Stress is perfectly normal. It’s your body’s method of dealing with threats, demands, or external factors that require attention. It’s evolution’s way of saying, “HEY! PAY ATTENTION TO THIS!” It’s what kept the caveman alert and alive when sabertooth tigers were prowling around looking for dinner.
The problem with today’s stress is that we rarely have dangers so obvious as long-toothed felines who want to enjoy us as a coffee-infused snack. However, your body is still constantly on the lookout and can turn every day “threats” like finances, relationships, traffic jams, or work problems into “fight-or-flight” scenarios that dump all sorts of adrenaline and cortisol into your system. If you get too much of this chronic stress, it can disrupt almost every system in your body: immune, digestive, cardiovascular, skin, and mental. This lovely cocktail of disruptions can result in depression, weight gain, autoimmune disease, skin conditions, heart disease, sleep problems, and cognitive memory problems.
So, the question is: How can you lower your stress levels to stay productive in life? Here are five great ways to get you started. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to start with all of them. Pick the one that speaks to you and start de-stressing your life today.)
Break a cycle of negative stress by doing something that is good for your health. Cook a healthy meal, go for a run, hit the gym, or a just a brisk walk in the park. The idea is to take steps that better your body. You’ll get a great rush from the endorphins, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that can hopefully domino into other areas of your life.
Your mental facilities are your most potent tools when it comes to fighting stress. The more in control of your mind you are the easier it is to cut through the clutter of life. Engaging your brain helps you use up your mental CPU. It’s not easy to think about stressful things if you’re using your thought bandwidth for other purposes.
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Practice meditation, learn a language, do a crossword puzzle, take an online course, watch a TED talk, or view a new documentary. However you choose to engage your brain, take a minute to write down both what you did and the perceived result so you can track your progress over time.
Stress indicators can be especially prevalent when things aren’t going well. Whether at home or work, it can be easy to fall into cycles of negative thought. A mechanism to reset that cycle is to interrupt it by accomplishing something that you can take pride in.
Write an article. Find a challenging recipe and make an awesome dish. Paint something. Make something. Do something that you can point back to and say, “I may have x and y that are stressing me out, but I just created something awesome.” Creating something you’re proud of breaks the cycle of “not good enough” and sets you up to blow your next project out of the water.
Sometimes all we need to be less stressed is to gain some perspective. Take a minute and look around for someone who is in need, empathize with them, and do something to help them through their problem. This exercise in mindfulness and action takes your focus off yourself and your problems to place it on others. In doing so, you reset your thought process so when you come back to yourself, you view your difficulties with a more positive perspective.
Slowing down isn’t enough. Take time to stop and be mindful of the world around you. Appreciate it. Enjoy it. Focus on the beauty around you and your place in it. To quote Nick Offerman, “Go outside. There’s nature there.” Take an hour to go for a walk- simply appreciate and enjoy the complexity and simplicity….and the fact that however large your stress load; it can’t reach you here.