Given recent events – the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, escalating inflation and gas prices – it’s safe to say most of us are feeling a bit stressed nowadays.
With that in mind, consider this article a potential elixir for your worries.
April is National Stress Awareness Month, an annual observance where a premium is placed on combating the incredibly harmful effects of chronic stress. Obviously, stress is an unavoidable part of life, and we all experience it in big and small ways, during situations that are both positive and negative. But prolonged stress can lead to real physical problems, including fatigue, headaches, muscle tension and, when it’s particularly serious, cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that we can prevent and manage stress in relatively simple ways that will allow us to live happier, healthier lives.
Here are a few tips worth considering:
Maintain a healthy diet: Eat whole foods, which ward off stress naturally, and significantly curtail stimulants like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which affect sleep and increase stress.
Exercise: This is an easy one, since increased exercise can lower your blood pressure, boost your endorphins and just make you feel a whole lot better. Join a gym, or even just get outside and walk or run several days a week.
Get more sleep: Many people suffer from lack of sleep, and the ensuing fatigue can lead to a severe lack of overall well-being and eventually lead to increased anxiety and depression. It’s important to establish a calming vibe every night before you go to bed, and to curtail or eliminate completely your screen time. Instead of scrolling through your work emails on your phone, read or listen to some soothing music.
Relax: This one sounds so simple, but for many people, learning how to properly relax can be difficult. Take up meditation or mindfulness as a daily practice – it can substantially decrease stress levels. Or, make time to simply sit and daydream. People fear boredom and idleness, but there’s nothing wrong with turning off our brains for a bit.
Prioritize your schedule: Most of us tend to try to do too much in the course of a day, whether in our jobs or our personal lives. That can be incredibly stressful, so instead make an old-fashioned list and proactively check off the things that need to get done, while pushing aside the things that can be done at another time.
Talk to someone: When you’re feeling over-stressed, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply work through your problems with a trusted confidante, be it a family member, a close friend, a colleague or a licensed professional therapist.
Do something fun: Obviously, doing something you enjoy is a great de-stressor. Really, it’s just all about engaging in a fun activity of your choice – go to a movie, or a concert, or a sporting event, or even just out to dinner with friends. Or, take up a new and exciting hobby. The possibilities here are endless.
Have a laugh: Sometimes all you need is a good chuckle, which can quickly lighten any mood and take our stress levels down several notches. Laughing has been clinically proven to improve overall good health. So, seek out anything you find funny, from a hilarious friend or co-worker to your favorite sitcom. It works – seriously.
Again, we could all use less stress in our lives. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you mindfully practice some of these things on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you’ll feel better mentally, physically and emotionally.
Dr. Sanjay Chandragiri, M.D., is program director of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education Psychiatry Residency. He is board-certified in psychiatry with additional certifications in psychosomatic medicine and addiction medicine. He is accepting patients of all ages