15 stress-management hacks for people with too much to do

Constant stress is unpleasant, and also comes with health risks. That’s because when you’re highly stressed, your body goes into “flight-or-fight” mode. Through the millennia, this response has helped humans survive in extreme situations. But it doesn’t always serve us well in modern life.s

When you’re stressed, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, and your body releases stress hormones that can be harmful when they course through you all day. This taxes your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Stress can also negatively impact cognitive function, temporarily dulling the mind.

No one is immune to stress. It impacts busy professionals, stay at home parents, college students – even retired people. Kaiser Permanente’s integrated care approach is designed to take the stress out of health care, but we also want to empower you to reduce stress on a daily basis.

Here are 15 stress-management tips to try. Find what works for you and add it to your stress-management repertoire. Just remember that long-lasting, severe stress should be discussed with your doctor.

Smile to Relieve Stress1. Smile

Smiling is not only comforting to those around you, it comforts you too. Smiling naturally improves your mood and prompts the release of endorphins, your own body’s natural stress-reliever and painkiller. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, give it a try.  As meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

2. Laugh a little

Once you’ve mastered the calming smile, try laughter. A 1996 journal article in Holistic Nurse Practice concluded, “Humor and laughter can be effective self-care tools to cope with stress.”

Laughter-yoga takes this to the max as students practice belly-laughing together in extended sessions. Students say that forced laughter quickly turns into a contagious, authentic laughter that overcomes the giggling group. Practitioners usually report feeling happy and relaxed after a session.

When you’re feeling frazzled, consider ways to lighten your heart. Possibilities include spending time with a friend who makes you laugh, watching cat videos on YouTube, or listening to your favorite comedy album.

3. Make a plan

It’s easy to lose sight of long-term goals when you’re mired down in day-to-day tasks, but keep your eye on the prize.  Have a 2-year plan and a 5-year plan with definite goals and plans for achieving them. Make sure to set time aside for vacations too. Having something fun to look forward to can help you stay positive throughout your busy days. Try writing down these plans and goals so you can refer to them at moments when you might have lost track of the big picture. A 2011 study described in Time Magazine found that using planning to fight stress before it even starts may be the single most effective stress-management skill.

Journaling to Relieve Stress4. Let it out

While you have that pen out, you can journal about your stress. Get it all out. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing in a fancy leather-bound journal or on a t-shirt cardboard. It’s feels good to vent your stress appropriately. A University of Rochester Medical Center article explains, “One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy outlet in which to express yourself, which makes a journal a helpful tool in managing your mental health.”

5. Visualize calm

Visualization for StressSports psychologists train athletes to visualize success. The placekicker imagines a 50-yard field-goal splitting the uprights. The golfer pictures a hole-in-one on a par three. In the same way, you can use visualization to calm yourself. Next time you’re stressed, take a moment for yourself and imagine that you’re in a calm, peaceful place. Construct the little visual details, listen to the sounds, smell the smells.

This is actually form of meditation, and numerous studies have suggested that meditation, in all its various forms, promotes a calm, positive outlook. For instance, mindfulness meditation is an easy-to-learn technique that’s widely reported to alleviate anxiety and stress. You can learn to practice mindfulness meditation in books such as The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.

6. Visualize stress

Visualizing the opposite of calm may also help relieve stress, believe it or not. Try this: Feel your stress, and try to picture it. What color is it? What is its shape? Is it moving? Visualizing your stress in this way helps you to cope because it re-frames it as something finite and separate from yourself.

7. Rate your stress

Each time you’re feeling stressed, think about the root cause. What are you worried about? Take a breath and objectively rate the severity of your concerns on one to ten scale. You could find that your mind is making a mountain of a molehill. This recognition may help you let go of some of that anxiety. Rating your stress on a periodic basis can also help you gain insights about your stress and its causes.

8. Stand up straight

Good Posture Fights StressA nice, straight posture when standing or sitting can promotes circulation and lifts oxygen levels in your blood. This helps you to be on you A-game and to deal with day-to-day stress as it arises. Improving
your posture may also improve your mood in much the same way as smiling. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy researched the impact of “power posing,” which is standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident. She found that changing our body position can change body chemistry and impact our performance.

9. Learn to breathe

Your breath has a big impact on your state of mind. Breathe through your nose with your whole diaphragm so that your belly rises instead of your chest.

You can also try breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 technique popularized by popular health author, Dr. Andrew Weil:

  1. Place the tip of your tongue on the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth
  2. Exhale completely
  3. Slowly take a deep breath through your nose while counting to four
  4. Hold that breathe for seven seconds
  5. Slowly exhale through your mouth for eight seconds
  6. Repeat as needed.

The key to remembering this is 4-7-8. Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, exhale for eight.

Excessive Coffeee Causes Stress10. Lay off the coffee

While moderate amounts of caffeine can be a stress reducer, excessive caffeine is linked anxiety and stress. Many people who reduce their caffeine intake report feeling significantly less anxious.

11. Smell the roses

Scent is the sense most closely linked to emotion. This is the basis of aromatherapy—but you don’t need an aromatherapist to enjoy the pleasant mood-lifting benefit of scents. Find essential oils that you enjoy, such as eucalyptus, chamomile, rose, or lavender. Inhale their aromas deeply, careful not to ingest any or spill on your skin.

One study looked at stress in a highly frazzled group —new mothers—and found that “inhaling the scent of lavender for four weeks can prevent stress, anxiety, and depression after childbirth.” Similarly, a one-month study of hospital workers, who also are prone to stress and burnout, found that daily use of essential oils reduced stress levels from 6.3 to 5.2 on a 1 to 10 scale.

12. Take a walk

Exercise is a great way to improve your mood. For instance, a 2015 study found that workers who walked on their lunch breaks “improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work.” Get outside and a take a walk, go for a run, ride a bike or hit the gym to get your blood flowing. Feel the breeze on your face and hear the sounds around you. When you get back to where you started, chances are you’ll feel less stressed than before you left.

Music to Relieve Stress13. Listen to a tune

Turn on your stereo system or get your headphones out. Music is magical. One bar of a song you love can transform your mood and your mind. A recent study showed that individuals listening to music with the goal of relaxation lowered self-reported stress levels significantly.

14. Don’t be afraid to say, “No”

One the greatest causes of stress is feeling like you have too much to do. Over-committing ourselves is easy because we naturally want to please others. To keep yourself from getting overloaded, you should prepare to politely decline requests if you need to. There’s a limited number of hours in a day, and you just can’t do everything.

15. Spend time with your loved onesFight Stress with Love

As the Beatles famously sang, “All you need is love.” Spending time with those you love, and who love you back, is one of the best parts of life. It naturally lightens the mood and helps you to be happy and calm. To maximize stress relief from loved ones, cuddle with a partner or a pet. Physical affection has been shown to lower levels of stress hormones.

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Now that you have some tools to help you manage stress, you may feel better already. Of course not all of these tactics will work for any given person. The key is try different techniques to find what works for you.

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