by Diane Berenbaum
Between your work, errands, and family commitments, you may not realize how much stress you’re under. However, your body is well aware of it. According to Henry Emmons, MD, author of The Chemistry of Calm,“When you repeatedly get stressed, your nervous system stays keyed up, so even small amounts of stress can make you feel overwhelmed.” All that tension can disrupt your thinking, wear you down, and may even start a chain reaction of health problems.
Yet, you can bring more calm to your hectic life. Here are eight ways to drive yourself calm, instead of crazy:
1. Identify your stressors, and strive to avoid them
How often do you purposely avoid the things that stress you out? And, how many times do you succeed in these endeavors? If you made a list of the top stressors in your daily life, you might be surprised to find that many of them can be avoided. Or, they can be altered to make them less debilitating.
For example, perhaps your day would run more smoothly if you structured your workday so that you missed rush-hour. Or, be clear about your schedule, so others are aware of your availability. Consider ways you can change your habits or adjust your routine, so you feel less stressed.
2. Do what brings you joy
Think about what makes you happy, and then pursue it…relentlessly! Do what brings you joy. It can be anything, from volunteering your time, to walks with friends, to playing with puppies. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it makes you feel good, do more of it! It will give you a broader perspective and lift you up.
3. Do one thing at a time
Our attention is essentially binary; in other words, we can usuallyl only focus on one thing at a time in any given moment. We often multitask to some degree, but delude ourselves about how well we do it. Yet, research shows that doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity and performance.
Plus, multi-tasking is exhausting. Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, found that “switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing.”
4. Say “no,” when appropriate
Some people are uncomfortable saying “no” to other people. In fact, they’d rather inconvenience themselves than say “no” to someone else.
Our inability to say “no” is at the root of a lot of people’s stress. After all, if you were able to say no and feel great about it, odds are that you wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. You might even be at a point where you’re psyched about all the things on your plate… and when you’re truly excited about your projects, it doesn’t feel so overpowering.
5. Exercise—work it out with a workout
The Mayo Clinic found that exercise increases your overall health and sense of well-being, And, it has some direct stress-busting benefits:
- It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity helps bump up the production of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike can also contribute to this same feeling.
- It’s meditation in motion. After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements.
- As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.
- It improves your mood and your health. Regular exercise can not only increase your fitness level, it can also build self-confidence and relax you. Exercise can also improve sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these exercise benefits can ease stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
6. Get more sleep
A lack of sleep can be debilitating. Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system, which could mean you’re less able to fight off illness. You may also experience more headaches and pains, and you may even experience memory loss.
Consider setting your alarm for 10pm to remind you to get ready for bed. Aim to close your eyes and be asleep by 10:30, or a time that is aligned with your body clock. Your mind and body will be grateful for the respite.
7. Write down your thoughts, dreams, and aspirations
There’s just something about the process of sitting with your thoughts and gathering them into logical sentences that switches your brain into a very deep, almost meditative state. It forces you to think seriously, but at the same time enables you to zoom out and see the bigger picture. I have had many of my greatest realizations (and revelations) sitting somewhere with a pen in my hand.
8. Shift your focus; Focus on what soothes you and don’t forget to breathe
Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” When you’re feeling tense, you may get the (unproductive) urge to mentally replay what went wrong, over and over in your mind. Dr. Emmons recommends shifting your focus to your body instead. Find a quiet place to sit down, then take long, deep breaths from your diaphragm, and exhale through your mouth.
We may not realize it, but when we’re stressed out, we sometimes forget to breathe. We’re still getting air into our lungs, but we’re not breathing properly or in a way that is beneficial to our health. Instead of shallow breaths, make them deep and meaningful! When you breathe slowly, deeply and deliberately, your body shifts to a relaxed state.
Exhaling longer than you inhale deepens your breathing, which helps calm your nervous system. Emmons also noted that “You can even practice your breathing when you’re not stressed, so you know exactly what deep-breathing counts soothe you.”
So, take a moment, right now, and breathe in deeply. Exhale slowly. Then, breathe again and repeat. Feeling better already?