Stress is a ubiquitous part of life, and there are many things people turn to so they can mitigate its effects. Some people enjoy a hobby, like reading or knitting, while others pour a drink and watch reality TV. It is vital to your well-being to incorporate stress management into your routine, but with so many options and advice out there on how to do it, it is very easy to get overwhelmed. So what are the healthiest choices you should make to manage stress?
Even though a stigma still exists in openly discussing mental health, we tell our patients at EW Motion Therapy that their mental health is just as important as their physical health, and they greatly influence each other. While physical therapists are not certified mental health professionals, they can be a great listening ear, and our therapists strive to get to know patients as a person first, not just another case. Our ultimate goal is to help you manage stress in your own life to the benefit of your health, even if you do not choose to pursue physical therapy with us.
This article discusses why managing stress is so important and offers some basic tips on how to manage stress in your own daily routine. With this information, you can begin a new routine and feel better physically and mentally.
Why is managing stress important?
Most people understand the effect stress can have on your mental health - you can develop an anxiety disorder or depression if it continues on without being addressed. But stress can actually affect your physical health as well. If not managed, excess stress can lead to inflammation throughout your body, increased aches and pains, increased tension, and poor breathing patterns. It can even lead to appetite changes and disrupted sleep habits.
Also, many people develop coping mechanisms that may decrease stress temporarily, but it just makes their journey harder down the road. These can include excessive drinking, smoking, and unhealthy or binge eating. While having one cocktail or one piece of chocolate cake occasionally never hurt anyone, doing either of these things in excess can lead to more health problems later.
Lifestyle choices to manage stress
Now that you know why it’s important to manage stress, let’s go over three key lifestyle choices you should make to manage your stress in healthy ways. If you have tried some of these recommendations and still feel a negative effect on your mental health, reaching out to a professional counselor is never a bad idea.
Whether you go to the gym or go on a walk after work, getting movement throughout your day is essential to reducing stress and improving your health. Moving throughout your day can be more effective than a single block of time. For example, it is better for you to get up from your desk and take a quick walk every hour of your workday than for you to sit at your desk for eight hours and spend an hour at the gym after.
Movement increases your circulation, makes you more aware of your breath, activates your muscles, and can be a great distraction from whatever is stressing you out. Whether you enjoy yoga classes, trail runs, or Zumba, finding a movement practice you enjoy is key to reducing stress.
Any kind of breathing exercise can be incredibly beneficial for immediate stress relief, so much so that Apple Watches come with a Breathe app that leads you through a series of deep breaths. Breath is calming and naturally rhythmic, providing a great distraction and helping you quiet your mind. Also, learning how you breathe can even provide a physiological benefit. Do you take short, shallow breaths and tense your neck muscles in the process? Breathing exercises can help your body truly relax, and better breath can center you and help you sleep. Meditation is a common practice that has many benefits, and even devices like a Hatch Restore can help you develop a meditation routine before bed.
Another key area to focus on for stress reduction is what you eat. If you do not give your body the fuel it needs, you will not have enough energy to accomplish what you want to in your day. It really is true that you are what you eat. Make sure your diet is balanced, with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. Sugar can be inflammatory, and an excess of processed foods and caffeine are never great for anyone. You don’t have to follow a specific diet plan to eat healthily - just be aware of making good choices, and your body will serve you well.
Other behavioral and lifestyle choices
Other than those three categories, there are a few more things you can do to help reduce stress in your routine.
Develop a consistent routine. Striving for perfection is often fruitless, but building in strategies and practicing good habits can go a long way.
Stay connected to your community. Whether you are involved in a church small group, schedule a weekly coffee date with your best friend, or make frequent trips to see your grandmother, prioritizing relationships with the people you love can drastically improve your mental health.
Find something you enjoy. Hobbies can help break up the mundane day-to-day activities we do, and you can feel a sense of accomplishment as you progress. If you don’t have a hobby, try a new one, like embroidery or photography.
Get outside. Being surrounded by nature is a great reminder that the world is bigger than the things that stress you in your day-to-day life. There’s a reason so many poets like Wendell Berry and William Wordsworth write about the beauty and peace nature brings.
Practice gratitude and optimism. Being thankful for what you do have in your life and looking for the positive can help move your focus away from the negative things distracting your brain.
Set boundaries. You cannot give to others and fulfill your responsibilities if your own cup is empty. Build time into your day to truly rest. Maybe you could get off social media for a little while, or set a rule to not answer work emails after a certain time. Whatever healthy boundaries look like for you, set them and enforce them regularly.
How else can I incorporate stress management into my routine?
Now you know more about stress management and some action items you can incorporate into your routine. It can be overwhelming to find things that really do work for you, whether you try to make better food choices or try a new Pilates class, but when you find habits that work for you, you are on your way to feeling less stress in your day.
Excess stress can cause many physical health problems besides mental health ones. We tell our patients at EW Motion Therapy that their health really is their future, and any investment they make in improving their health will see the best returns. If you are interested in reducing stress and making better lifestyle choices with us, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps.