources of so much stress in people’s lives, and reduced debt always equals reduced stress. Try LearnVest, a great resource geared toward women to help manage finances and “live your richest life.”
7. SLEEP PRETTY DARLING
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night is not only great for your skin and weight management (yes!) a good night’s sleep is guaranteed to help you deal better with daily stresses. Any amount of sleep deprivation diminishes mental performance, and this includes your threshold for dealing with problems. And annoying people.
What is it you’re passionate about? Helping people? Animals? The environment? Do some research on local communities – VolunteerSpot is a good resouce for parents – and get started! It’ll not only relax you, but helping a worthy cause could help you look at your own “stresses” in perspective. In fact, a study from the University of Michigan that followed 1,211 senior citizens for about seven years and found that those who volunteered just 40 hours a year lived longer than those who didn’t volunteer at all. See how some of our blogger friends give back.
9. FORGIVE SOMEONE
You can’t be fully calm while holding a grudge. It takes work and energy to stay angry at someone; energy that could be going towards volunteering, taking control of your finances, cleaning your desk… you get the picture. Cleanse yourself of negative energy by taking the healthy high road.
10. GET MOVING
You saw this one coming! Endorphins are your stress-free BFFs, and they are released from your pituitary gland every time you get moving. “Runner’s high,” which is the result of extreme endorphin release, has been known to create feelings of euphoria. You may not like the workout part, but you’ll always love the way you feel after it. It’ll not only reduce stress, exercising is your direct, high-speed highway to better heart health.
11. TEN-SECOND AROMATHERAPY
Take a whiff of a lemon, a mango, lavender, or a bouquet of flowers. It’s not just soothing; scientists in Japan have reported clinical evidence that inhaling certain fragrances alter gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that can reduce stress levels. Spas are really onto something with aromatherapy!
12. CREATE A NEW PINTEREST BOARD
Blogging, tweeting, tumbling, stumbling… all these social media activities are designed to be fun, relaxing and self-expressing… thus stress-reducing. The hottest new player in town, Pinterest, is arguably the most fun and therapeutic of them all. We’re obsessed (follow us!), so if you haven’t started yet, close out this blog post right now (well, maybe wait till you’re finished reading), create an account, and get pinning (de-stressing) 5 minutes ago.
13. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE FOR AN HOUR
Alas, there’s the flipside of social media. Being connected all day long CAN be work – especially when it’s your job. Ahem. As soon as you feel like social media is starting to take over, power down your technology and take a breather.
14. ARRIVE EARLY
One of the unnecessary daily stresses we encounter is that time period where you’re running late. You’re angry at traffic, you’re running down the sidewalk in heels like a lunatic (my M.O.), and the ONLY thing you can think about is how bad it is that you’re going to be late. Remove this stress from your life entirely by planning to get somewhere 15 minutes, even a half hour early. What better time to finish up those last few chapters of Hunger Games before the movie comes out?
15. DON’T TRY TO BE PERFECT
Because how stressful is that? If you set unrealistic goals for yourself, you’ll be constantly feeling like a failure. You don’t NEED to meet your husband in the next six months, get straight A’s, or go the gym every day in 2012. Let life take its course at YOUR pace. Don’t follow commandments – follow happiness.
16. CARB AWAY THE STRESS
You read that right. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, fruit, whole grains and brown rice can stimulate your body to produce stress-busting, soporific hormones in a stressful situation, and also balance blood sugar levels. On the other hand, carbs like sugar, white flour, breads, pasta and pastries causes a blood sugar spike, leading to stress. Choose the right carbs as your stress-fighting ally!
17. JUST BREATHE
For five minutes every day, sit by yourself – eyes closed and a smile on your face – and breathe consciously. This can be done as a morning ritual or to regroup in a stressful situation. As Elena Brower put it in her Daily Breathing Health Challenge: “Just sit and listen to your inner talk, and bring more breathing to those five minutes, without judgement. This is the most grounding, healing practice any of us can do.”
18. GO TO THE SPA!
Ahhhh, yes! The stress-buster you’ve been waiting for! There’s no better way to reduce stress than a trip to the spa – and it’s not just for the relaxation benefits. The healing touch of a massage or body treatment stimulates circulation and benefits long-term heart health.