Embrace these habits to feel happier and healthier.

By Lindsay Tigar
January 28, 2020
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Though there is plenty Americans disagree about, most will agree about stress. As a nation, we have plenty of it: 77% of people experience physical symptoms because of their angst levels, according to The American Institute of Stress. Not to mention 48% of those also believe their stress levels have a negative effect on their personal and professional lives.

Even with these staggering (and revealing) figures, self-care, exercise, healthy eating, and mindfulness usually come last in our list of priorities. After all, with a to-do list that’s as tall as we are, it’s difficult to force ourselves to pause and relax. But this decade, it’s time to embrace "me" time and adapt rituals and habits that lower our anxiety. Here, experts in various fields share convincing reasons to finally take it easy.

Credit: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

1. For Your Outlook

No matter how you generally describe your mood, when under pressure most people instantly adapt a negative mindset, according to triple-board certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, Judy Ho, Ph.D. In fact, she says you’ll probably notice yourself become easily startled and struggle to turn off your brain and connect to your heart. “When we are stressed, connections between prefrontal cortex and amygdala were weaker, which could suggest that it is much harder to connect the emotional parts of the brain with the higher reasoning parts of the brain and impact decision making,” she shares. 

Especially when you’re planning for your future, making big changes in your family or career, or going through a period of transformation, having a positive perspective is beneficial. That’s why Ho suggests scheduling 30 minutes to one hour a day to do something that brings you joy. This can be a workout class or reading a page-turner. “When you improve your mental health functioning, you will feel more positive emotions, stay hopeful, and feel more aligned with your important values and a fulfilling life,” she adds.

2. For Your Friendships and Relationships

When your manager is piling one deliverable after another on your desk and your spouse texts to ask what you would like for dinner, your initial reaction may be to snap at them to make a decision. Or when you have way too much to do at home because you’re a new parent and your bestie calls asking for advice, you might be tempted to blow them off. Stress—in any form—can have a big impact on our friendships and relationships, according to author and psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. What’s even worse about saying something you don’t mean is that you instantly regret it and usually experience guilt, which only raises your blood pressure more. 

It may seem like a silly solution, but Tessina says simply counting to 10 can have an important impact on your interpersonal dynamics during stressful times. “To form this habit, you must develop more emotional maturity. Understand that your anger is not seen as power by others but as childishness and petulance. It will lose you far more than you will gain,” she says. Learn to slow down and take a few deep breaths when you are upset.

3. For Your Diet

We’ve all been there: It’s 3 p.m. on Friday and your boss just dropped an urgent ask that needs to be done by EOD. With the weekend now further away, you suddenly feel a mega craving for a pack of M&Ms from the vending machine. You may believe you’re hungry, but in reality you’re responding to stress, according to national board-certified health and wellness coach, Jessica Matthews, D.B.H. Chronic stress from your job, personal life, and other factors can leave you snacking on energy-dense comfort foods, like processed goods high in fat and/or sugar. Matthews also says that leaves you likely to pack on the pounds, which ups the stress. As much as you can, she suggests choosing whole foods and getting enough water to keep yourself satiated. Not only will you be able to power through tasks with a clearer mind, a balanced diet is an effective way to combat your symptoms. 

4. For Your Heart

You aren’t only putting your brain on overdrive when you feel overwhelmed, your heart takes a hit too. In fact, regular stress results in a certain chemical reaction in our bodies that can cause an increase in blood pressure, produce a racing heart, and result in heartburn, shortness of breath, and more, according to cardiologist Steven Reisman, M.D. In extreme cases, intense stress can put you at risk for a heart attack or even sudden cardiac death. Yikes! 

To keep this all-too-important muscle happily beating, Reisman suggests having a "cool down" routine that allows you to relax and disconnect. Whether it’s yoga and meditation or a solid laugh with someone you love, these should be part of your life. 

5. For Your Career

You know you have to report into your 9 to 5 tango Monday through Friday, but lately it's exhausting. You’re not excited about the work you’re doing, you don’t enjoy the people you spend endless hours with, and you don’t feel appreciated or inspired. Professional stress is a big one for most overworked Americans, and when you feel overextended and ineffective for a long period of time, career burnout is bound to happen. Business coach Ivy Slater says most people can deal with small amounts of frustration but if it goes on for months, we lose our zest. 

One way to solve this is to shift your thinking habits by celebrating milestones, no matter how big or small. Or, if you feel like your job is no longer a fit for you, make a move. “When we operate on a low-stress level, the more we accomplish and the prouder we feel. We are also more creative and our creativity blossoms when our mind and heart are full of joy,” she adds.

6. For Your Sleep

One of the most debilitating symptoms of stress is not being able to have our nightly date with Mr. Sandman. Whether you’re tossing and turning or simply can’t give in to the z's, periods of insomnia can have a negative impact on nearly every part of our life, according to clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, Psy.D. Not only will we be groggy throughout the day, causing us to perform at a lower standard at the office, but it’s also likely we’ll make poor eating choices and be snappy with those we love. When we make it a priority to get those recommended seven to eight hours, our stress levels will lower.

The key to better rest is in our bedtime habits, Gilliland says. “Stop working and talking about highly stressful things at least 30 minutes before you get into bed. Keep a notepad by the bed. If you think of things that have to be done, write it down,” he suggests. “Sleep is power. Increase your sleep, and life gets more manageable.”

7. For Your Kids

Most parents would do anything for their children. But managing the duties of mom or dad with husband, wife, executive, and so on sometimes means our kiddos don’t get the full attention or patience they deserve. Melody Li, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explains kids are acutely attuned to their parents' stress levels, even if they don’t have the ability to verbalize and process the negativity they sense. As a result, Li says, children often take on that stress as a form of anxiety; it’s stored in the muscles of their bodies, causing them to be restless or throw tantrums. And guess what happens? We become more stressed out—and the cycle continues. “When working with parents who express concern about their children acting out, the first question I ask is how the parents are managing their own stress level as that is often the culprit,” she says.

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