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Stressed out? At your wit’s end? Feeling the overwhelming heaviness, like you’re bearing the weight of the world? Quick temper, scattered thoughts, inability to focus?
Most of us experience stress on a daily basis. Some stress is good, i.e. pushing yourself to reach a deadline, athletes (or even just the average Joe) training for a personal best, planning a wedding, moving to a new house, or welcoming a new baby.
But much of our stress is negative. Working too many hours, while balancing the demands of raising kids. Maintaining a household, planning and cooking meals, buying groceries. It’s like juggling on a unicycle, while you’re on fire! And when there are too many balls in the air, unless you purposely and selectively start putting some down balls, they will inevitably all start falling down at once.
We know all that too much stress isn’t good for us. Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure top the list of risks associated with stress. Not to mention a lower level of happiness and satisfaction in life. And it’s not getting any better for our children. The statistics on teenage stress, suicide rates, and mental health issues are on the rise.
How do we deal with it all, especially when it starts to feel overwhelming?
My Stressful Week
It’s been a pretty stressful week for me, and the next few aren’t shaping up to improve much. I’ve taken on a project at work that means an extra 2 days on top of my normal schedule next week, which includes working through Easter weekend (this is normal part of shift work, but still). There’s a blogging challenge to get 10 posts published in 20 days (thanks Kim Anderson Consulting…this will be #6 of 10!). An upcoming surgery is giving me the jitters. It’s minor, but still. And couple all that with a court battle over custody of my boys, going on almost 3 years now, that is ramping up again.
(Side Note: One day I hope to blog about my struggles with custody battles, co-parenting challenges, and the toll it has taken on my family. It’s a big part of the reason I began blogging, in the hopes that my story can uplift and inspire others in similar circumstances. But for the moment, we are still in the middle of litigation, and it would not be appropriate for me to share that publicly. Plus I am always conscious of the impact of sharing my children’s lives with the online world. You’ll notice I never use their names, and try not to show their faces in pictures.)
While I am not an expert on coping with stress, I have been actively trying to incorporate habits into my life that help. Here are my 10 healthy strategies for managing stress.
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(Note: The information below is intended to provide ideas and inspiration. I am not a physician or therapist. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for personal advice on your situation. If you are in crisis, please seek immediate help from your local hospital emergency department.)
Yes, it seems simple, but it is remarkable what simply stopping for a moment and taking a slow, deep breath can do wonders. Sometimes you might need to repeat, over and over. Giving your body that burst of oxygen tells your brain to calm down and relax, helping to reduce the stress response in your body.
Try inhaling to a count of 5, holding for 5, exhaling for 5, and holding for 5. For a more in depth exercise, try the app Box Breathing.
2. Write in a Journal
I have always kept a diary, notebook or journal. Writing down my thoughts, without any pressure of who will read it, or whether my spelling or grammar is correct, helps me process my emotions. Something about cursive writing creates connections in the brain that just don’t happen with printing, typing, or even voice recording. (Don’t even get me started on my opinions on schools dropping cursive writing off the curriculum!).
I try to write every day, a version of Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” from her book The Artist’s Way (although mine don’t always happen in the morning). Three pages of free-form thought, with no particular direction or intention, just spilling everything out of my head. It takes some time to really form this habit into a practice, but it is so worth it. I notice the difference when I keep up with it, versus when I’ve been absent from my journal for a few days. It definitely surprises me, what ends up coming out when pen meets paper, and how my thoughts and emotions pour through.
Meditation is a wonderful way to slow down and reduce stress in your life. Making it a regular habit has truly aided my ability to handle stressful situations when they do arise! I started a few years ago, with Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s Free 21-day Mediation Series, which is a great introduction to meditation. I also enjoy programs offered through Carrie Ann Moss’ Annapurna Living, and even the Insight Timer app on my phone.
This is a recent addition to my “toolbox” of stress management. Being on the heavy side, yoga has never been a particularly comfortable or easy practice for me, particularly not in public! But I have found a great resource online called Curvy Yoga. There is both a free and paid membership, offering guided yoga videos, resources, and body-positive affirmations/inspiration by email. Finally, I feel like I can incorporate yoga into my daily routine, either a quick 5 mins, or a really lengthy complete body work-out!
5. Take a Walk/Get Outside
Getting outside for a walk is the go-to way I encourage stress reduction in my family. We are blessed to have a natural area full of hiking trails only a 5 minute drive from our house, and we try to get out there as a family often. (You can read more about it in my post Walk In The Woods – How To Get Your Kids (And You!) Outside). Fresh air, exercise, and being surrounded by nature, away from the hustle and bustle of our lives allows everyone to relax and unwind, even if it’s just for a short 30 minutes.
6. Stay Hydrated
Another simple, yet powerful strategy for managing stress is to make sure you stay hydrated. When I’m consumed with daily tasks, it’s easy to forget to drink water. But I notice that I’m more prone to anger and frustration when I’m dehydrated, when all I’ve had to drink is (too much) coffee and tea.
7. Eat Well
Or at least don’t devolve to fast food! I am a card-carrying member of stress eaters anonymous, usually immediately reaching for a carb fix when life gets stressful! But deep-fried, heavy carb laden food only serve to make us feel temporarily good before that “lump of lead” sensation sets in. Keep reaching for those healthy fruits and vegetables, high protein, low carb, balanced foods to help give you the nutrition your body needs to fight the stress response.
Admittedly, I am still working on this one…
8. Take Vitamins
Last year, I went through a bout of sickness (cold, flu, bronchitis) that had me under the weather for almost 3 months. When I finally went to my doctor, trying to find a cause and begging for something to make me well, her reply was simple. Stress had finally caught up with me, and my body was so depleted, it couldn’t fight off any of the germs and viruses going around. “Rest up, reduce your stress, and take your vitamins” was her prescription.
I am vigilant about making sure my boys take a daily multivitamin and extra vitamin D (because…Canada and winter), but I am negligent when it comes to making sure I do. Trying to change that. Knock on wood, it’s almost spring and I’ve not had a cold yet this winter!
9. Get Enough Sleep
Hands down, this is one of the most important strategies I have always used to keep on top of the stress in my life. I make sleep a priority (have to with shift work), and if there is a night or two when I don’t manage to get 7-8 hours, I make sure to sleep in when I get a chance, to try and catch up. Keeping a regular bedtime, and sticking to it, is so important, for both kids and grown-ups!
10. Ask For Help
It helps to have friends and family you can lean on when times get tough. Getting together with your girlfriends for a fun night out, or grabbing a coffee with your mom are great ways to help you know you are not alone. Having people you trust, that can lend a hand when you are overwhelmed, even if it’s just an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on, is important. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re going through. You never know when your struggles may just help someone else see they are not in it alone either. And if things get really overwhelming, research and reach out to community support services. Your doctor, or workplace employee assistance is a good place to start.
Using these strategies, as many of them as possible on a daily basis, gives me the best chance to combat the stress before it even starts to take over my life. But when stress does come up, I turn to these ways to stop, pay attention in the moment, and try to deal as best I can with whatever life is throwing at me. And I try to remember…my track record for surviving bad days so far is 100%! Pretty sure yours is too!
Have you tried some of these stress-fighting strategies? What would you add to the list? Let me know by leaving a comment below!