Stress is tough to handle at any time of the year, but the added pressures of the holiday season often make it feel completely overwhelming. Fortunately, you can take steps to reign in your stress—and limit its effects on your health.
We often think of stress as something that just puts us in a bad mood. But in reality, it’s far more serious than that. Too much stress, particularly over time, can lead to serious and negative impacts on our physical and mental health.
In fact, excess and uncontrolled stress is a known risk factor for many different health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Why Managing Stress Is Essential
When we think about our health, our stress levels don’t always come to mind. But stress plays a key role in our overall health.
The first thing to know is that not all stress is bad. In fact, a small amount of stress can help motivate you and keep you productive.
But too much stress has the opposite effect. Not only will you not be productive, but you’ll also suffer in a number of ways, with symptoms ranging from headaches to difficulties sleeping.
Over time, those symptoms can turn into something more severe, putting you at a higher risk of serious medical conditions. That’s because when you’re stressed, your body tenses up, your brain uses more oxygen than normal, and your breathing gets faster.
So it’s in your best interest to practice stress management—finding effective ways to minimize the effects of stress and keep your mind and body balanced. We have a few tips for how to do that.
Keys to Effectively Managing Stress
The good news is that you can largely manage stress by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. Sticking with healthy habits will be especially important as the chaos of the holidays takes over—you’ll want to stay with your routine to help keep your stress levels manageable.
Try building these habits:
- Exercise regularly. Yes, you’ve heard this one plenty of times. But moving your body is one of the most effective ways to manage stress. That’s because exercising releases positive endorphins, which flood the body and lead to a sense of well-being. Devoting time to physical activity also helps carve out time that’s just for you—allowing you to decompress from the rest of your day and think about something else for a while. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
- Eat a balanced diet. Fill up your plate with lots of fruits and vegetables, which are packed with antioxidants that help keep the body at its healthiest. Many of them are particularly beneficial for the mind, helping you find stress relief. Devote half your plate to produce, then add a small portion of lean protein and some whole grains. Not in the best of moods? Try boosting your mood with a small piece of dark chocolate, which has beneficial antioxidants and contains healthy fat, too.
- Schedule in some “me time.” We mentioned earlier that exercising allows you a little bit of time to yourself, but it’s also important to carve out other time, as well. Schedule in time for yourself at intervals throughout the week, doing any activity that you’d like. There’s no specific criteria for what you do, only that whatever you do be something you enjoy. Maybe take yourself out on a coffee date, or spend time in a bubble bath with a book.
- Disconnect from technology. Let’s be honest—in today’s world, technology and mobile devices are often at the root of our stress. After all, having a smartphone means we’re essentially accessible 24/7. So power off your technology occasionally, particularly in the last couple hours before bedtime. Disconnecting will allow you time to enjoy other activities without worrying that a work email will pop in.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Many people find that meditation helps them reduce stress, but it isn’t the only relaxation technique that’s effective. If full-blown meditation isn’t your thing, try simply being more mindful as you’re going through your day. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, slow down and carefully think through what you’re doing. Focusing in on small details can help reduce your stress.
Practicing these habits on a regular basis will help them become routine—and in the long run, help reduce your stress levels. While it’s not usually possible to eliminate stress altogether, you can greatly reduce the negative effects that stress can have.
Are your symptoms from stress or something more? A doctor can help you determine whether an underlying medical condition is to blame. Find a doctor here.