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In life, there will always be situations and events that cause us to experience stress. These events can be brief, such as a car cutting in front of you on a busy freeway. They can be chronic, long-term situations, such as this ongoing COVID-19 battle. Neither short-term nor chronic stress can be eliminated from our lives, but it is possible to learn to manage stress. One of the most effective ways is by living a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle provides long-term, cumulative resilience. When stress does strike, your body and mind are strong, healthy, and prepared to face it. Stress becomes manageable.
Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Manage Stress with Self-Awareness
There is a strong mental side to stress management, and it starts with self-knowledge.
Learn to recognize the things that trigger a stress response in you. Remember, situations or events in and of themselves are not stressful. The way we respond to them determines our experience. Situations that may be highly stressful for one person may be mild to another and non-existent to a third.
Take, for example, public speaking. Just the thought of it may be debilitating to one person, somewhat frightening but manageable to another – and a welcome experience to a third. It’s the same situation with three varied stress reactions.
Take some time to evaluate the situations and events that cause stress for you. Write them down. Look for similarities in these situations. Dig deep, because the better you understand your triggers, the more you can focus on the best response to them.
Next, evaluate your typical responses to those stressful situations. You may find you react very differently in different situations, or you may have one primary response even with a variety of triggers. Do you tend to overeat, turn to drugs or alcohol, go for a run, talk it out – responding to stress can be done in both positive and negative ways. What are yours?
Learn to accept that which you cannot control.
Realize that imperfection isn’t a negative thing.
Understand that there are times when you need to let things slide and you do not have to give 100% all of the time.
Remember that stress comes not from the event, but from the way you respond.
“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”Lee Iacocca
Manage Stress with a Healthy Diet
On the physical side, one of the primary ways of managing stress and other negative emotions is by consuming healthy foods.
No, you don’t have to be a healthy eater all of the time, but it’s important to know which foods will strengthen your stress management response, and which will weaken it. A healthy diet contributes to a strong, healthy body that can more easily fend off stress.
Certain foods even provide nutrients with calming effects. Some of the best foods for managing stress are fish, whole grains, warm milk, nuts, and citrus. Focus on maintaining a consistent supply of energy by eating well-balanced meals.
Sugary foods, fast foods and vending machine snacks will give you a short but unsustainable burst of energy, which will only serve to increase your stress. You will also not receive the nutrients necessary to combat stress when your primary source of calories comes from highly processed foods.
Remember that alcohol is a depressant. It can cause sleep disturbances which in turn keep stress levels high by making you more tired the following day as well as fouling your mood and weakening your defenses against stress triggers.
Dehydration also increases the body’s stress response, so drink plenty of water throughout each day. When stressed, it’s easy to be distracted and forget to drink water, so be extra conscious of this need.
Manage Stress With Movement
Regular activity will reduce tension, increase endorphins and keep your body fit and strong.
A full workout at the gym is not required (unless that’s your preference!). It is more important to find the type of movement that works for you and that you will engage in consistently. For serious athletes, running, CrossFit, and boot camps may be the perfect solution. If those don’t appeal, try swimming, dancing, a gentle exercise class, and best of all, walking outside. A brisk ten or twenty-minute walk in nature will release endorphins, increase blood flow, and boost mental capacity.
Manage Stress with Adequate Rest and Relaxation
Your body needs time to respond and recover from stressful events, so sleep is an important part of caring for yourself.
Be as consistent as possible with the times you go to sleep and wake up. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks close to bedtime, and shut off electronic devices an hour before you go to bed.
Create a bedtime routine to ease yourself into sleep, and follow it as much as possible.
In addition to sleep, your body requires regular breaks throughout the day to rest and regroup. Taking breaks actually makes you more efficient, more energetic, and better able to tackle the challenges in front of you.
Take a few moments throughout your day to take a walk, stretch, talk to a friend, or simply sit in the sunshine.
Learn relaxation techniques and use them consistently. Yes, it is possible to train your body to relax. Try deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or indulge in a deep-tissue massage.
Explore activities that focus on the right side of your brain – the side that regulates creativity and the arts. Try favorite childhood activities such as coloring, doodling, singing, or just listening to music. This will enable you to rest the busier and more analytical left side.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”William James
Additional Lifestyle Tools to Manage Stress
Routines give you a sense of control over your day. They are a particularly effective stress-management tool if your stress is related to time management, productivity, or impulsiveness. Create a routine that you use and can stick to. Start each morning by mapping out your daily priorities, responsibilities, and challenges. Determine how and when in your day you will tackle each. Having a plan will help soothe your nerves, improve productivity, and keep you on track to completing the tasks that are contributing to your stress.
The written word is powerful. If ideas are running around in your head as you try to go to sleep at night, set aside 5-10 minutes before bedtime to write down all the things that are worrying you. Do a complete brain dump on paper, and then set it aside until morning. This is a surprisingly effective way of improving sleep!
Ask for help. Realize that everyone needs help sometimes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help when needed. Many people feel that they should be able to manage everything without asking for help but that’s simply not true. Sharing can significantly reduce the burden of stressful situations.
Look to the past for proof that you are capable of facing stressful times and surviving them. Perhaps a solution to your current concern can be found in prior actions. Realize that you have been in stressful times before, and you have come through them as you will your present concerns.
Look to the future to see the benefit of moving through your stressful situation. Realize the impermanence. Focus on your goals and envision a time beyond the present moment, when the current stress is long gone and you have reached a place of peace and achievement.
- How Do You Recognize and Respond to Stress?
- 7 Fast Ways to Reduce Your Stress
- What’s Keeping You Awake at Night?
Final Thoughts on Managing Stress With a Healthy Lifestyle
A healthy mind and body give you some serious power to combat stress in your life, particularly the chronic stress that never seems to completely disapear. These are long-term solutions to make you more resilient overall.
Try any – or all – of the following stress management skills:
- Healthy Diet
- Rest and Relaxation
- Written Words
- Requests for Help
- Review of the Past
- View of the Future