Stress is one of the leading causes of stroke and hypertension in our society. But stress isn’t always a dirty word! We need a certain amount of stress in our lives in order to function well. For instance, a desire to excel in our business; the drive to please customers; and the practice of goal-setting and goal-completion all impose a level of stress on us that is good and productive.
However, too much stress, or the wrong kind of stress can:
- Kill creativity
- Cause irritability and harm relationships
- Squash fun and our enjoyment of life
- Damage our physical, emotional, and spiritual health
Stress can either come from outside of us, or be self-imposed. Either way, we can take steps to greatly reduce and/or manage our stress levels. Here are 8 effective ways to lower stress:
- Set reasonable goals for yourself. Here’s where you really have to know yourself. Or, if you’re in a long-term relationship, your significant other can provide you with great feedback. We need a certain level of stress in order to stretch and grow. But too much stress places unreasonable demands on us that render us less effective. Think of this in terms of a sport like surfing. The surfer wants waves big enough to give them a thrill and increase their skill. Waves that are too small are boring. But waves that are too big for the surfer’s skill and comfort level are dangerous and frightening. Find your stress sweet-spot in goal-setting and “ride that wave!”
- Exercise regularly. When we’re under stress, regardless of the cause, our bodies secrete stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. These are both important chemicals in a fight-or-flight emergency. But many stressful situations don’t allow for fighting or fleeing. Over time these stress chemicals damage our health. The best way to flush the body from these stress chemicals is to exercise. Often, I’ve experienced and heard others say when exercising, “I can feel the stress melting away!” You don’t have to have a 6-pack to get the benefits of exercise. Just get out and be active regularly.
- Eat less and fast intermittently. Eating too much food and too often makes us lethargic and can cause all kinds of metabolic issues and diseases. These add to and even cause stress. Intermittent fasting is a great way to discipline yourself to cut back on the amount of food you eat. You can fast intermittently in a variety of ways:
- Fast 24 hours once a week.
- Don’t eat between 7pm and 7am.
- Fast for a whole day once a month.
- When you fast, always stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Laugh a lot! Laughing really is good medicine. Laughing gives us a more measured perspective of reality. When we laugh, we usually do so in the context of healthy relationships. Laughing prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously.
- Cultivate healthy relationships. Nothing is more stressful than relational conflict. Don’t hold grudges. Forgive others their faults. Do all you can to invest in healthy relationships by loving and spending time with others.
- Slow down. Do you find yourself gripping the steering wheel tightly and bearing down on that slow driver in front of you? Slow down; take it easy; don’t be in such a hurry! When we hurry we make mistakes and that too adds to our stress levels. Relax, and enjoy the view.
- Avoid debt. Debt is a hard task-master! When we bought that new car on credit, or made that purchase on our VISA card, we thought we could handle the payments, no problem. But situations change, and that new car or purchase may now feel like a prison sentence. Take steps to get out of debt if you’re in debt; and if you’re out of debt, cling to the freedom it offers.
- Take time to relax, meditate, and get plenty of sleep. Your body and mind need down-time. Do something enriching and enjoyable: read a book; pursue a hobby; watch a good movie; play games with friends; go for a stroll with a loved one. Find a guided meditation app that you like and work daily on calming your mind and being mindful. And while you’re at it, be sure to get a good night’s sleep!
Too much of the wrong kind of stress can steal our joy and our health. Put one or more of these stress-reduction strategies into practice today and experience some relief! Then manage your stress as a way of life.
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