We live in uncertain times. In fact, 65% of American adults acknowledge the uncertainty in the United States causes them stress.1 Whether it’s the pandemic, money, work, relationships, politics or the health and safety of you and your loved ones—these stresses can affect your ability to enjoy life.
Stress is completely normal though, explains Dr. Desreen Dudley, clinical psychologist, licensed therapist and Teladoc Senior Mental Health Quality Consultant.
But—when the tension and pressure persist, it can be bad for your mental and physical health. Ongoing, or chronic, stress can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, stomach upset, sleeplessness, skin problems, illness and other medical issues.2
Dr. Dudley suggests six important things you can do to manage your stress and keep your calm.
1. Get a good night’s sleep
Regular rest rejuvenates the body and the mind, but so many of us push this off for other priorities. “We teach our kids to follow a regular bedtime routine and get a sufficient amount of quality sleep, but do we practice what we preach?” Dr. Dudley asks.
Adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep that much or more.3 Without seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night, adults can feel the effects of fatigue and suffer in the areas of judgment, memory or mood.4 Better sleep will lead to a calmer, more focused mind during the day.
Try these tips for better sleep
- Commit to a regular bedtime and wake-up hour
- Avoid electronic screens, work and other stimulating activities at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- Set your bedroom temperature to 65-68 degrees for a comfortable sleeping environment5
2. Exercise regularly
To manage life’s stresses, build physical activity into your daily routine, Dr. Dudley suggests. Exercise reduces fatigue, improves alertness and concentration and enhances your brain’s overall performance. Exercise releases endorphins, or “feel-good hormones,” and other brain chemicals that enhance a sense of well-being and reduce negative feelings.6
Try these exercise tips
- Think of physical activity as a well-deserved escape where you can find clarity and confidence
- Do more of the things you love: walk the neighborhood with a friend, ride a bike or join a community sports league
- Don’t get stuck in all or nothing thinking—every step counts, no matter how small
3. Breathe deeply
By paying attention to your breathing, you can change your mind and body’s stressful symptoms. Quickening heart? Sweaty palms? Racing thoughts? Shallow, fast breathing brought on by stress is typically the cause, Dr. Dudley says, and suggests meditative breathing as a way to calm the nerves.
“There are many easy-to-learn routines for meditation online, from simple deep breathing to guided imagery to muscle relaxation,” the psychologist says. By focusing on the breath instead of your many concerns, you can tap into a more peaceful, relaxed state of being.
Try these easy breathing techniques a few times a day
- Deep breathing: Breathe in deeply and slowly with a pause. Then prolong your exhale.
- 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold the breath for seven seconds. Then exhale deeply through your mouth for eight seconds.
- Four-square breathing (also known as box breathing): Exhale for four seconds. Hold your lungs empty for four seconds. Inhale for four seconds. Then hold your breath for four seconds.
4. Vent your feelings
If you’ve been hiding your stressful feelings inside, you may feel trapped or isolated. Feeling shame only makes stress worse, so don’t bottle up your emotions.
Be proactive about your concerns and fears so you can understand the causes and figure out solutions. Dr. Dudley says, “acknowledging sources of stress is a good way to release it and identify possible ways to relieve it.”
- Dudley’s favorite tip: “Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, family or a therapist”
- A personal journal can also be a great outlet to put your thoughts on paper and prioritize anxieties and stressors
- Teladoc therapists can provide tips for coping with and easing stress and finding deeper connections to people and passions
5. Adopt healthy eating and drinking habits
To get the most out of your body and mind, pay attention to what you’re putting in. There’s a growing link between the food you eat and how you feel. Healthier eating habits are associated with better mental health.7
Additionally, using alcohol as a stress reliever can worsen response to stress in the long run. “While having a glass of wine or beer or smoking a cigarette is a common way to alleviate stress, limiting these is a good way to stay healthy,” Dr. Dudley says.
Try these simple tips
- Think of your kitchen as a way to feel your best and fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats
- Limit your alcohol consumption to up to two drinks per day for men and up to one drink per day for women8
- Schedule a visit with a Teladoc registered dietitian, who can help you figure out what to eat to feel your best and can keep you motivated to stick to your health goals
6. Find fun
It’s easy to get in the habit of working hard to meet life’s demands and responsibilities—on its terms, not our terms. Focusing too much on your career, caretaking or homemaking can stifle the spirit. While the bills always need paying, think about ways to rework your schedule to include hobbies, adventures and laughter.
“Don’t make your life all work and no play,” Dr. Dudley says. “While it sounds cliché, it’s true: Do what you enjoy! Go on vacations! Take care of yourself!” While caring for everyone else, remember self-care too.
Here are some ideas
- Play a board game or an activity with your loved ones
- Explore an artistic or creative outlet that makes you feel truly alive
- Dance to your favorite music or listen to a new podcast
You don’t have to go it alone
If you find yourself under intense or prolonged periods of stress, a therapist can talk with you about coping strategies. Teladoc offers online therapy services on your schedule, with experts available to talk by phone or video 7 days a week at a time that works best for you.
Because, as Dr. Dudley says, everyone wants to feel their best at any age and any stage of life.
Updated November 1, 2021