In today’s society, everyone deals with stress in some form or another. From running errands to running marathons, physical, mental, and chemical stress can take its toll on your mind and on your body. However, the mere existence of stress isn’t a worst case scenario that should be avoided at all costs; stress can, in fact, motivate you…it all depends on how you choose to react to these daily stressors.
While we can’t predict or completely control our environmental circumstances, each of us has the ability to control our personal reaction to the stressors that arise in our path. To retain control over your mood, your happiness, and your wellbeing, you must be able to recognize these stress factors, identify their cause, and take action to remain cool, calm, and collected.
What is Stress?
Physical Stress – Physical stress occurs when your body is out of balance within itself. Everything from injury, illness, exhaustion, lack of sleep, dehydration, and weight issues can cause these harmful, system imbalances. Some of these symptoms are easy to spot and fix; others take time and careful planning.
Chemical Stress – Chemical stress occurs when something you ingest causes your body to become out of balance. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, environmental toxins, hormonal imbalances, or poor nutrition are all common culprits. Any number of poor, lifestyle choices can cause your body to perform suboptimally and boost your stress levels.
Emotional Stress – Negative thoughts, emotions, and outlooks can build up internally while impacting how you view the world around you, your relationships, and yourself. Emotional stressors may be due to your circumstances (both controlled and uncontrolled) or simply how you feel about your life.
For the next four weeks, we’ll work on ways to help clear your mind, balance your body, and empower your emotional fortitude. For each type of stress, there is a corresponding activity or concept. Some of these tasks will require more than a week- some less. Take your time with each element while striving to create a balanced and stress-free life.
The Four Week Plan:
Reduce emotional stress by only focusing on aspects of life that you can change.
Being in a state of constant worry about the future is pointless. If you find yourself being stressed about the possibilities or problems that may lie ahead, ask yourself if that scenario is within your control. If the answer is yes, work for your desired outcome. If the answer is no, don’t sweat it- worry is a waste of time, energy, and thought.
Reduce your physical stress by developing a sleep schedule…and sticking to it.
Getting adequate sleep is the single, largest factor affecting how your body manages stress. It’s that important. According to WebMD.com, the average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but the key is finding what works best for you.
Reduce chemical stress by cutting your caffeine intake.
It’s a simple step, but it’s vital. Your body wasn’t designed to function on stimulants. Caffeine intake may seem harmless, but it’s not; long term caffeine intake can negatively affect your mood, energy cycles, and sleep patterns. It’s much better to adjust your bedtime habits to make sure you’re getting the sleep you need rather than relying on stimulants to get you through the day.
You may need to lower your intake gradually to avoid headaches or fatigue. Like any drug, if you quit cold turkey, you may develop adverse effects; try a transition beverage like Oolong or Pu-erh tea. Both have less caffeine than coffee and can help your body gradually acclimate to your java withdrawal.
Reduce your chemical stress by reducing/eliminating artificial foods.
Your body is a finely-tuned engine. If you’re constantly fueling up with low quality energy, your system will pay the price. Refined, processed, or manufactured foods contribute to inflammation, lead to chronic disease, and can also impair your mood. Opt for whole foods, and avoid avoid anything packaged. Making this change will cut down on the chemicals and additives that your body has to process and will kickstart your body into becoming a clean, fuel-burning engine.
Now, this isn’t a death sentence for all of your favorite foods…the key to a balanced life is, well, balance. If the majority of your meals are healthy and nutritious, it’s ok to splurge on a pizza once in awhile. Make intelligent, daily choices that will add up to a healthy and controlled life.
Combat physical stress by exercising daily.
Regular physical activity can help add years to your life, help you feel better, and give you more energy with which to enjoy each day. Exercise improves your mood, boosts energy, helps control weight, and combats diseases and other health conditions.
The Mayo Clinic recommends, at least, 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Go for a walk, ride a bike, hike some trails, take a yoga class, or hit the weights. The possibilities are virtually endless! Do what makes you happy and what you can reasonably expect to continue day after day. Incorporating daily exercise isn’t a short term commitment; it’s a lifestyle change.
Reduce your emotional stress by taking control of your finances.
Up to 70% of adults report being “very stressed” about money. High levels of financial stress have been linked to sleep problems, depression, and other health concerns. Taking control of your finances allows you to eliminate a huge stress source and can free up your brain space to concentrate on living your life.
- Set goals. Start with the long-term: Set up a retirement account. Pay down high-interest debt. Once you have the big picture, set up short-term goals that help you accomplish the long-term goals: decrease spending, stop incurring credit card debt, save more, etc.
- Create a budget. The best tool at your disposal to stop worrying about money is a budget. Work through all of your income and expenses, and plan out where every dollar is going to go at the beginning of each month. There are some great tools like Mint that help you track your spending and analyze opportunities for additional savings.
- Start an emergency fund. It’s not if, it’s when! Car repairs, medical expenses, loss of a job, and other emergencies are going to happen at some point. If you’ve planned ahead for them, you remove the financial stress of the situation. You have a fund to cover it. Start with $1,000 in an entirely separate bank account until you’ve eliminated any debt you carry. Once you’re debt-free, then work up to, at least, six months of your regular expenses.
- Attack your debt. Carrying around thousands of dollars of debt may seem like the norm in today’s I-Want-It-Now-Society, but it’s not. If you can’t afford to pay cash you’ve already earned, you can’t afford to buy it. If you must take out a loan for a large purchase such as a home mortgage, wait to do so until you have a minimum of 20% to put down. The less debt hanging over your head, the better.
After you have your emergency fund, take every extra dollar you have and start paying down any debt that you carry. Begin with the highest interest liability and work your way down until you’re completely debt free!
Lower your chemical stress by evaluating negative inputs and reduce or eliminate when needed.
You’ve improved your diet and cut the caffeine in your life. Now it’s time to take a look at everything else you’re putting into your body. Do you indulge in any vices? Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs (either legal or illegal) all create a chemical imbalance in your body. Sit down and analyze your vices, and determine if you need to take action to reduce your chemical stress. Remember, your body is designed for optimal performance. It may require a bit of getting used to, but a body that’s running only on high-quality fuel is much more sustainable than one that is dependent on negative inputs.
Reduce emotional stress by optimizing your environment
As much as we hate to admit it, that messy house is never going to clean itself! Our surrounding environment can contribute either to our life’s sense of balance or to our rising stress levels. If your house and life are cluttered, your thoughts and emotions will be as well. This week, make time to go room by room and de-clutter your life. Donate or throw away excess belongings, work to organize your house, and only buy what you absolutely need going forward. The practice of minimalism is a process- you’ll need to make it a part of your routine if you want to stay clutter-free!
Reduce emotional stress by practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness occurs when you focus your attention on the present moment. Don’t judge it. Don’t analyze it. Don’t try to change it. All you need to do is simply accept it. Practicing mindfulness allows you to disconnect from the stress attached to your current circumstances and live in the here and now. There are many paths to the practice of mindfulness; however, your goal should be to achieve a state of focused relaxation that allows your mind to focus on the present moment.
Did you find this plan to a balanced life helpful? Did we miss anything? What is your favorite way to relieve stress?