It’s a silent killer, and most of us know we need to stop, but we still do it: stress.
New sources of stress seem to crop up daily. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” study showed stress to be at an all-time high in 2017 since it first began the annual study in 2007.
“The increase of stress comes with a profound effect on our lives. Stress impacts our heart, digestive and immune system health, and can even kill brain cells,” explains Neema Moraveji, Ph.D., co-founder of the Spire health tag and head of Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab. “It also prevents us from getting a good night’s sleep, which is so critical to our overall health that the CDC recently declared insufficient sleep to be a public health problem.”
“Stress on the body can be physical stress on the tissues from overtraining, muscle weakness and imbalances, poor nutrition or lack of sleep,” explains Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards, the founder of Precision Performance and Physical Therapy, an innovative and holistic physical therapy practice based in Atlanta, Ga. and host of The Whole You on The Lighter Side Network. “Other types of stresses like financial stress and stress from our careers or family can manifest emotionally or physically. I find that my patients who are overly stressed out in life have a more difficult time recovering from injuries and frequently become injured in the moments they feel the most stress.”
No matter what life throws your way, it’s clear that stress needs to be managed for our immediate happiness and our long-term health. Here are seven things you can do to help manage stress, improve your health and get a better night’s sleep.
Breathing can have tremendous benefits that include physical relaxation, emotional calm and the insight that comes with it.
“There are two major ways to practice awareness of breathing. One involves the formal discipline of making a specific time in which you stop all activity, assume a special posture and dwell for some time in moment-to-moment awareness of the in-breath and the out-breath,” Moraveji says. “The second way is to be mindful of it from time to time during the day–or even all day long, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.”
“Deep breathing into the diaphragm has proven physiological effects on the body,” Dr. Edwards says. “It stimulates your vagus nerve, which in turn can send a message to your brain to slow down and relax. It will help calm your heart rate, decrease blood pressure and help slow down the constant chatter in your mind.”
With the variety of meditation apps available, it’s easier than ever to inject some extra zen into your day. The app CALM can help you practice and reduce anxiety, stress and improve sleep.
“Meditation is very personal,” Dr. Edwards says. “I suggest if you have never done it to try various guided meditations first, then see what works for you. Some people are better sitting quietly with their eyes closed using a timer while others need more guidance. Whatever you do, start slow–even three minutes a day can help. Then don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to keep your mind quiet. Mediation is a practice because we are not meant to do it perfectly.”
Exercise is more than just burning calories: it’s a way to let go of any pent-up anxiety and energy that you might have collected in your mind and body. Moving around helps you relieve any tension and stress that you carry around.
“Studies show that exercise also helps increase mental function and creates endorphins to perk up your mood,” Moraveji explains. “The accomplishment you receive from tackling a hard workout is why gym devotees and ardent runners can attest to flying high while feeling physically spent. Exercise also works as an effective treatment for anxiety.”
Turn Off Your Electronics
Technology has made our lives easier, but it also has a significant impact on our health. With all the push notifications and access to email and social media, all the buzzing and noise can cause us to feel stressed and scatterbrained. It’s important to limit time spent on electronics so that you don’t get caught up in work and other’s lives.
Moraveji suggests trying the following:
- Ease into your day by keeping a buffer between when you wake up and when you first check email.
- For people whose jobs require heavy screen usage, consider getting a pair of blue light-blocking glasses or installing a browser extension to ease eye strain.
- Limit technology use before bed. Giving yourself a 90-minute screen-free period before bed gives your eyes time to reset, helping you sleep better.
Make Your Bed Every Day
There’s so much to do in a day, and some things are out of your control. However, if you start your day feeling decluttered, then it’s easier to go about your day. An easy way to begin putting this into practice is revisiting a not-quite-loathsome childhood chore: making your bed. During a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, Naval Admiral William McRaven shed some light on why this is so important: “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”
“Researchers at Stanford have found those who live in the city are 20 percent more likely to develop anxiety disorders and 40 percent more likely to have mood disorders,” Moraveji says. “They also found spending time in nature to be helpful in emotional regulation, decreasing the number of negative thoughts experienced.”
Try to spend 30 minutes outside each day by spending your lunch hour outside, taking a meeting outdoors or building short walking breaks out of the office into your schedule.
Treat Your Body Right
“If you are in pain because of your overwhelming lifestyle and self-limiting thoughts, you may need to talk to a life coach or sports psychologist to get past that barrier,” Dr. Edwards says.
Sometimes when we are stressed, our bodies begin to feel the pain. Nutrition, massages and stretching are all ways to treat your body well, which can help reduce stress. Make sure to follow a healthy diet and stretch after each workout. Try foam rolling to ease any aches and pains. Wearing compression tights can help ease body pains from stress, as well. All of these practices can help your body recover from the tension that’s placed on you when you’re on overload.