The Stress Management Blueprint: 5 Tips You Can Implement Today

Backpackers holding map in Singapore

Stress is a reality of life and sometimes not a bad thing. Anytime you confront something challenging, negotiate, compete, go outside your comfort zone, push to finish something by a deadline, you will experience stress.

The concern regarding stress is when it crosses the line to chronic and overwhelming stress. It can interfere with your ability to live your life to its fullest. Not only does chronic stress rob you of the full measure of pleasure you can get from your daily victories, it is also inexorably impacting your health in ways that you may not be aware of. In one study by the European heart journal found that the relationship between happiness and health is very real – for every one-point increase in contentment on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22 percent.

Chronic stress left unchecked can manifest itself in very visible ways including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It can affect your mood and your behaviors, as well as the relationships that are most important to you.

For the sake of short term and long term effects, this is not something best left alone. There are a number of highly effective, well studied, practical stress management strategies that can have an effect almost immediately, and have the added benefit of protecting your long-term health.

What are these strategies that you can implement right away?

 

1. Understanding When To Take Breaks And Recharge

Recharge

Take a break every once in awhile. A recent study as seen in this Fast Company article showed that the people who are most productive at work average taking a break of about 17 minutes for every 52 minutes that they work. Whether this is the perfect ratio or not, it leads to a reality that we need some sort of rest to function at our best. Our mind’s ability to process, think clearly, utilize willpower requires appropriate downtime and acceptance of our limits. Biased as I am as a fitness person, I liken this to how the body performs as you can only run or bike so fast for so long or you can only do so many push ups at a given time. Rest is part of the equation.

Action Plan

Use breaks to MOVE: Go for a walk, exercise, stretch. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have been known for their meetings while walking. A recent Stanford study showed going for walks lead to noticeable increases in creativity and inspiration to give you more of a reason to get up and move around.

Using your Technology to help: Let’s face it, pacing ourselves to our limits and giving appropriate downtime is a tough habit to get into. We know it will help us but much like a lot of things, easier said than done. Here are some apps that are designed to help us with this:

  • Google/apple/outlook calendar: All the major calendars have a “reoccurring” function to set regular reminders. This is the most basic way ,however there are apps that are designed to catch our attention outside our calendars.

  • Stand Up! The Work Break Timer (free/ios)http://www.raisedsquare.com/standup/

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This app is fantastic and does what it says it does. You can automate it for specific days, times of day, and even when at specific locations (office, home). I would recommend being conservative with your break frequency first so it doesn’t overwhelm.

  • Another fantastic app, this is great option if you have an android based device. It also allows you to add in multiple habits aside from taking a break. Such as “drinking water”, “Do Exercise”. Again, I would suggest starting with just one thing conservatively and build it up. On this point, research has shown that when it comes to goal setting, focusing on Behavior Goals instead of Outcome Goals is a far superior approach. See our article on this at: How To Set Weight Loss & Health Goals The Right Way (And The Wrong Way)

2. You Are What You Eat

Add stress-busting foods to your diet. For various reasons, foods filled with vitamins and minerals help reduce stress. These foods also boost immunity, help regularity, and keep us healthy as well. Sugar-ladden foods can feel like they relieve stress but long term can cause you to be more stressed and wired.

Action Plan

3. Get to Bed

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Sleep experts aren’t sure which comes first –stress and anxiety or lack of sleep – but the two are tangled together and create a self-fulfilling cycle. Lack of sleep is a major factor in stress levels.

Everyone is different in how much sleep they need so I’m not going to preach the cliche “8 hours”. However, you’ll know when you’re not getting enough or sleep quality is poor by how you feel the next day. I’ve personally seen a range of 6 to 8 hours with most people with some outliers. So set the time aside and accept its for making the best of your waking hours.

Action Plan

  • Using your alarm for more than waking up: Try to give yourself just ten to twenty minutes more sleep per night by setting an alarm for bedtime. This will prevent you from watching just one more episode of the show you’re binge-watching.

  • Lights Out: Get the lights off sooner and turn off the electronic devices for two hours before bed in order to give your brain a chance to manufacture the melatonin you need to fall asleep easily. The brain responds to the darkness as sometimes this realization is had when one goes camping under the stars and finds it significantly easier to sleep without any lighting around.

  • Relaxing Music/Sounds  – By searching Pandora and Spotify Both have channels dedicated to the keywords “Relax” “Sleep” “meditation” “spa” you will find endless channels. Spotify’s “sleep” channel has over half a million followers. I am a fan of “Nature Sounds With Music” for relaxation.

  • Meditate – Meditation is #5 below which I will get into in more detail. Meditation changes your emotional state/brain activity therefore can put you in a more relaxed state to fall asleep or at least not as restless. There is a pattern to a lot of the things on this list in that they supplement & help each other. By choosing to do one of these tends to lead to doing the others.

4. Get Physical Activity/Exercise

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You can learn more about exercise and stress in my article “Why exercise is one of the best tools for building up mental stress tolerance and improving your mood”. There is copious research that regular physical exercise (ie a nice sweat session) optimizes your well-being and reduced stress. Not to mention, moving will get you in better shape.

Exercise has been shown to increase neurochemicals associated with mood, buffers the mind against anxiety and stress, and combats the destructive effects stress has on the brain including the hippocampal volume (memory) and prefrontal cortex function (high level complex thinking).

Action Plan

  • More important than a gym membership, put yourself in a situation where you’ll interact with those that will be a direct positive influence to keep up an exercise habit. (i.e. put yourself in an environment or around those that are pro-health/physical activity) The key is keeping the habit. Ask to go with a friend that regularly goes to the gym/walks, hire a qualified fitness professional to help you with a plan, get involved in something that you’ll feel part of.

  • Make sure to mix up your routine to get the benefits from strength training, coordination exercise, and cardiovascular. Exercise that elevates heart rate has the highest connection to mental and mood benefits in the many studies that have been done on this topic.

  • I’d also recommend to make your sessions 30 minutes or more and expect to get increasing benefit the more regular you exercise.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” -Henry David Thoreau”

5. Gratitude/Mindfulness/Meditation

meditation benefits

How we use our minds and how we keep our internal state; (not just our bodies and what we do and put into our bodies) is a huge factor in stress levels and tolerance. Sometimes if we aren’t in touch with our emotions, view experiences too negatively, or perceive ourselves helpless. How we perceive our experiences trickles down to everything else.

Action Plan

  • Studies have shown that gratitude is a potent stress reducer, so take some steps to start thinking about the things in your life that you might be taking for granted. Even spending a few moments right now doing this, tends to help. Try keeping a gratitude journal on your nightstand, and write a single entry each night before you go to bed or each morning before you begin your day. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. How you view your lives events weighs is massively important in decreasing chronic stress.

  • Gratitude Journal” is a phone app that can help you and has a resource of information on this technique.

  • Meditation is not just for new age gurus and yogis. It is real and becoming well respected in educated and professional circles. If you feel like this is a very difficult thing to do, start with just 2 – 5 minutes and build your way up. I find it is easy to use the countdown clock of a mobile phone for this exercise. The gas pedal of the mind also needs it brakes. It takes time and practice to be good at meditation. Here are some excellent guided meditations to try for yourself:

    • Buddify is a great app for both ios/android with guided meditations

I enjoy feedback, comments, and thoughts if these suggestions helped. My personal email is jamesmalvesti@fitnessstandardpt.com

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jamesmalvesti

http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/31/9/1065

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/walking-vs-sitting-042414.html