Anxiety and uncertainty can cause you stress and should be addressed. But it’s not something to leave for another day. If you start taking the needed steps now, you’ll soon realize you have more control than you realized.
A recent Gallup poll finds American workers to be among the most stressed workers in the world.1 Add recent events to the mix and the stress rises.
Are you stressed? Recognize the signs. They often include common physical symptoms such as headaches, low energy, upset stomach, tense and achy muscles, and insomnia.2 Then, try to identify the events and situations that trigger these stressors.
The good news is that you can learn to manage your stress so that you can better care for yourself holistically. To achieve optimal health and wellness, everything that makes up the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — must be tended to.3 And it’s not something to leave for another day. If you start taking the needed steps now, you’ll soon realize you have more control over your stress levels than you realized.
Taking care of your physical health
The food you eat plays a major role in how you feel both physically and mentally. A diet rich in antioxidants lowers free radicals in your system, preventing brain fog and vitamin and mineral deficiency. Walnuts, celery sticks, blueberries, tart cherries, spinach (in sandwich wraps), orange vegetables and fruits, pineapple bites, avocado slices, and chia seeds (in yogurt) are easy foods to eat throughout the day. Add some spice to your food with turmeric, ginger, onions, and garlic. Their anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce pain.4 A variety of fruits and vegetables, wholegrain cereals or bread, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and oily fish are also good for the body and brain.5
Stress can lead to dehydration symptoms. Do a little math to make sure you’re drinking enough water. Divide your body weight by two, and that’s the number of ounces of water you should be drinking each day. So a 150-pound person should drink 75 ounces of water daily. Get extra “water” credit by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables that naturally contain a lot of H2O.4
Drink in moderation
In the spring of 2020, alcohol sales were up 55 percent from the same time last year.6 It’s thought it’s because people are trying to drown their pandemic-related stresses with alcohol. Drinking to reduce stress can do the exact opposite. It can cause more stress and anxiety after the alcohol wears off, leaving you to deal with the same challenging feelings you had before taking that first sip. If you do decide to drink, do so in moderation.
Get enough sleep
Love watching re-runs of your favorite TV show before going to bed? Be careful it doesn’t interfere with the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep for adults. Missed Z’s can prevent your body from producing and releasing cytokines that fight stress. In fact, you may want to replace the TV habit with an essential one. Rub lavender oil on your feet, neck, or temples to put you in a sleepy mood.4
Move your body
There are many benefits to adding aerobic exercise to your routine. It can help ward off illnesses, increase your physical stamina and boost your mood.7 A 10-minute yoga or stretching session also does the body — and mind — good. While opening your joints and releasing your synovial fluid (which lubricates your joints), it will help you become more aware of the good things in life.4
A regular routine of breathing exercises will help ease your stress. Wearing comfortable clothes, find a comfortable spot to get started. Inhale through your nose, filling your belly with air, and exhale through your nose. Placing one hand on your belly and one on your chest, notice your belly rise (when inhaling) and lower (when exhaling). Do this for 2 to 10 minutes while focusing your breath and your mind while saying to yourself, “I breathe in peace and calm,” and “I breathe out stress and tension.”8
There’s nothing more soothing than observing nature’s beauty — whether it’s listening to a tree’s rustling leaves, watching wildlife at play, or feeling the sun’s warmth on your skin. Open your doors so you can open your mind.
Take care of your mental health
Reach out and share your feelings with a loved one. It can alleviate stress and help you feel cared for. And then you can better cope with the problem you’ve been carrying — you might even inspire your confidant to share with you an issue that’s been on their mind. Don’t live with the person you crave to communicate with? Don’t just send them a text message. Use your cell phone to call them. These days good old-fashioned phone calls are on the rise. It turns out that hearing someone’s voice is more comforting than seeing a message followed by a long line of emojis. And, if your circumstances allow, make plans to meet up for a face-to-face chat.5 Remember: Thinking you can solve all your problems is unfair to yourself. The happiest people have had help — either from loved ones or mental health experts — along the way. Be willing to ask for help and then accept it.2
Drop the guilt
Do you feel bad about how you feel? Try not to. It might be easy to think that a better person wouldn’t feel this way, but it’s not true or productive. Instead recognize your feelings without judgment and then thoughtfully choose how to act.2
Though you might be good enough, you’re not perfect. Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses — including you. So don’t compare yourself to others.
Self-affirmations are really helpful. You want to retrain the brain so that you’re thinking (and saying) positive — and not negative — things about yourself. Use the words, “I am,” and then fill in the blank.4
For some people, writing about their feelings can be a big stress reliever. Or perhaps expressing your feelings through gardening, painting, or playing a musical instrument is more your thing. Just get started. Also, be observant to what’s positive about your life, your day, or just a moment, and write it down. Being grateful and living in the moment is a big antidote to stress.
And these are, in fact, stressful times. You might think you can better manage how you feel by staying focused, creating to-do lists, and repeating motivational mantras. And these things do help to a point. But it’s also important to practice self-compassion by not judging yourself adversely and by not bottling up your emotions, pretending everything is just fine. Doing so can hinder your ability to cultivate real resilience.9
Take care of your financial health
Financial stress can seem overwhelming, yet here are things you can do so that you worry less.
Communication is key. Discover and articulate your financial hopes and goals by talking to the key people in your life so that you can be sure you’re on the same page. Develop a budget. Enlist the help of a financial professional.
Plan for the future (and take action). Create an emergency fund, take full advantage of your employer’s 401(k) match if available, and pay down debts. If college tuition weighs heavily on your mind, consider what you can save reasonably now.
So, do what you can to take care of your whole self. And don’t stress about feeling down about this new normal. Things will get better, but to make yourself better and stronger, manage your stress now so you can adapt and grow.