11 Ways to Manage Chronic Stress
Feeling stressed? It happens to everyone. The bad news is, it can disrupt almost every system in the body. Check out this article on what stress does to your body.
The good news: there's a lot you can do to impact how well you handle stress.
How to handle stress
The same level of chronic stress will impact everyone differently. Some people thrive under stress, and some people can't handle even the smallest hurdle.
The impact of stress on your health is closely tied to the strength of your support system, the amount of control you feel you have over it, and most importantly whether you have healthy coping mechanisms.
When we can't reduce the stressors in our life, here are 11 ways to manage our body's response to them so we can stay healthy no matter what life throws our way:
1. Ditch the caffeine
When stressed, many people turn to an extra cup of coffee, but this can actually make things worse. Try switching your afternoon cup to a relaxing decaffeinated herbal tea.
2. Mindfulness and meditation
These are great tools to activate the body's relaxation response, the opposite of the stress response. Mindfulness includes activities to bring you back to the present moment like smelling flowers or focusing on one sense, like what you hear or what you see. Meditation can be simple, or include a guide. The Calm app, YouTube videos, and audiobooks are great resources.
3. Don't overcommit!
You don't have to say "yes" to anything you don't want to do. Minimize any extra responsibilities especially when you're dealing with changing life circumstances or overcommitted in other areas.
4. Ask for help
Advocate for yourself! Whether you need more companionship, help with cleaning, or therapy, be honest with yourself about what extra help you need and ask for it (or hire it).
5. Stay active
Regular exercise produces hormones to lift your mood and can also be a practice in mindfulness (see point 2). It can also serve as a distraction from the repetitive negative thoughts we tend to have when stressed.
6. Check your vitamin levels
The body's stress response uses up certain vitamins to produce cortisol and adrenaline. It also affects your digestive system, meaning you may not absorb nutrients as well as usual. Check your level of iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and zinc, and B vitamins, especially B-12 and niacin. (1)
7. Follow the 20-5-3 rule
Spend 20 minutes minimum outside per day (be sure to put your cell phone down!), 5 hours per month in semi-wild nature (like a state park), and 3 days per year off the grid in nature. This "nature pyramid" has been shown to restore cognitive functioning and improve mood, so get outside! (2) It also improves vitamin D levels, which are strongly linked to mood.
8. Try the 4-7-8 breathing method
Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and exhale slowly for 8 seconds. This breathing pattern has been shown to reduce anxiety and even help you fall asleep faster! Try it whenever you're feeling stressed.
9. Eat the rainbow
When we're stressed, we have a tendency to eat poorly which can exacerbate the problems caused by stress. As mentioned in point 6, we're already more likely to have nutrient deficiencies! Eating a diet rich in omega-3s, colorful vegetables, and protein improves our body's ability to deal with stress and makes us less likely to reach for the sugary, salty snacks.
10. Build strong connections
Cultivating strong relationships is a key factor in how well we respond to stress. No matter how busy life gets, make sure you nurture those key relationships in your life. Seeing a good friend face to face can immediately reduce your stress response.
When we're tired, stress can feel even more overwhelming. At the same time, stress can disrupt our sleep. Keep your room dark, practice good sleep hygiene (like avoiding screens for a few hours before bedtime), and try the tip in point 8 to make sure you're getting enough rest.