After the holidays, when life begins returning to our newer “normal” routine, feeling overburdened and stressed is perfectly natural. And while most of us are dealing with some degree of elevated stress right now, it doesn’t mean there isn’t help available. Taking care of yourself in these uncertain times is more important than ever.
When stress levels spiral out of control, it can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. High-stress levels also increase risks for depression, headaches, and a decreased immune response placing us at greater vulnerability for disease.
It’s Time to Get Physical
Physical activity of any kind is great for relieving stress. Movement and exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which make us feel good and naturally enhance our mood.
Being active lowers the body’s output of the hormone cortisol, which causes weight gain, muscle weakness, and osteoporosis. So the next time you feel the stress level elevating, take a minute for a quick walk around the block; your body will thank you.
Yoga combines mental and physical disciplines to achieve balance and peace throughout the body. Enhancing the mood and providing an overall sense of well-being are just two of the advantages of this ancient practice. The positive impact of yoga on mental health and stress relief has been well studied, and the results are very encouraging.
Talk to a Licensed Therapist
Speaking with a therapist about the way you feel can be very helpful in learning to manage stress levels healthily.
A therapist can provide valuable insight and strategies to keep you on the road toward constructively handling stress. Therapists are trained professionals in different types of behavior therapy that keep you healthy and well.
You can talk to your family doctor about getting started with therapy or find a therapist online.
Connect With Loved Ones
While our current situation can make travel and visits with others unwise, especially among the most vulnerable, reaching out to loved ones is an effective stress reliever. Reinforcing social connections with family and friends will cure loneliness and help with reducing social isolation.
Reaching out to safely spend time with friends and family can make you feel better the next time your stress feels out of control.
Develop (or Revisit) a Fun Hobby
Take a second and think back to when you were growing up; what hobbies were fun for you then? Did you enjoy puzzles or trains? What about collecting baseball cards or performing magic tricks? Chances are, if you enjoyed working on your hobby as a kid, you’d still enjoy working on it as an adult.
If picking up a new hobby is interesting to you, consider gardening. This stress-busting hobby can occur almost anywhere, and the options are practically limitless. If backyard space is an issue, try container gardening. As a bonus, you could grow some beautiful annuals to brighten a windowsill or a few vegetables to stretch the food budget.
Take a Good, Hard Look at Your Diet
Studies have shown that chronic stress affects the way the body uses calories and nutrients; practicing “mindful eating” is an excellent way to decrease the intake of junk and processed foods and increase your consumption of healthy, healing foods.
Mindful eating encourages making conscious, beneficial food choices that nourish the body and increase appreciation and gratitude to create a better eating experience. A meditative moment of quiet reflection is typically observed either before or after eating.
Observing mindful eating practices builds a stress-reducing period into each day, allowing you to relax and experience the meal using all of your senses. Over time, this will lead to more significant consideration of what foods you are using to fuel your body and your life.
When the body is experiencing acute stress, the breathing increases, and the brain is bombarded by erratic thoughts that make it difficult to focus and think clearly. The slow, deep, rhythmic breathing patterns, hallmarks of meditation, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the mind.
Meditation has existed as a religious practice for the last 7,000 years and is believed to have begun in the Far East. Its initial spread throughout the ancient world occurred along trade routes between cities. The practice was adopted by practitioners of other religions throughout the region and gradually enfolded into their religious observances.
Research into the physical and psychological effects of meditation was started in the 1970s, and the practice has proven to be an effective way of breathing rates and pulse. Meditation has also proven to be effective in treating the symptoms of hypertension and migraine.
Bake Some Bread
Baking provides stress relief on a level that few other things can match, mainly because it gets all of your senses involved in the process. Studies have repeatedly shown the sense of smell is closely tied to memory. And the smell of a fresh-baked loaf of bread coming out of the oven can melt away stress like the hot butter drizzled across the top of the loaf.
The focus that baking requires and the immense satisfaction from seeing, smelling, and tasting the finished product help build self-esteem and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Get an Adult Coloring Book
The last several years have seen a massive explosion in coloring books geared toward adults, and for a good reason. Coloring pulls our attention away from things stressing us out and refocuses us at the moment.
Coloring also relaxes the brain by engaging in a low-stakes, relaxing activity with the only goal being to create a pretty picture.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with stress is part of life, and it can be dealt with in a healthy manner that does not endanger your physical or mental health.
However, if you feel the need to reach out for help, please contact a licensed therapist to develop new coping skills. These skills will enrich your life and give you a brighter tomorrow.