Being stressed out has almost become a point of pride in our society. Everyone is so busy, juggling and accomplishing so much. Sometimes it feels like, on top of everything else, we’re all competing to show that we’re the most stressed, that we have to handle the most in our lives.
Consider this scenario: you’re talking with a friend who is describing the work, the kids, the car that needed the oil change, the world-ending post office mistake, the exercising, cooking, etc. Your friend finishes breathlessly, and then you say something along the lines of, “Tell me about it!” before listing all the things that you’re juggling. Then you both look at each other a bit helplessly and go your separate ways.
I was surprised to learn that, actually, the body is only meant to handle intense stress two or three times per month, according to Neil Shah of the Stress Management Society. Note that this is intense stress, which doesn’t mean that your body can’t handle any stress more than a few times a month. We each encounter loads of stress on a daily basis, and often our bodies learn to cope reasonably well. But chronic, daily stress can also cause problems. According to Steven Southwick, co-author of “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges” and professor of psychiatry, post-traumatic stress disorder, and resilience at the Yale Medical School, “We can keep ourselves stressed 24/7, and unfortunately stress can cause all sorts of problems,” including, for example, “injuring the very part of the brain that turns off the stress response.”
So what can we do? There are lots of great suggestions out there on how to decrease stress in your life. Here are some of our favorites.
One of my favorite suggestions is to stop multitasking. David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, points out that “juggling tasks can be very stressful. In the short-term, stress makes you feel lousy. In the long-term, it can become a serious threat to health.” There’s so much mindless multitasking in our world today. Imagine this common scenario: You’re reading an article, responding to a text, eating breakfast, boiling water for tea, listening to your daughter, and stretching out your leg all at the same time. It’s stressful just reading that sentence, and yet we multitask all the time.
Another great tip is to notice what stresses you out and how you react to the stress. Take a moment to write down five things that you find stressful in your daily life and then begin noticing how you respond to those stressors. Once you start noticing these patterns, you can begin to see how you could shift or eliminate the stressors, or how you could change your reactions to them.
Laura Berman, Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and OBGYN at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, gives a fun tip, which is to kiss more often. Kissing your loved ones, be it a partner, family, friends, or a pet, “relieves stress by creating a sense of connectedness, which releases endorphins, the chemicals that counteract stress and depression.”
There are many ways to do intentional breathing, which can often immediately help your body feel better. Check out our recent post on how breathing can help with anxiety. We also love this breathing exercise that Navy Seals use, called 4x4x4, or “box breathing.” U.S. Navy SEAL and founder of SEALFIT Mark Divine explains, “To begin the practice, expel all of the air from your chest. Keep your lungs empty for a four-count hold. Then, perform your inhalation through the nose for four counts. Hold the air in your lungs for a four-count hold. When you hold your breath, do not clamp down and create back pressure. Rather, maintain an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling. When ready, release the hold and exhale smoothly through your nose for four counts. This is one circuit of the box-breathing practice.”
In “De-Stress Your Life” (published on Kiplinger), Sandra Block shares that, “A study conducted by the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England found that people who embarked on a nature walk once a week experienced more positive emotions and less stress in just 13 weeks.” Also being outside exposes you to sunlight, which in healthy doses positively affects your mood and health. Science writer Temma Ehrenfeld offers, “To get your daily dose of sunlight, go outside with at least your face exposed for about 10 to 20 minutes during mid-day.”
Set the Intention
No matter what you decide to do to make your life more enjoyable, the most helpful thing is to simply set the intention to decrease the stress in your life. Once you set the intention, you will begin noticing ways that you can bring expansion, relaxation, and joy to your daily life.