Stress is normal. Stress has benefits. And stress is unavoidable. But it is only normal until you can no longer control or cope with the effects and it overwhelms you. Then, stress becomes a problem. It can turn into anxiety, sadness, or anger. And it can take over and paralyse your life and damage your health. But you can learn to manage it. In fact, there are three easy ways to reduce stress. But first, what causes stress?
What Causes Stress?
Worrying too much about money, work, health or relationships is a common cause of stress. Feeling like there is nothing we can do about our situation is one of the main causes of stress. Once people feel like they have lost control or cannot regain it, stress really takes over. But the truth is that we are all able to change things, even if it is only our thinking. Generally though, you can change more than just your thinking. There are three areas that you are in control of and can change quite easily to reduce stress. If you don’t, it will add to your stress. But if you do, it will greatly reduce it and give you back your focus and energy.
1. Sleep to Reduce Stress
Stress can easily have a negative affect on your sleep. Stress may keep you up at night while you rack your brain over all your worries. Lack of sleep will affect your focus, make you feel tired and reduce your ability to process information. That, in turn, will only make you feel more stressed. Eventually, you end up in a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep clouds your judgment, weakens your self-control and makes it difficult to make decisions or finish even simple tasks. Too little sleep can cause there problems. But the reverse is also true. Did you know that?
In one study, people were limited to 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week. Without exception, the participants were feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted after just seven days. But they also felt an immense improvement in their mood when they went back to normal sleep.
Lack of Sleep – What Not to Do
Two things people use to counter the effects of a lack of sleep have the opposite result. Drinking alcohol to relax enough to fall asleep and drinking coffee to boost you energy after a short night both impact your ability to sleep well. So these quick fixes are not helpful. There are also two things you actually should do to help you sleep better.
Lack of Sleep – What to Do
First, turn off all screens at least one hour before you go to bed. No TV, no laptop, no smartphone. Any kind of screen time will signal your brain to stay awake. Screentime increases your brain’s electrical activity. Neurons race and divert you from calming down into a peaceful state of mind for sleep. But the opposite is also true.
Second, introduce some pre-bedtime routines into your life. Read a book, go for a walk, meditate, plan the next day. Do not be mindless about it though. Be intentional with your bedtime rituals. Your body and mind will get used to it and your sleep will improve. There is a great app called Calm you can use to meditate and calm down before going to bed. Why not try it out?
2. Eat to Reduce Stress
Studies show that people who feel stressed tend to eat more and especially more unhealthy. Having stress and feeling busy makes us choose easy food solutions to save time and money. We choose fast food take-away and order in instead of cooking a healthy meal for ourselves. The foods we tend to crave, either for comfort or convenience, are usually high in sugars, saturated fats, and carbohydrates. All those kind of foods actually increase the stress response in your body and make you feel more depleted. They do not contain the nutrients you need to reduce stress and increase energy, like B vitamins and magnesium. It turns out that the pandemic has only made eating habits worse in many countries and many people have gained weight.
What to Eat
It is not easy to break habits. So, what can you do? You do not have to start a strict diet and count your calories for weight loss. Instead, start with some small steps to change your stress eating habits.
First, be aware of what you eat. Simply choose to stop buying highly processed unhealthy foods. Second, start adding foods to your diet that relieve stress and energise you. The same counts for what you drink. Drink water and green. Choose foods like nuts, vegetables and fruits. Eat sweet potatoes instead of fries. Eat brown rice instead of white and whole weat instead of regular pasta. Have oatmeal for breakfast instead of sugary flakes. Other foods that will help reduce a stress response are avocados, bananas, salmon, lean beef and blueberries.
3. Stay Focused to Reduce Stress
The constant bombardment with information at work and in our personal lives can be a big contributor to our stress. Working from home because of the pandemic can blur the lines between personal and professional life and make it harder to unwind.
Social media and even regular news sources can add to our stress. Too much exposure can make us angry or sad or hopeless and deplete our energy. After watching upsetting news, our levels of cotisol, a stress hormone, increase. And social media apps are designed to manipulate the dopamine-driven reward system in your brain to create an addiction. Many people have become hunters of likes and attention while giving up their time, energy, and peace of mind.
What to Do
- Never start you day with checking messages on your phone
- Set a fixed time for checking your mail and social media
- Disable notifications on your phone to eliminate distractions
- Be selective in your news sources
- Take these steps to get your focus back
Take Back Control
As you can see, you can do more about stress than you may think. What you do in the three areas mentioned above always has an effect on your stress level. You can either take steps that add to you stress or you can take steps that reduce stress. If you choose the right direction with just a few simple changes, you can start taking back control. That will reduce stress, calm you down and give you back your energy.