It’s 2018 and we live in a highly competitive, fast-paced and social world. It makes sense then that most of us, in some way or another, deal with stress on a daily basis. Some stress can actually be good, but too much can be extremely harmful and toxic to the human body. Fortunately, you don’t need to let stress takeover your life, it’s possible to build up a tolerance or stop it in it’s tracks by practicing stress management techniques.
Here are my top 5 methods to manage stress and anxiety. By the way, if you want to learn more about managing stress, listen to the podcast “Understanding Stress and How To Manage it For Better Health” with Dr. Laura Belus.
Top 5 Stress Management Techniques
Start Your Day on Your Own Terms
Your morning has the potential to set the standard for how you feel, think and function for the rest of your day. The stress hormone – cortisol – is at its highest in the morning. If you wake up in a rush to get ready and race off to work, that is a stressor and will result in a hyper response to cortisol. Your nervous system is now on high alert and will struggle to relax or calm down for the rest of the day. More often than not, this will cause you to be short-tempered, moody or burnout early in the day.
Instead, either stop hitting the snooze button or wake up earlier and start a morning routine that creates a relaxing, stress-free environment and prepares you mentally for your day. I’ll let you decide how you want to set up your morning routine, but here are a few examples that I do:
- Read 10 pages of a book (preferably something motivational or personal development)
- Meditate or practice deep breathing
- Name 3 things you’re thankful for
- Go for a walk or just move around (flow routine)
- Listen to music
- Write in a journal or plan out your day.
You’ll be surprised how mentally strong you can be just by starting each day with some mindful preparation. I believe this is one of the most important things someone can do not only to manage stress but also completely change their life.
Cold Exposure (cold shower, cryotherapy, ice bath)
You may cringe just reading the title (especially if it’s winter and you live in Canada like me), but hear me out first. Cold showers move your body out of it’s comfort zone and create a little bit of stress, as a result, the body adapts and becomes more resilient and stronger. The cold stress triggers the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline), feel good chemicals that improve mood, focus, energy and overall brain function. Another really cool benefit is the release of cold shock proteins, which help to develop connections between brain cells.
There is no easy way to do this, just make the water as cold as possible and jump in. Try for as long as you can but you’ll feel the benefits even from 30 seconds. The idea here is to try to focus on controlling your breath and allow yourself to relax while in the cold. This can be a great way to lower your core temperature to help you fall asleep, however I like to do it the morning. If you can handle the stress of a cold shower in the morning, you can handle anything that comes at you that day!
Heat Exposure (sauna, hot yoga or steam rooms)
This works in a similar way to a cold shower, but on the opposite side of the spectrum. The stress of heat exposure also releases adrenaline, creating similar cognitive and feel good benefits, as well as improving your tolerance to stress. Believe it or not, there are also Heat Shock Proteins that are released and help to improve the function of your cells. Finally, heat increases the production of growth hormone and helps to maintain/build muscle.
A sauna, hot yoga or the steam room are the easiest ways to create heat stress. The research is showing that the more uncomfortable you can become from the heat (to an extent of course), the greater physiologic affect it will have on your body. Minimum 20 minutes (up to an hour) works for me, but this will change each time as your body begins to adapt to the heat. Quick sauna sessions after exercise (because your core temperature is already raised) can also help to enhance its stress reducing effects.
Breathing is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to manage your stress. Many of us take breathing for granted because it’s an autonomic function of our body. However, learning to breathe properly and taking the time do so mindfully, can actually lower stress, clear the mind and optimize our physical and mental health. When you breathe correctly, you improve oxygen uptake throughout the cells in your body. Furthermore, deep and mindful breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inhibiting stress-producing hormones and triggering a relaxation response in the body. Read “How to Breathe Properly” to optimize how you breathe.
I’ve included meditation in this section because mindful breathing and meditation are really one in the same. I often hear people say they “can’t” meditate; they’ve tried and failed. It’s important to understand that meditation is not some crazy out of the body experience, stopping your thoughts or anything of the sort; it’s actually the complete opposite. Meditation is about spending time with yourself, allowing your thoughts to happen and being ok and content with those thoughts. Allowing yourself time to sit and think in this way can be a very powerful tool to managing your stress. Check out “How to Start a Meditation Practice” to get started with meditation.
Breathing and/or meditation are something you can do at any point, however I highly recommend doing it the moment you feel the start of stress or anxiety come on. Often times you can stop it right in its tracks, rather than let it build and take over your day. Use your stress management tools wisely!
Exercise isn’t just for staying lean and looking good; it offers one of the most powerful ways to immediately reduce stress. Movement and a nice sweat provide an instant influx of feel good chemicals (endorphins) and health promoting hormones. In fact, regular participation in physical activity has shown to decrease levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.
There is no “set” way to exercise to manage stress best, you just need to get up and move! Whether you want to ride a bike outside, run on a treadmill or lift weights, that’s up to you. Just make sure to do something that makes you sweat and preferably something that you enjoy. Use exercise as a form of therapy.
It’s important to understand that exercise is also a form of stress, especially high-intensity exercises. While physical activity can be a great way to reduce stress, when you overdo it, it can cause adrenal fatigue and actually contribute to your stress problem. For those who are chronically stressed or already exercise frequently, it may be more beneficial for you to stop high-intensity exercise (like HIIT training or weight lifting) and stick to low-intensity activity until you feel better. To learn more about exercise and stress levels listen to this podcast.
What if Stress Management Techniques don’t work?
These methods aren’t perfect, but they can significantly help to relieve stress or build a stronger tolerance against it. Sometimes though, life isn’t easy and stress can take over. If that’s the case, it may be better to just veg out and literally do nothing. Sit back, turn on a classic movie and just relax.
This may seem counter productive to progressing and overcoming stress, but sometimes the body and the brain just need to shut off. You need to accept that you’re stressed, understand that it’s not permanent and be ok with shutting down. Get some sleep and wake up ready to take on the next day!
Have You Tried Online Health Coaching?
If you’re struggling to manage stress, improve your health, achieve weight loss or build muscle, then online health coaching may be right for you. I work with my clients to develop a proper plan and strategy for diet, physical activity, stress management, sleep hygiene and more. I may have additional spots available to help you. Check out my website and feel free to contact me for a free consultation to see if working together is a good fit.