Like a rubber band pulled too tight, stress can make you feel as if you’re about to snap. Do you feel overwhelmed and anxious, like everything seems to be too much to handle? Stress is a to-do list that has no end; a mountain of bills, mounting family responsibilities, health concerns, the economy.
And this pressure that doesn’t let up is no fun, having a negative effect on your mind and your body if left untreated, ranging from depression to high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle tension or pain and changes in your sex drive.
The latest Stress in America Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reports that stress levels increased in 2015 from the year before, and many people don’t feel confident that they’re mastering the management of their stress. Especially vulnerable are disabled adults and members of the LGBT community.
Since so many of us struggle with stress, it’s time to learn constructive ways to manage it. Right now. Today. Because doing so can have tremendous benefits on your health and well-being.
1. Get regular physical activity. Exercise helps pump up endorphins, those neurotransmitters in your brain that makes you feel good.
2. Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, deep breathing, Tai chi. Considered to be “meditation in motion,” the gentle movements and intense focus can help ensure relaxation.
3. Get out and socialize. Friends are a perfect antidote to stress: A landmark UCLA study found that when stressed, women produce a hormone called oxytocin, which leads them to seek out friends (researchers call this the “tend and befriend” phenomena). But socializing is an equal-opportunity stress buster and works wonders for men, too.
4. Set aside time for hobbies. Set some time aside to do what you love – be it playing cards, gardening, knitting, painting, playing an instrument, going to the movies, fill-in-the-blank. Feel less stressed? Yeah, thought so. A study published in the “Annals of Behavioral Medicine” says so, too.
5. Volunteer. Giving of yourself and your time often reaps more benefits than many people realize; although people do it to be altruistic, there’s an added benefit: donating your time to others rewards you with grater self-worth and lower stress.
6. Get enough sleep. It is a catch-22: Stress interferes with sleep (that’s a given) – 37 percent of American adults report feeling exhausted because of stress, according to the American Psychological Association. But if you can somehow manage to get some sleep, you can recharge your mind and body and thus reduce the stress that comes with sleep deprivation.
7. Eat a healthy, wholesome diet. You may feel like reaching for “comfort foods” when you’re stressed, but that mac and cheese, pizza and ice cream will only make you feel tired and less able to deal with your stress. Better: Foods that are high in fiber and rich in carbs, which can help boost serotonin (that calming brain chemical) and lower levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Some good choices: complex carbs like whole-grain breads, whole wheat pastas and cereal; oranges, green leafy veggies, fatty fish (like salmon and tuna); legumes like beans and lentils.