We all know excessive stress is bad. When it comes to healthy living, keeping stress in check is as important as exercise and a nourishing diet. What we need are enduring and effective tools to dial down being on overdrive.
Here are five simple strategies to create a more peaceful existence. There are several ways to approach this. If you like to mix things up, you could take up one strategy each day of the workweek, and then try the strategies in a different order the following week. Or you could try a single strategy for a week and see if you feel more relaxed, then try another one the next week to see how each works for you.
This is the 16th installment in a new WorkLife series, Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.
- Exercise — but make it the right type.
Exercise makes us feel better. Or does it? If you’re doing a physical activity that jacks up your nerves, you’re probably feeling … stressed. Here’s a great example: You’re new to rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking (keep going here) so your heart rate is sky high as you do it, and not because of physical exertion. Your chest thumps while just belaying your climbing partner. That’s stressful. There are definitely benefits to trying something new or that makes you nervous— just balance it with a more happy-space exercise. You’re the best person at identifying your exercise of choice, but walking is always a good option.
- Breathe deeply.
Deep diaphragmatic breaths are instant de-stressors. You’re always breathing, so make the next few minutes of it really count. Do it seated, standing or lying down, anywhere, anytime. All you have to do is press your belly out as you inhale, and then keep drawing breath in until your middle torso and then chest expand. Do it as slowly as you comfortably can. Pause for a few counts, and exhale for a bit longer than you inhaled. Do it all through your nose and repeat 10 times. Follow the breathing pattern longer, and you’ll create a world of difference, one where you go through life clear-headed and fortified.
- Move in slow motion.
Whatever you’re doing, do it half-speed. Your breathing and heart rate automatically slow down. Your thinking tapers off into disjointed goo, calming ripples of constant thought. Amazing, right? Keep at it. With enough practice you’ll get a handle on the goo and be able direct yourself more intentionally and less frantically. Make it a habit, and you also won’t try to cram as much into a day. Ultimately, things that matter less drop off your to-do list and the stuff that stays on gets done better.
- Sit (or lie down).
Take “move in slow motion” down a notch. You’ve probably already heard that meditation can help with stress. If it seems overwhelming, just sit or lie down, and do nothing for 15 minutes. You don’t have to try to think (or not think) or focus (or not focus) on something in particular. Just be. Putting the brakes on whatever you’re doing with a time limit will help you recharge and reframe how you go about your day. Do this regularly and you’ll reprogram your approach to life.
- Recast your perspective.
We create our emotional stress, no matter the situation. Of course, some circumstances make it very hard to blame the victim. But the truth still holds: We’re in charge of how we internalize and react to everything. A great first step is to acknowledge when you create stress, and then recognize that your habit is not constructive. It’ll take time to recast your perspective, but that’s perfectly fine when you’re in the business of recasting your life.
Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006 and was a senior editor at Yoga Journal, for which she still edits and creates content — most recently an online course on the benefits of slowing down. Over the years, many of her yoga students have come to class in search of formulas for creating lives with less stress. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.