How are you feeling? Cool as a cucumber, or frantic and stressed out? If stress is overwhelming you and sapping all your energy, life gets just that much harder and any extra challenges, such as weight loss, start to seem impossible. Learning how to minimize and manage stress is a key to success, not just in weight loss, but in life.
So what can you do about stress?
Our first piece of advice is: Do take it seriously - it’s affecting your quality of life. Secondly: Do take it personally. Everyone handles stress differently, so make a point of understanding specifically what causes your stress and how it shows, then you can focus your “stress-busters” accordingly. Thirdly, if your stress never seems to improve, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health specialist or other qualified counselor for some guidance.
Read on and learn some good ways to bust stress. Choose a few that are helpful to you and put them into practice – but don’t stress about it!
1. Learn to say "no"
Are you too much of a softy? Have people learned to over-rely on you, impose on your time, and saddle you with their burdens? Learn to say "NO" to demanding requests - rather than suffer subsequent regrets and stress.
Be realistic in your expectations, and make sure others are too - you may be taking on more responsibility than you can or should handle. And remember to say "no" to yourself as well as others; if you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, don’t do things you don’t have to.
2. Be an underachiever
Shed the "superman/woman" urge. No one is perfect, so don't expect perfection from yourself or others. Ask yourself: What really needs to be done? How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? What adjustments can I make?
Overly-stressed people typically push and push themselves to the point of collapse. Sometimes it’s good to give up and let go of your expectations, demands, and perceived “needs”, whether they are pressures you put on yourself or on others.
Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it. And go easy with criticism. Try not to feel frustrated, let down, disappointed, even "trapped" when you or another person doesn’t measure up. Remember, everyone is unique, and has his or her own virtues, shortcomings, and the right to develop as an individual.
3. Jump to it!
Twenty to thirty minutes of physical activity on a regular basis is a great way to manage stress. It’s also good for weight control, for blood pressure, for heart disease, for peace of mind, for enjoyment, and for perspective.
You'll find that a consistent exercise schedule not only keeps you alert and focused during the day, but also helps you sleep better at night. If you have a lot of pent-up tension, going for a vigorous walk or for a relaxing swim can ease it out of your system.
4. Alter your perceptions
One of the best ways to manage stress is to rethink your perceptions. You may not be able to control a situation, but you do have control of your point of view.
Sometimes, if you are feeling very stressed, you might just need to reconsider your response to an event. Is it really the end of the world because you can't hang a picture up quickly, or because the traffic is moving slower than usual, or because you spilled a glass of milk? Sometimes you need to learn to laugh at what you might perceive as a “disaster”. Sometimes you need to let go of what you cannot control. Try shifting your focus from what is not working in your life, to what is.
5. Limit changes
Once you identify the changes that induce stress for you, you can make decisions to limit the number of changes you allow in your life. Of course, you cannot simply quit your job, postpone your move, or permanently avoid everything in your life that has a high stress potential. But you can have some control over how many of these events happen at any one time. You can learn to prioritize for the sake of your sanity. Get used to asking yourself questions about your immediate and distant future: What can I rearrange? What is not a priority? What can I say "no" to? What is really important to me this weekend?
That doesn’t have to mean twisting your knees and ankles at obscure angles and humming to yourself. You can use meditation time to listen to music, lie flat on the floor and stare at the ceiling, do a stretching routine, sit on a park bench, or take in an ocean view; whatever helps you to go to “another place” or simply think of nothing at all. Just 10-20 minutes of quiet reflection may bring relief from chronic stress as well as increase your tolerance to it.
If you think about it, the word "recreation" says a lot. When you garden or fish or walk or paint for recreation you are, in a sense, re-creating yourself by renewing your body and mind.
Setting aside part of the day or week for recreation is a great way to reduce stress. Try taking up a new activity or hobby; it will give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Next time you’re bogged down by worries, do something you enjoy for a while. Whether it's gardening, reading, painting, or Irish dancing – whatever makes you happy – make time to indulge your interest.
8. Drink and eat to your health
Good nutrition makes a big difference to stress levels.
If you are feeling stressed, limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol and sugar, as these substances can elevate the physical symptoms of stress. Alcohol can be deceptive; some people think it relaxes them for sleep, but most research shows it actually disturbs, not helps, regular sleep patterns.
Good stress-reducing foods:
- Whole grains promote the production of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which increases your sense of well-being
- Green, yellow and orange vegetables are rich in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals, which boost immune response and protect against disease
- Citrus fruits are full of vitamin C, which is a great stress-busting antioxidant
Observe how different foods and beverages affect your stress levels.
9. Baby steps, baby steps
For people under tension or stress, an ordinary work load can sometimes seem unbearable. The best way to cope with this feeling of being overwhelmed is to take one task at a time. Pick the most urgent task and work on it first. Once you accomplish that task, choose the next one. The positive feeling of "checking off" work is very satisfying and can help motivate you to keep going. Learn to identify events that leave you mentally drained and pace yourself extra carefully on those ones.
10. Manage conflict
By determining what you really value and what is really worth battling over, you can limit the amount of conflict in your life. Avoid certain situations that lead to conflict. Limit the number of interactions with people who battle with you. Examine conflicting drives and determine which one should prevail. You cannot expect a perfect world without conflict, but you can make a decision to limit the amount of self-inflicted turmoil in your life.