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We all know that avoiding stress or, at least, minimizing its negative effects is an important part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Why, then, is it so hard not to get stressed out on a daily basis? The American Psychological Association’s report, “Stress in America,” found that although individuals knew stress had a negative impact on their health and well-being, they didn't take steps to reduce its effect on their lives. In fact, roughly one in five individuals reported experiencing extreme stress.

Living with stress means your body and your mood are negatively affected. Headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, upset stomach, sleep problems, anxiety, lack of motivation, sadness, and irritability are all unwelcome results of stress, notes the Mayo Clinic. Even worse, in my therapist practice, I often witness how chronic stress can lead to burnout. Chronic stress often makes the anxiety or depression a person experiences even worse.

So, what’s a person to do? You might be surprised to learn that making simple lifestyle changes to your daily habits can minimize the impact stress has on your mental and physical health. 

01. Always Being in a Rush

If you always feel like you're in a rush, and there are never enough hours in the day, it might be time to audit how you use your time. First off, examine your morning routine. Does it involve hitting snooze a few times (like me) before jumping out of bed and feeling rushed the moment your feet hit the freezing floor?

In her book titled What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam interviews successful executives about their morning routine. They wake up early so that they can spend time doing an activity they enjoy before work, whether that’s exercising, journaling, praying/meditating, or spending time with their children.

Get creative the day before to ensure a more relaxing morning. Can you choose an outfit? Pack your work bag and lunch tonight instead of scurrying at 8 a.m.? Or prep the next day’s meals like Verily editor Krizia Liquido does? Starting your morning off on the right foot helps to set the rest of your day up for success.

02. Not Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep plays a crucial role in stress management. Research shows again and again that getting seven to nine hours a night helps your body recover from the stresses of the day. If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, you could be subjecting yourself to unnecessary stress. Even with an irregular sleeping schedule (such as caring for a newborn, perhaps), you can incorporate some of these easy strategies.

When we were younger, “getting ready for bed” likely meant putting princess-themed PJs on, eating a snack, reading a story and getting tucked in to bed. Create your own adult bedtime routine: indulge in your favorite skincare ritual, spritz your pillow with lavender, sip a calming cup of chamomile tea, and read or listen to music to help you wind down. Going to bed with a calm frame of mind will help your body and mind truly rest. If you want to get technical, use the bedtime calculator to calculate the best time for you to wake up based on your sleep cycle. I’ve tried it and it’s a handy tool to catch up on missed sleep.

03. Drinking Caffeine at the Wrong Time

Many of us religiously drink a cup of coffee first thing in the morning to feel semi-functional as we begin our day. But did you know there is evidence that it may be more beneficial to consume caffeine later in the day? Research shows drinking caffeine can affect our cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Drinking your coffee later can give you a boost when your cortisol levels start to dip later in the day. Experts suggest drinking your coffee between 10 a.m. and noon or between 2 to 5 p.m.

04. Being on Call

I have a love–hate relationship with notifications on my iPhone. Seeing a work email pop up on my lock screen is really helpful when I’m at work because I’m not always by my computer (my phone is stuck to me like glue). But, it’s a whole different story when I’m not at work.

Nothing kills a celebratory mood and induces stress when you feel or see a work notification pop up while you're out to dinner with friends or trying to relax at home. The “Do Not Disturb” setting has now become my best friend. I turn it on when I leave work. My screen won’t light up with a notification unless I manually turn on the screen. Then when I see the notification, I fight my impulse to dash off a quick reply and instead assess whether it needs to be answered now. Usually, it doesn’t, and I answer it the next day at work. I also put the hours and days that I work in my email signature to let colleagues know when they can expect to hear from me. Simple strategies like these can help minimize the stress of always being on call.

05. Letting Social Media Influence You

How do you feel after scrolling through your newsfeed? Uplifted and positive? Or do feelings of inadequacy or sadness creep up? If seeing the news stresses you out, limit your time on social media to minimize that stress. Or if seeing the “perfect” pictures, clothes, and lifestyles on social media chip away at your wellbeing, conduct a reality check.

On Verily, C. K. Dawson reflects on how social media has a sneaky way of making us dissatisfied with our lives. She writes, “I compare the image value of my life to the images I’m inundated with daily via Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.” Remember, the picture may look perfect, but you're only getting a filtered view of what’s really going on. Don’t let another person's highlight reel affect your outlook on your life.

06. Using ‘Should’ Too Often

Sometimes stress can come from unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves. If you find yourself saying “I should” or "I have to" a lot, you might be subjecting yourself to unnecessary stress. “I should be further along in my career by now,” or “I should be able to handle this project easily,” are ways we put ourselves down without even realizing it. You are really saying to yourself, “I’m behind and am failing in this arbitrary standard that I’ve set for myself.” Be kind to yourself and eliminate needless “shoulds” from your vocabulary. You'll raise your self-esteem and reduce stress levels.

Making just a few of these simple changes to your daily routine can play a huge role in reducing the stress you experience on a daily basis. What are you waiting for? Pick one, and put it in place today. Then watch that stress melt away!

Photo Credit: The Kitcheners