“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” – Steve Maraboli
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! For many of us, it can feel like stress rules our lives—trying to manage kids’ schedules, work deadlines, social commitments, etc. — it all adds up. This month is a great time to become aware of your stress levels and find ways to reduce them that work for you.
Stress is the body’s physiological and psychological response to challenges or changes in your environment. The stress response—also known as the fight or flight response—evolved to help us flee from lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). Today, however, this response isn’t entirely helpful. When you get a stressful text from your boss, for example, a similar reaction occurs in your body as if, well, you were getting chased by a lion. That feeling where your stomach drops, your heart starts racing, maybe your limbs feel a little tingly or numb. All of that is part of fight or flight. And all of that is triggered when we encounter stress.
How can you make your day less stressful? Today, we’ve compiled five tips to help you decrease your stress, stop the fight or flight response, and regain a sense of calm and control in your life—no matter what’s on your schedule.
1. Move your body more
When we think about the fight or flight response, both options—fleeing or fighting—require movement. Though we may not jump into a sprint or prepare for a fight club moment when we receive a stressful text, moving your body in moments of stress can help close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a more peaceful, calming state.
What kind of movement do you enjoy? Are you a fan of yoga, or do you love walking your dog? Maybe lifting weights is more your jam, or dancing to your favorite Beyonce song is your thing. Whatever it may be for you, start weaving movement into your day as a way to combat stress. Aiming for 20 minutes/day is great for the de-stress effects, but anything you can weave into your day-to-day is fantastic.
If you’re a busy parent who’s trying to weave in more play time with your kids, this is an awesome opportunity to get more movement into your day and decrease your stress. You can try the animal freeze dance video below to get started!
2. Get better (and longer) sleep
Perhaps the most obvious on this list: sleep more, and better. Sleep quantity and quality both greatly affect our stress levels. Studies have shown that sleep deprived individuals have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), particularly later in the day, when the body should otherwise be preparing to rest.
Getting more sleep is easier said than done. It’s hard for many, particularly parents or folks working long hours at demanding jobs. Some people find that progressive muscle relaxation and visualizations—similar to those used in hypnosis—can be extremely helpful in falling asleep faster and staying asleep. These mental exercises help your body and mind relax so it is easier for you to fall asleep, even after a busy, stressful day.
To try one out for yourself, check out the hypnotic meditation for sleep here.
3. Take some time to breathe
Slowing down your breath is another way you can close out the fight or flight response and return your body and mind to a calm, healthy place. When you exhale longer than you inhale, you activate your vagus nerve. This nerve is like the off-switch for the stress response: when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it tells your body, “Hey! We’re safe, it’s okay to calm down now.” Breath is one of the simplest ways to activate this healing nerve in your body.
The nice thing about breathwork is it can be done anytime, anywhere. A great place to start is simple counted or box breathing. This is all you have to do:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold it at the top for 2
- Exhale for a count of 6
- Hold it at the bottom for 2
You can do this at work, in the car, while you’re trying to calm down your kids—anytime, anywhere! This activates your vagus nerve, while also giving you a moment for mindfulness and mental calm. If you prefer a video to follow along, you can use the one below!
4. Try one of these supplements
Because stress is a physiological response, there are a number of supplements that can be helpful in decreasing the effects of stress on your body. Two in particular—magnesium and L-theanine—can be especially helpful.
A large number of people have magnesium deficiencies, which is a shame because the mineral has an abundance of positive effects on the body. In addition to lowering stress levels, it helps with sleep quality, hormonal balances, brain health, and so much more. To get more magnesium naturally, consider eating more leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and beans. For more magnesium in supplement form, check out Biooptimizer’s all-seven forms of magnesium supplement, found here.
A lesser known supplement for stress is L-theanine—a compound sourced from green tea leaves. It’s an amino acid that can help with reducing stress, improving cognitive function, enhancing focus and sleep, and more. Though you can get a small amount of L-theanine in green, black, white, and oolong tea, it’s easier to get the recommended amount from a supplement. We recommend the 200 mg L-Theanine from Nature’s Trove.
5.Become aware of your stressors, and create a plan to manage them
This one is the simplest, but perhaps the most important step to decreasing your stress. So often, we become caught up in the day-to-day and don’t give ourselves the chance to get ahead on the items that otherwise cause us stress. Becoming aware of your stressors allows you to create a plan for how you can better manage them, decreasing your stress and the amount on your plate!
To begin getting curious about your stressors, take 5-10 minutes to reflect on the following questions. You can journal in a notebook, on the notes app on your phone, or just in your mind as you consider the following:
- What are three specific stressors in your life right now?
- Looking at your schedule for the next week, when do you anticipate that these stressors will arise?
- How do you generally handle these stressors? How well does that normally work for you?
- What could you try this week to better handle these stressors?
- How will you remind yourself to try this new technique?
Stress is a normal part of life, but when it starts piling up, it can become detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional health. Try one, two, or all of these techniques this month to help decrease your stress and boost your health and happiness!