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Stress management isn't just about relaxing, but also about changing your daily lifestyle. How you do one thing is how you do everything. If you're stressed out all the time, how is that affecting the rest of your life?
Signs of Stress
Stress is so common and a regular part of people’s lives. We don’t always realize when we're suffering from stress. There are both mental and physical signs of stress that you should know about.
Your body can tell you a lot based on your ailments, and not just because of having a physical condition. It might also tell you that you are too stressed out and you need to address it.
For example, if you notice that you can’t sleep well, you have more or less of an appetite than you used to, or you have been losing or gaining weight, those are physical signs of stress.
You may also have skin changes like adult acne, intestinal problems, irregular menstrual cycles, or sexual dysfunction.
Stress levels relate closely to your emotional state. It's often what people notice first when wondering if they have too much stress. You might feel overwhelmed and like you don’t have full control over your life, or you could have low self-esteem and depression.
If you find that you can’t emotionally handle others, you can’t quiet your mind’s racing thoughts, or you keep getting agitated with others, you could be suffering from high stress.
You should also pay close attention to your behavior and how it might change from day to day. You may find that you are suddenly using substances to buffer, or mute, the negative emotions or overwhelming mental state.
Buffers include overeating, excessive time on social media, smoking cigarettes, drinking more heavily, or experimenting with drugs.
Lashing out at others, becoming angry, or procrastinating a lot could also be signs of stress. You may also fidget or bite your nails, which are often associated with being stressed out.
A common sign for me when I was anxious and stressed out as a kid was bouncing my leg up and down.
Cognitive signs relate to your mental state. It's easy to confuse them with emotional symptoms, but they are similar. For example, if you suddenly have poor judgment and are making bad decisions at work or in your personal life, that might be related to your cognitive function.
You could have racing thoughts, constant worrying and anxiety, or not being able to focus much on tasks. Stress can also cause poor memory and sudden disorganization where it wasn’t a problem previously in your life.
Stress Management Tips
Here are some different healthy lifestyle changes to consider making to manage your stress.
Try to Get Enough Sleep
Stress can cause problems with your sleep, but lack of sleep also leads to more stress. Since it works both ways, it is essential that you focus on getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night—or whatever works best for you.
Through experimentation, I know I need about 8.5 hours from "bedtime" to my wake up alarm. I'm usually awake for about an hour every night, and if I get less than 7 hours of sleep, I'm toast.
You want to have your sleep as interrupted as possible to get into a deep REM sleep. This is important for proper cognitive function and can also help reduce your stress levels naturally.
Here are some tips for getting better sleep:
- Buy a better mattress—more important than you may think!
- Develop a sleeping routine in the evening.
- Don’t bring your cell phone into your bedroom (unless it's your alarm and you can be super disciplined about putting it away from the bed and not using it before you sleep).
- Keep the TV turned off—better yet, don't have a TV in the bedroom.
- Sleep when your kids are asleep.
Increase Your Physical Activity
Health experts often recommend physical activity for many problems such as anxiety and depression, and for good reason. It also helps with stress management.
When you workout regularly, you distract your mind from worries, have better relaxation, and release endorphins to feel happier and more energized throughout the day.
A healthy lifestyle change to make is moving your body more. You need not go for a run every morning unless that works for you; something as simple as walking your dog or using your backyard for yoga can be helpful.
I go on a 1-mile walk with my husband five days a week and it really does help calm things down.
Become a More Organized Person
Organizing your life is important if you want to make healthy lifestyle changes. The more organized you are in your daily home and work life, the less stress you will experience overall.
You may get stressed out at work because your desk is a mess. Go to the office supply store to get some boxes and bins that will help you organize your office.
Do the same thing at home by organizing your kitchen, living room, home office, bedroom, and other spaces that seem chaotic.
Gretchen Rubin preaches Outer Order, Inner Calm, and I have to say, the more ordered my house and office are, the better I feel.
Eat a Healthier Diet
Feeding your body with healthy foods increases your nutrients, many of which will help you relieve your stress levels.
Vitamins and minerals like vitamin B and folate can trigger melatonin and other happy chemicals in your brain and body to feel happier and relax your mind.
I recommend low-carb food protocols to everyone who can handle it, because I know through experience that carbohydrates trigger an insulin response, which is a key driver of obesity.
Get Clear on What You're Thinking
Stress is a symptom of thinking thoughts that fill us with negative emotion. Getting clear on what you're thinking by writing down all your thoughts will help clarify the core problems.
I recently did a Facebook Live on how to handle burnout, and the primary "fix" is to clean up your thinking. You can watch the recording on YouTube, linked below, or by joining my free Facebook Group.
Implement Strong Boundaries
Often, stress builds up from a lack of boundaries. Boundaries, especially strong ones, represent the line other people cannot cross without consequences.
Boundaries are the lines that you draw in your life that, when someone crosses them, govern what you do in response.
A common misconception is that boundaries govern what others do.
The formula for a boundary looks like this:
Behavior + Consequence = Boundary
Depending on circumstances, these consequences might include leaving the immediate vicinity, standing up for yourself without backing down, putting someone on an “information diet,” or informing the boundary-crosser that they have overstepped and you will take some time to yourself because of it.
For some ideas on boundaries to set that will help you manage stress, visit this post.
Learn How to Manage Your Time Better
Raise your hand if you always run out of time for things. If you are usually late. If you have a to-do list a mile long and never make any progress on it.
All of those things can trigger stressful thoughts and feelings.
The key is to understand what time management actually is, why it's important, and how to practice it. Managing your time reallly helps when it comes to stress management, too.
I coach on time management. It's one of the core elements in my coaching program. To learn more about how to work with me, click here.
Probably the best thing you can do for yourself, especially when you're stressed out, is to NOT JUDGE YOURSELF.
Self-compassion is a skill and it takes practice, but learning it means you become the kind of person who has your own back and will always take care of you first.
Need Help Managing Stress?
Stress management is a big piece of any coaching relationship.
If you're struggling with your stress levels, please sign up for a consult.