10 Healthy Habits to Reduce Stress
By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC
Stress doesn’t have to pin you down and keep you there when you learn how to handle it from the word go. The first step is to create a healthy vision for your life so that you can endure through the tough times. Below are ten healthy habits that can reduce stress.
Stress can be harmful when it is chronic. The body sustains a lot of wear and tear, leading to degenerative illness. But, it doesn’t have to get that bad. A few proactive steps can lead to greater balance and overall well-being.
10 Habits to Cultivate for Stress Reduction
1. Find a sounding board –Trusted friends and trusted family members are great for this. If this is going to be a time-consuming conversation, make sure you give them the heads-up so that you can set up a mutually agreeable time to discuss. It may be helpful to give them an idea of the topic so they have some time to simply process before your conversation. It can be helpful to let them know if you just want someone to listen or if you are asking for advice.
Depending on your situation, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a coach or counselor. They specialize in asking questions to help you gain clarity on your situation which, in turn, helps you determine the correct course of action to take next. The advantage is that they are not emotionally involved with your situation and they can really help you get on the right track.
2. Laughter is the best medicine – Laughing releases endorphins and helps you to smile more often. Read a funny book or watch your favorite comedy movie. Find humor in your everyday life. A laugh a day could keep the doctor away.
3. Manage your workload – Plan for activities only one day each weekend. Plan to leave work at a certain time each day as often as you can so that you can enjoy time with your family and friends. It is important to unplug and take your mind off work. If you find yourself starting to worry, create a list that you can work on when you get back to the office on Monday.
4. Find a physical activity that you like – Exercise is extremely beneficial so make sure you pick something that you find fun so it doesn’t feel like another chore on your endless to-do list. The “fun” part is what will keep you coming back for more. What are some activities you enjoy? Were you involved in sports when you were in school? Anything that you would like to try? There are plenty of adult sports teams where you can find both competitive and non-competitive groups. If you are on a sports team, not only will you release endorphins which will improve your mood, it will also help you build muscle and expand your social network. Our lives are so sedentary that it is important to make an effort to get up and get moving. Definitely, incorporate small breaks into your day where you get up and take a brisk walk. This too will help relieve stress and reenergize you.
5. Organize your life – Pick a day of the week to set up your weekly schedule. Many people like to do this on a Saturday or a Sunday. Create your daily and weekly goals. Take time to review your monthly schedule. Don’t forget to set time aside for down time. To some, this means spending time with family and friends. For others, it may mean spending time alone doing more quiet activities to reenergize. You can get more accomplished in a day when you think ahead and plan well.
6. Volunteer – Sometimes, getting out of your own head is the best way to reduce your stress levels. Give back by helping someone who is in need. It is a great way to gain perspective too. Go with a group of friends to bag food for the food bank so that you can catch up with your friends and help make the world a better place at the same time.
7. Eat a balanced diet – Food, especially unprocessed and fresh food, can provide your body with antioxidants and vitamins needed to keep your body working in optimal condition. It can be helpful to plan your meals in advance or even meal prep once a week so that you are set. There are a lot of resources to help you find easy recipes, freezer meals-where you prep in advance and simply take it out of the freezer, as well as crockpot recipes. You may find my Pinterest recipe board helpful as well as my Pinterest lunch board
8. Get enough sleep – Depending on your age and your personal physiology, the amount of sleep needed can range from six to as much as nine or ten hours a night. During sleep, the body shuts down all non-vital systems in an attempt to repair itself. Studies have shown that adequate sleep can help with all physical and mental functioning including memory, stress resilience and coordination, just to name a few. A renewed and restored body can handle whatever the new day brings.
9. Take a breather – It is okay to take a mini vacation. Give yourself permission to not do anything if you are feeling fried. It could just be for a weekend, or even an afternoon when you leave work a little bit early. Use it to clear your head so that you can move forward and enjoy your life. Savor your freedom and process your thoughts. We are always so busy that it can be challenging to stop and think about what has been happening in the day. What is working well? What isn’t working as well? How can you incorporate some additional self-care into your day? This is the perfect opportunity to take an inventory of how your life is progressing. Are you happy on your current path? What do you like? What would you like to change? How can you get more of what you like and less of what you don’t like? Who can help? What are your choices/
10. Acceptance – Not everything is not within your control. Actually, maybe a better way of saying that is: you are only in control of yourself and your choices. Really take that in. You are in control of your thoughts, actions, and schedule. When you accept what you can’t change, a weight is lifted. Stress over worrying about unnecessary issues is a waste of time and energy. Feel your feelings and then channel your efforts into more constructive pursuits such as figuring out your choices and digger deeper about the reason this situation is not working for you. Try journaling out your thoughts and feelings to gain clarity, insight and to create an action plan.
It is easy to make unhealthy choices when you are stressed and probably overwhelmed. Consider these suggestions so that you can create a stress management plan before you need it. Create healthy habits now so that when stress comes your way, you already healthy structures in place and will be able to work through your stress more gracefully than before.