Often times, we look at our lengthy “to-do” lists and immediately feel a surge of stress overcome us. How on earth are we supposed to manage everything life throws at us and still function like a normal human being? That’s a natural reaction. But think of it this way – our body is telling us that something needs to be done. And what motivates us to do it? Stress.
Yep. That’s it, I said it. Stress is motivational. Stress can be a good thing, if you let it.
Don’t believe me? Here are 5 tips that can help you manage stress in a healthy and positive way.
1. Listen to Your Body
Stress is our body’s natural way of letting us know that something needs to get done. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. According to a study from Biological Psychology journal, individuals with high resilience were more attentive to their bodily signals, resulting in a better management of stress. Learning to view stress as a positive thing results in more productivity and better overall health.
Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist at Stanford University, gave a Ted Talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend”, where she shared her findings about perceived stress related to health. She talks about a study that analyzed people’s feelings of stress, their attitudes about stress correlated against public death records. Those most likely to die were more stressed and thought of stress as a negative. On the other hand, those who saw stress as a positive were less stressed and less likely to die. Reshaping how you think about stress can remold your body’s response and your overall health.
“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”Kelly McGonigal, Psychologist
If you have time, I strongly encourage you to watch Kelly’s entire Ted Talk in video below. You’ll never view stress the same way again.
2. Write It Out
Writing out lists helps you visualized what you need to do, and there is a sense of accomplishment that occurs each time you cross something off. Carrie Barron, the Director of the Creativity for Resilience Program at Dell Medical School, says that making lists and checking off items as you complete them can be a “healthy self-protective action.” They can help you feel proactive, calm, and clear-minded.
Dr. David Cohen, an American psychology professor, perfectly captured 3 reasons why our brains love to-do lists.
- Lists help reduce anxiety concerning the chaos of life.
- They give us a structured plan we can stick to.
- Lists are also proof of what we can achieve in a set amount of time.
Placing simple tasks on your list, such as “make the bed” or “empty dishwasher,” may seem silly, but they are a way to get you moving with action. So now that we’ve crossed 2 tips off our “healthy stress management” list, let’s move onto the next!
3. Exercise or Meditate
If you read the title and are already thinking, “I can’t make time for one more thing,” hear me out. You don’t need to be a professional athlete or 100% in shape. A little (yes, only a little) exercise can go a long way in managing stress. Exercise and stress relief go together like peanut butter and jelly. Some of the benefits include increased endorphins, an increased awareness of your health, and an overall improvement in mood.
Meditation is another tool that helps manage stress. It focuses on breath, clearing your mind, and tuning in with yourself. Dr. Ronald Alexander, a pioneer in Mindfulness Based Mind-Body Therapies, says those that mindfully handle stress are less reactive, more focused on the big picture, and have thicker skin. Not sure how to start meditating? Here are 5 apps to guide you through the practice.
4. Put Some Energy Into Your Body
Additionally, what you put into your body will affect how you operate when dealing with stress. We often overlook our diets as a crucial stress fighting mechanism. Matthew J. Kuchan, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Abbott, says that eating healthy foods high in nutrients results in a healthy blood flow in the body. Stress affects blood flow and blood pressure in a negative way, so eating nutritious meals – especially when stressed – helps get that good flow going. Foods containing omega-3s, vitamin E, and polyphenols help improve blood flow.
Staying hydrated is another way to keep stress levels down. When we are dehydrated, cortisol levels go up. Not giving your body the fluids it needs causes stress. When other factors in our lives (school, work, family) are placing stress on us, our heart rates go up, which actually causes us to become dehydrated. Our bodies have to work harder to get our heart rate back down, we breathe heavier, and more fluids are lost. It’s a constant back and forth cycle between stress and dehydration. To top it off, times of high stress are when we often forget to eat and drink, causing more stress on our bodies.
The moral of the story? Show your body some love and be sure to fill it with nutritious foods and lots of water! If you are limited in time, check out these quick and healthy meal options.
5. Stay Positive
And finally, surround yourself with positive energy. Just as viewing stress as a positive changes our approach to stressful situations, practicing positivity can help see stress as a good thing. Is the glass half full or half empty? When your inner dialogue and mindset are positive, so is the way you approach challenges. Take charge of the way you see stress.
Channel positive energy through music, inspirational books, hobbies, friends, or petting a dog. Research says that petting your furry animal friend helps release oxytocin, a brain chemical that creates a positive mood. Doing things you love and being with people that bring out the best in you set you up for success. Give your pup a hug, call your best friend, read some positive quotes, and get ready to tackle all the things coming your way.
So remember, stress IS your friend, and treating it as such will not only help you manage it in a healthy way, but make you happier as well!