If you’ve followed the headlines in news magazines or listened to the radio lately, there has been quite a lot about the increase of stress at work.
And it’s not only an issue for people who are employed. What about students in grad school (or any type of school), single moms or dads, housewives, or people in retirement?
We all have stress.
Stress is subjective. Do you know people who are constantly on the move, juggling several balls in the air at once, and yet don’t appear stressed? Stress starts in your head, with your attitude and perspective. Although you might not throw every ball in your hand with the same energy, you need to keep it all in perspective to make it work. The trick is to find a balance between things we have to do and things we want to do.
If you’re struggling to find your homeostasis, here are six tips to de-stress yourself:
1. Loosen up a little.
Putting ourselves under constant stress is easy. We tend to exaggerate and see ourselves as way too important sometimes. Think about it: how many times have you said (or at least thought) that without you, everything would turn into a huge chaos, not work out, or just not be done right?
Particularly perfectionists will know what I am talking about. You go on every day, working almost 12 hours, sometimes even feeling bad if you haven’t been working the whole day. You’re making your own life an emergency and forgetting to actually live it. It’s a vicious cycle that only you can break by delegating tasks, slowing down, and trusting that everything will get done even if it is the next day.
Repeat to yourself in those moments: “Life isn’t an emergency unless I make it so.”
…and slow down. Mindfulness is a powerful virtue that we can learn. If our central nervous system is on override and you catch yourself in a moment where you cannot even deeply inhale anymore, try this: get into the yoga pose called child’s pose, and start to breathe in and out 10 times. Slowly. Count up to four each time as you inhale, and as you exhale. You will notice how much calmer you are, and how much more able you are to think clearly again.
As Thich Nhat Hanh put it, “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thought. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
Trust me, it works!
3. Eat well and keep moving.
These two tips have probably saved me during college and grad school. There is something called anti-stress food, and endorphin-releasing movement for a reason. Again, you need to have an outlet for all the stresses you’re exposing to your body and mind. Stress is not only the greatest immune system enemy out there, it also causes people to skip meals, make poor food choices, and oftentimes eat on the go, if at all.
Each time we experience stress, our cortisol level (the “anti-stress hormone”) high jacks, which may increase our energy level and memory functions for a short moment, but if this stress phase isn’t followed by a relaxation phase, the body won’t have a chance to return to normal (homeostasis) again. This in turn, could result in chronic stress, lower cognitive performance, and high blood pressure, just to name a few.
There it is, the mind-body connection. So, try to eat fresh and regularly as much as possible, keep moving with exercise that you enjoy, and get enough sleep (seven to eight hours each night). Add plenty of fresh veggies, lean meat, fish, fruit, green tea, water, tofu, quinoa, oats and other whole grains to your diet, and you’ll be less affected by stress.
4. Laugh it up and smile.
Laughing is the best exercise and can be done with no extra equipment. It trains more than 50 of our face muscles alone, not to mention all the other muscles in the body. Also, simply the act of smiling sends the message to our brain that we’re happy (even when we’re not), releasing serotonin (the happy hormone) and plenty of endorphins, because oour body changes its physiological levels according to the emotion it experiences. Have I mentioned the mind-body connection before?
5. Try meditation.
I know, I know. Meditation is just one word of 10 letters, but such a difficult thing to do for most people. I was one of them. When I was a little kid I wasn’t able to sit still, and today I still can’t. I have to keep moving after at least 30 minutes of sitting. Thus, watching a DVD on the couch is not relaxing to me. If I do watch TV, I usually stretch, do yoga or the hula-hoop, or something else while it’s on.
Meditation was something I always wanted to try to help me slow down and also because of all the health benefits, but I quit after not even five minutes each time. Until I found out that meditation can be done in several different ways, which do not require sitting. So, my way to meditate is to go for a walk each day. This enables me to deeply breathe in and out, concentrating my mind only on my breathing and filling my lungs with oxygen through the fresh air. When I inhale, I picture freshness and energy entering my body, and when I exhale, I imagine all the toxins and “old” air leaving it. It feels amazing and helps me to be present, and finally relax.
6. Slow Down and Try Yoga.
If you know me, you won’t be surprised by this one. Yoga has not only transformed my body, it has also transformed my mind. Today, in this fast-paced world, we tend to eat or drink while doing something else. Even when we sleep, most people have their TV turned on because they’re claiming to slow down and fall asleep better that way. In fact, the opposite is true. When the TV is on, our brain is still confronted with stimuli that it needs to process while we’re trying to sleep. To avoid being too technical and detailed, I’ll say it simply: your brain won’t get the relaxation and restoration time that it needs. Yoga will help us to stay focused, aware and mindful about ourselves and our bodies, which will naturally reduce how stressed we feel. So slow down, turn off your TV, breathe, relax and stay ‘yogilated.’
Karen Naumann earned her M.A. in Counseling & Organizational Psychology in Chicago, IL. After living in the USA for six years, she decided to move back home to Germany in 2012. She’s a strong believer in the mind-body connection and looks at each individual as being unique. Karen is a health-nut, and passionate about traveling, cultures, languages, healthy nutrition, as well as practicing yoga and Pilates. Her goal is to inspire others, and to share the importance and beauty of life with positive thinking even in difficult times.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel