People need stress to live, said Judith Belmont, a psychotherapist in Pennsylvania.
"Stress is the spice of life,” Belmont said. “The commonplace dilemma, however, is that all too often we remain in a constant state of overdrive which can wreak havoc on the chemistry of our brains.”
Too much stress can lead to headaches, insomnia, irritability and depression. Get a better handle on stress in the new year by incorporating these activities daily.
- Get more sleep. According to a study by the Better Sleep Council, 65 percent of Americans are losing sleep due to stress. “Make it more systematic instead of something you do at the end of the day because there's nothing else going on,” said Leah Lagos, a New York-based clinical psychologist. She recommends that people get at a minimum of six hours of sleep per night, with eight hours being the ideal.
- Breathe more. When a person is really stressed out, their breathing is fast and shallow. Taking the time to perform simple breathing exercises 20 minutes a day can do wonders for a person's overall health.
- Incorporate exercise. Committing to at least 30 minutes of physical activity three to five times a week can also help a person reduce stress. Exercising is not only beneficial for losing weight, but it can also increase mood-boosting endorphins and help a person sleep better.
- Eat for better health. Instead of gorging on a box of Ho-Ho's at the end of a stressful day, eat better for optimal health. This means eating a well-balanced meal three times a day. Eating this way gives a person more energy and a clearer mind to deal with the daily grind.
- Have realistic expectations. “It's not things outside of us that stress us out, it's our expectations that stress us out,” said Belmont. If a person has realistic expectations and controls their reaction to life's drama, then they will learn to handle stress better. “We cannot control what happens, but we can control how we deal with it,” said Belmont.
- Have a sense of humor. The old adage is true, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter relaxes a person, increases those same mood-boosting endorphins mentioned with exercising and relieves stress.
- Spend time with people you love. “When we get stressed out, we run out of time, we isolate ourselves, but you buffer the effects of stress when we make time for the people we love and who make us feel good,” said Lagos.
- Take time to do nothing. Set aside a day or a few hours without any appointments or to-do list. Allow the mind and body to relax and unwind.
- Learn to say "no." “If you feel like saying 'yes' to an obligation, responsibility or another demand puts you a place of high stress, then you have to say, 'no,'” said Lagos. It is in a person's best interest to turn down those things that will increase stress levels.
- Measure your progress daily. Signs that stress management techniques are working include deeper sleep, relaxed disposition and improved mood.
Tequitia Andrews has written about parenting and family issues for several newspapers, magazines and websites.