By Kate Rockwood
A little bit of stress can actually be a good thing. It helps keep us focused and alert when we need to get something done. But too much stress takes a toll on us mentally and physically. Not surprisingly, 2020 was an especially stressful year with additional worries about health, money, juggling work with childcare, and a lot of uncertainty.
Learning to manage stress is important because feeling stressed all the time can lead to health issues like headaches, upset stomach, lost sleep, anger—and even high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. While you can’t eliminate all the stressful factors in your life, you can find ways to work through the stress and protect your health.
There are steps you can take every day to help keep stress from building up to the point that it’s negatively affecting your life.
Watch for signs. Look out for some symptoms that you’re over-stressed, including having trouble sleeping, increased use of alcohol or drugs, low energy, or feeling depressed or easily angered.
Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor if stress is interfering with your life. Your doctor may recommend you talk to a therapist or try some stress-management techniques. If you’re feeling overloaded, reach out to friends and family members for support.
Don’t take on too much. It’s okay to say “no.” Figure out what you can reasonably get done in a certain period of time and what can wait. Instead of focusing on all you have left to do, pay attention to what you’ve accomplished. You can also try keeping a “worry list” where you jot down things that you’re worried about or tasks that are nagging at the back of your mind.
Certain activities and hobbies can help you keep your stress in check or lessen the effect of constant stress. Try to work some of these into your routine.
Keep a gratitude journal. Tough times are actually a perfect time to reflect on the good things in your life. Spend a few minutes every day or week thinking about things you’re grateful for. Or try jotting it down in a gratitude journal (here’s how).
Exercise. Exercise isn’t just good for your body. It can also help you feel calmer and happier since exercise triggers your brain to release all sorts of feel-good chemicals. Exercise can also help you sleep better and lower your blood pressure.
Try some yoga. Yoga is a great way to help you relax, slow down your heart rate, and loosen up stiff joints and muscles.
Get creative. There’s a reason that it’s not just kids who are coloring these days. Artistic activities like coloring and calligraphy can reduce symptoms of stress, research shows.
Stay connected. Relationships help keep us healthy and happy. Even if you can’t see a friend or family member in person, reach out with a phone call, a text, an email or a video chat. You might also consider expanding your social network by joining a club, taking a class or volunteering.
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