It may seem like all you need to relax and recharge is a vacation somewhere away from it all—but, believe it or not, that’s not really and truly how to stress less. The key to de-stressing day in and day out has nothing to do with a getaway. Instead, it’s about small steps you implement in your everyday life.
How to stress less? These steps yield big results
1. Work on setting boundaries
How do you feel about setting boundaries? Most of us wouldn’t give ourselves an A+ on this. Many women have been raised not to cause conflict and to outright avoid it all together. This tendency toward people-pleasing may seem like it’s not rocking any boats, but take a closer look. While everyone else might be happy, it definitely wrecks havoc on your own schedule. It’s easy to say yes to all the things and end up without any time to take care of yourself or do the things that are important to you.
After a while, the toll that takes is crazy. Your mental health suffers. Your physical health suffers—and so does your hormone balance. It’s hard to be assertive and be clear about our limits, but it’s 100% worth going through the uncomfortable, awkward stage of learning how to. Eventually, we get good enough at setting boundaries that it feels natural. Once we’re no longer stressing about how to set boundaries and plenty of them are in place, you’ll actually experience less conflict in our lives. And the bonus? You’ll have more time and energy to prioritize things that are important for you—not just to everyone else.
Want some tips on how to prepare yourself to set boundaries? Check out this article by Kari Rusnak, MA, LPC.
2. Eat a healthy, wholesome diet… and then some
What doesn’t help you stress less? Low calorie counts, restrictive diets, fad diets like keto, and giving up carbs. Putting unrealistic expectations on yourself when it comes to food and body image can actually create more emotional stress than you’re already experiencing. As it is, whenever you’re stressed, your body cranks up your cortisol levels in response. That high cortisol affects your thyroid, progesterone, and blood sugar levels. If you’re not getting enough food or the right nutrition, that’ll only add to the negative effects of stress. What’s amazing about nutrition, though, is that it has the power to help when you’re stressed too.
For one, eating wholesome diet with protein, healthy fats, and carbs, helps your blood sugar stay more stable. Also, it helps combat the increased free radicals that occur with stress. Why’s that so important? Free radicals are unstable oxygen-containing molecules that your cells produce as waste. They easily react with other molecules and can cause pretty significant changes in your body—like creating cell damage that leads to inflammation, illness, and aging. Your body supposed to be able to process them, but, especially during times of stress, it can be difficult for you to do that efficiently. However, by eating foods high in antioxidants, you can help limit damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants essentially turn off free radicals by lending them an electron and neutralizing their ability to do harm. To up your intake of antioxidants, look to include more fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and spices into your daily routine.
Another thing to think about? Where are you eating—and who are you eating with? When we eat alone with our thoughts, sometimes that can add to our stress. Making time to sit down and savor food with family and friends leads to great conversation, and those connections lighten our mental load.
3. Go for a walk, enjoy some yoga, or just move your body
Moving your body is an underrated but highly effective way to tame stress and feel better. Not a big fan of exercise? You don’t have to be. Even a slow reduces the effects of stress. Getting outside and going for a short walk has all types of benefits—from fresh air to helping your body release endorphins, brain chemicals that help us calm and also boost our mood. The same is true of yoga, and the emphasis on meditation and the breath during a yoga practice is scientifically proven to relieve stress. Other great ideas that count as movement but don’t feel like a chore? Dancing, playing at the park with your kids, kayaking or canoeing, swimming in the pool, or anything that sounds fun and moves your body.
A common question asked is: do intense workouts help with stress? It’s true that movement lowers stress levels and helps your body feel better. But if you’re turning to exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you need to know that, in the short-term, they will raise your cortisol levels for a bit during and after. If you thrive on these types of activities (not everyone does, but some people do), make sure that you’re intentionally scheduling rest days into your routine. Your body needs time to recover.