Stop Stress in its Tracks

Simple strategies for keeping stress at bay.

Stress is an inevitable—even healthy—part of life. A little bit of short-term stress has actually been shown to sharpen our cognitive skills and strengthen our immune system; however, long-term, chronic stress can really take a toll on our health, compromising our sleep, immune system, physical health, and emotional wellbeing.

We’ll never live in a world that’s completely stress-free, but we can learn to navigate our stress-filled world with ease so that we live with stress, not under stress.  Try these simple tools for stopping stress before it stops you:

Gimme’ a Break: Take short, frequent breaks throughout your day. This is like a simple release-valve that helps prevent stress from building up to an inevitable crisis point. Taking a break may seem counterintuitive when you already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but these short breaks will actually help you to feel refreshed and consequently manage your time better. Make it short and snappy—a walk to the restroom, a trip to the drinking fountain, or a quick walk around the block will do the trick. Stand up. Look away from the computer screen. Take five deep breaths. Spend two minutes doodling. Just take a breather from the task at hand.

Time Management: To state the obvious—if being late causes you stress, don’t be late. It sounds so simple, so why is it so hard for most of us to put into practice? Being late causes an immense amount of unnecessary stress. Take responsibility and take charge of your time. Resist the urge to wait until the last minute to drive across town for that meeting; instead, be the early bird. You may find yourself with five extra minutes to breathe.

Use Food as Fuel: Putting food in your body is sort of like putting gas in your car. The car won’t run on an empty tank and neither will you. But, it’s important to choose wisely. You wouldn’t put sugar in your gas tank. Choose foods that will support and energize you. Whole foods that are packed with nutrients will keep your engine running, whereas junk foods loaded with sugar will rob you of precious energy.

Limit Alcohol: Alcohol is a trickster—it will lull you into a false sense of relaxation after a drink or three, but in reality that alcohol is going to interfere with your deep sleep cycle. As a result, you’ll enter a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, which causes stress, which further interferes with sleep, which causes more stress, and on and on. Limit yourself to no more than one drink per day to avoid this stress cycle.

Exercise: Exercise boosts energy and releases feel-good hormones called endorphins. Furthermore, it’s an excellent way to release a build-up of stress energy that has nowhere to go. Commit to a daily exercise program and make it a non-negotiable part of your self-care routine. This is one of the best ways to prevent stress and feel great.

Laugh: Laughter truly is the best medicine. Like exercise, it triggers the release of health-enhancing endorphins. It has been shown to elevate mood and reduce stress. Incorporating laughter into your life will prevent stress and fill your life with joy. For more on this topic, see Stress is No Laughing Matter.

Socialize: As humans, we are built to bond; it’s our natural instinct. Research has shown that when women are under stress, their brains release a hormone called oxytocin, which encourages them to bond and experience a response the researchers named “tend and befriend.” Furthermore, researchers have found that friendship provides stress relief, boosts the immune system, helps to slow aging, prolong life, prevent depression, and speed recovery. So, make time for your friends—not only will you have fun, you’ll be preventing stress.

Prevention Happens Every Day

The best way to prevent stress is to make stress management a daily habit, rather than a reaction once stress has reached epic proportions. So, incorporate these tips into your lifestyle and make them positive self-care habits to keep stress at bay.