Stress is a part of life. There’s no way to control situations that cause stressors you face on a daily basis. However, you can control the way you respond. You can even start busting stress right now with just a few simple lifestyle changes. Pasadena, Calif.-based psychotherapist John Sovec told The Cheat Sheet you can begin by cutting back on your urge to multitask.
“Ease up and do one thing at a time,” said Sovec. “This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Recent studies are showing that our brains are not wired to multitask and that by doing so we are lowering productivity and inviting stress. This takes awareness, and it’s natural to get urges to do other things. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.”
Another reason to get stress under control: It ages you and can cause premature death. If you want to stay smooth and sexy and live a long life, know that stress is not your friend. “Stress doesn’t just make a person feel older. In a very real sense, it can speed up aging,” said Randi Ragan, holistic wellbeing expert, author of A Year of Living Mindfully, and founder of GreenBliss EcoSpa. “A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found stress can add years to the age of individual immune system cells. The study focused on telomeres, [which are] caps on the end of chromosomes. Whenever a cell divides, the telomeres in that cell get a little shorter. When the telomere becomes too short, time runs out and the cell can no longer divide or replenish itself. This is a key process of aging, and it’s one of the reasons humans can’t live forever.”
The Cheat Sheet reached out to some of the leading stress experts to get their best advice for how to manage stress effectively. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Know who you are
People who suffer from ambient anxiety generally have not yet developed enough of an internal psychological and emotional barrier. Things they see and hear penetrate them to the core. There is not enough internal protective layering for traumatic information to avoid internal shake-ups. The antidote and objective is to develop a stronger identity and sense of self. Once we have a clear awareness of who we are, including personal views on life, relationships, religion, politics, morals, ethics, character, and values — only then can we set firm boundaries. Boundaries are required to stop unwanted information (and behaviors) from coming in and penetrating us to the core.
- Less is more; limit your daily news intake. Choose to read your news online so you can control what and how much goes into your consciousness.
- Avoid negative people. While trying to keep a positive attitude, you must avoid people who thrive on negativity.
- Engage in serious self-care. Taking seriously good care of yourself is crucial to your happiness. This includes what you eat, drink, think, how much you move your body, and how much you rest.
Stress raises our breathing rate as well as our heart rate. An at-ease, stress-free breathing rate is about 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Of course with all the stress in the world, everyone’s breathing rate is typically significantly higher than that. The good news is that bringing our breathing rate down also brings down our stress levels and calms our bodies and our minds.
Several times a day, maybe before work, at mid-day and in the afternoon, consciously practice taking six-second breaths: three seconds in, three seconds out, breathing from the diaphragm. Take normal breaths, not deep breaths. Depending upon your stress level, at first it may take as long as five minutes of six-second breathing to bring your breathing rate down so it remains at 10 to 12 breaths per minute after you’ve stopped. But with practice you’ll soon be able to do it in as little as a minute. And calmer breathing means a calmer body and a calmer mind.
3. Get quality sleep
It is important to recognize that your lack of sleep may very likely be related to how you deal with stress. The reason so many insomniacs relapse when they stop taking sleeping pills is they fail to deal with the underlying problem. That problem is their inability to manage stress. Fifteen percent of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia with a majority experiencing it because of chronic stress. Therefore, stress coping skills are crucial.
First, lifestyle changes are needed. Regular daily exercise coupled with the elimination of nicotine and caffeine is a good start. Cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, hypnosis, and in some instances seeing a therapist can help diminish arousal levels and intrusive thoughts. My own favorite stress reduction method is obtaining nine hours of sleep and using progressive muscle relaxation prior to bedtime.
Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, board certified sleep medicine physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety
Laughter cannot heal nor solve anything, but it can help to heal and dissolve everything. Laughter remains mostly an untapped science, yet its benefits are experientially evident. Try it now: think about anything that stresses you out, then make yourself laugh heartily three times about it for about 30 seconds each time, with another 30 seconds or so of relaxation in between. This is a crude technique, but it works in emergency situations. The fact that nobody wants to hear, however, is that doing something to dissolve stress is like taking a shower to clean up. It does not last forever. This is something you will have to do forever.
Here is the essence of what we teach to those who want to make a real change in their lives:
- Focus: Step out of time and help dissipate fear and anxiety by being fully present, here, now.
- Imagination: Develop thinking patterns that focus on what could be exciting and beneficial rather than what will be painful and/or won’t work.
- Pattern interrupt: Understand that your reactions are a programmed response, and how to change them if/when they do not serve you anymore.
- Enjoy: Make your life work for you.
- Connect: Practice empowering and life-affirming human interactions. Understand the importance of a social support network and intimacy, and what to do about it.
5. Say ‘no’ and mean it
The best advice I have received and also given about stress reduction is to learn to say ‘no’ and not apologize for it! It is amazing the load off that comes with not feeling obligated to succumb to someone else’s unrealistic expectation of ourselves and to live life on our own terms. [It feels great] to make decisions because our heart and minds say so and not our guilt.
So in plain terms, stress reduction comes from standing on your own choices more confidently. Dictate your own choices as much as life would allow it. And know that your decisions are good enough.
Dr. Eliza Belle, licensed psychologist
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