The holidays have come and gone and 2019 has begun, so where’s that sense of calm that was supposed to wash over you? If all that festive chaos didn’t make way to peaceful Zen in the New Year, you’re not alone. Eight in 10 Americans say they encounter stress in their daily lives,1 and many of us are overwhelmed and worried about life.
Stress is completely normal, explains Dr. Desreen Dudley, PsyD, Teladoc Behavioral Health quality consultant. But when the tension and pressure persist, it can be bad for your mental and physical health. Whether you’re stressed about money, work, relationships, politics, or your own health or safety, worry can affect your ability to enjoy life.
Ongoing, or chronic, stress can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, stomach upset, sleeplessness, skin problems, illness, and other medical issues. To keep the effects of stress at bay, Dr. Dudley suggests six important things you can do to keep your calm, managing life’s obstacles with poise and peace.
- 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.
Without 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night,2 adults can feel the effects of fatigue and suffer in the areas of judgment, memory, or mood. It’s a vicious cycle: Stress can cause a lack of sleep, and then lack of sleep causes us to feel more stressed. Adults who sleep fewer than 8 hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep that much or more.3
Commit to a regular bedtime and wake-up hour. Avoid screens, work, and other stimulating activities at night, and establish a comfortable sleeping environment. Better sleep will lead to a calmer, more focused mind during the day.
- Exercise every day.
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.4
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or worried, get your body moving—and then do it again the next day. Play a sport, ride a bike, join a gym, or walk the neighborhood with a friend. Let physical activity be a well-deserved escape where you find clarity and confidence. Understanding the direct connection between exercise and stress relief is enough to get any couch potato up and moving to achieve a calmer state of being that has major lasting effects. Just take that first step!
- 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 peaceful, relaxed state of being.
Try breathing in deeply and slowly with a pause, and then prolonging your exhale. Do this for a few breaths, a few times a day. If it sounds simple, it is! Make time for this quiet, meditative magic to reduce stress, be more present and grateful, improve your awareness and mood, and enjoy deeper relaxation.
- 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, Dr. Dudley says. “Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends, family, a therapist, or even a personal journal. Acknowledging sources of stress is a good way to release it and identify possible ways to relieve it.”
If regular daily stressors become a lasting problem, more serious mental disorders can develop. Assigning words to confusing or jumbled thoughts can be helpful in managing stress before it gets out of control. Be proactive about your concerns and fears so you can understand the causes and figure out solutions. Teladoc Health therapists can provide tips for easing stress and finding deeper connections to people and passions for improved coping.
- Adopt healthy habits.
To get the most out of your body and mind, pay attention to what you’re putting in. Using alcohol as a stress reliever can worsen response to stress in the long run, and even lead to alcoholism.5 “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 recommends.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 9.8 million U.S. men and 5.3 million women have an alcohol use disorder. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans6 recommend having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men for moderate alcohol consumption. Also focus energy on eating a healthy, fruit- and vegetable-rich diet and high-nutrient meals that nourish your mind and body.
- Find fun.
“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!” Sometimes, we get in the habit of working hard to meet life’s demands and responsibilities—on its terms, not our terms. While the bills always need paying, think about ways to rework your schedule to include hobbies, adventures, and laughter.
Focusing too much on your career, caretaking, or homemaking can stifle the spirit. Find moments where you feel truly alive. Play a game, find a new artistic or creative outlet, dance in the living room, eat a decadent dessert, get a massage. While caring for everyone else, remember self-care, too. Life’s demands will always be there. So treat yo’self along the way!
If you find yourself under intense or prolonged periods of stress, a Teladoc Health U.S. board-certified physician or therapist can talk with you about coping strategies. Reach out to us seven days a week to schedule an appointment at a time that’s convenient for you. Fully confidential, help is here online, through our app, or by phone (800-TELADOC or 800-835-2362).
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