Did you know that unmanaged, prolonged periods of stress can be just as detrimental to our health as a poor diet, lack of exercise or lack of sleep? And what’s worse, an abundance of stress can also be a driver for poor diet choices, not prioritizing exercise and not getting quality sleep. It’s a vicious cycle that can wreak havoc on our bodies.
Quick science lesson. When we are stressed, our bodies produce an elevated amount of Cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Prolonged periods of excessive cortisol can lead to weight gain, hair loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, irritability and high blood pressure. It’s possible for your doctor to test your cortisol levels, including more comprehensive options that test your cortisol levels to see how they fluctuate throughout the day.
However, if you suspect that you are overstressed and this may be contributing to unwanted health symptoms, I think a great place to start is making a concerted effort to reduce your stress levels and see how this impacts your health. If you find that you are still experiencing symptoms that you suspect are related to elevated cortisol, then I would suggest getting tested by your doctor.
So, what are some practical tips to manage stress and reclaim your health? Let’s dive in!
Identify the Initial Warning Signs
We’ve all been there. Whether it is work induced, home-life induced, or all of the above, we let stress get the best of us and end up taking out our frustrations on the wrong people in the wrong places. Let’s not be that person anymore.
The best way to avoid the all-encompassing stress induced panic attack or freak out, is to nip stress in the bud! Said differently, don’t even let yourself get to that heart racing, overwhelmed, breaking point. And what is the best way to avoid this? To identify your bodies initial warning signs that your stress levels are rising.
We all respond to and handle stress differently. That’s why it’s important to listen to your body. To make a mental list of the symptoms signaling that your stress levels are rising. For me, I know I’m letting stress get the best of me when my shoulders start to hurt (it’s hard to ignore when your body literally carries stress like a 20-pound weight on your back), I’m unable to focus on an individual task and when I notice myself being impatient. When my husband drops by my home office in the middle of the day and I either ask for a shoulder massage or tell him I don’t have time to talk, I know my body is telling me to slow down.
Other common signs of stress include becoming introverted. Sometimes the thought of overwhelm is enough to make people shut down. Mindless stress eating, elevated heart rate, feeling jittery or anxious, or an inability to concentrate are other common symptoms of raising cortisol. As I mentioned earlier, make a mental (or maybe physical!) list of your stress warning signs and be on the lookout for these.
So, what should you do when you start feeling stressed? That brings me to my next tip…..
Create a Prioritized To-Do List
In a world where our never ending to-do lists are often the root of our stress, my #1 tip for managing stress is to….make a to-do list! Hear me out. This is not just any to-do list. This is a list that you make every single day, with the most important, non-negotiable items in bold at the top. While it might feel like everything you need to get done is a priority, I can promise you, it’s not. In fact, you will find that most days, there are only 2 or 3 items that you actually NEED to get done. First, prioritize the items that have REAL deadlines. You owe your boss a presentation by EOD? That’s a priority. You’ve been meaning to take that return to UPS for a few days now? Not a priority. Put that task towards the bottom of the list.
Once you’ve identified what your true, time constrained priorities are, then fill in the rest of the list based on what is most important to you, or what will feel the best to check off the list. Anything on the list that is causing you unnecessary stress, do that next! How many times have you walked around for days with a task looming over your head, allowing it to steal your peace? Push yourself to accomplish those tasks next. You will feel infinitely better for it, and 95% of the time, they aren’t as bas as we expect.
Once you have your prioritized list, read over it and commit yourself to working on highest priority items first. After all, everything else can wait, literally. Looking at your to-do list from this angle puts things into perspective. You will realize that while you may have 15 things floating around in your head that all need your attention, only a few things need your attention today.
Ahhhh….and immediately the stress starts to melt away.
You can figure out he cadence that works best for you, but I usually make my to-do list for the following day as I’m logging at the end of my current workday. This gives me a clear picture of what I need to focus on tomorrow morning. It also reduces my stress in the evenings knowing I have a plan for the next day. Also, bear in mind, your to-do list is a live document! New tasks will pop up, and some tasks may fall off! Keep updating your list throughout the day, taking the time to revaluate the importance of new responsibilities in light of the ones you already had written down.
While this might seem counterintuitive, when trapped in a place of stress, your brain jumping from one thing to the next, it can be hard to think clearly. That’s why it is so important to carve-out 10, 15, 30 minutes to refocus during times of stress.
I mentioned that one of my stress signals is not being able to focus on an individual task. I can assure you there is nothing productive about spending 30 minutes working on task A, while thinking about task B and trying to simultaneously work on task C. In reality, I know I am better off to spend 15 minutes walking around the neighborhood, clearing my mind. Afterwards, I can focus exclusively on task A and make far more progress than when my brain was acting like a pin-ball machine.
Whatever your break looks like, make sure it allows your mind the opportunity to step away from what was causing you stress. Maybe you use the time to run a quick errand, do a quick workout or meditation, call a friend, or make a healthy snack you can enjoy outside. I can think of a few times when I turned on a reality TV show and let myself melt into the couch for 20 minutes. To each their own. Just remember, feeling overwhelmed? Take a break!
Focus on the Bigger Picture
Last but not least, sometimes the fastest way to save ourselves from a stress induced meltdown is to look at the bigger picture. We’ve all felt this way before. We all survived it. Whether you get your (prioritized!) to-do list done or not is not the end of the world. 90% of the things on the list will not matter two weeks from now. Why send ourselves into a frenzy over silly to-do’s that really are not important in the grand scheme of our lives? Taking a minute to remind ourselves of this, to remind ourselves that life is meant to be enjoyed, is sometimes all we need to help ourselves calm down. I usually end up laughing at myself for taking life so seriously (good-bye cortisol, helloooo serotonin).
Have any other tips for managing stress? Share them below! And also, don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter to stay up to date on the latest JUICED content!
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