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When and How to Make Stress Good for Your Body and Mind

When and How to Make Stress Good for Your Body and Mind

Today, more than ever, we are experiencing record levels of stress at work, home and in our everyday lives.

We are bombarded with messages from the media telling us that, as a society, we are more stressed than ever before. Sitting in commuter traffic is making your blood levels rise. Thinking about your credit card debt makes you break out in a sweat. The state of the economy has you concerned, and you’re anxious about losing your job/ partner, health or any other important thing in your life.

What’s more, we have become conditioned to think that stress is a bad thing, that’s it’s harmful to us and toxic for our health. And it is true. While the ‘fight or flight’ mode is a physiological response that can save our lives, being in a state of constant stress, where your adrenal levels are raised can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and eventually wear and tear on your organs.

When you’re chronically stressed you’re more likely to experience irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia. But what if I told you that not all stress is created equal, and certain forms of stress can actually be very beneficial for you?

The Three Levels of Stress

According to Professor Bruce McEwen’s article in Aeon, there are three levels of stress:

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  • Good stress’ involves taking a chance on something one wants, like interviewing for a job or school, or giving a talk before strangers, and feeling rewarded when successful.
  • ‘Tolerable stress’ means that something bad happens, like losing a job or a loved one, but we have the personal resources and support systems to weather the storm.
  • ‘Toxic stress’ is something so bad that we don’t have the personal resources or support systems to navigate it, something that could plunge us into mental or physical ill health and throw us for a loop.

So how do you handle your own levels of stress and use them as a force for good, or better yet avoid the ‘toxic’ stress and welcome in more ‘good stress’? Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response I mentioned above, a vital part of our nervous system, the way in which the body reacts to stress or danger. Many, however, have never heard of the “rest and digest” response, where the nervous system activates the more tranquil functions of the body; those that help us maintain a healthy, long-term balance.

Using Stress for Positive Good

While a little bit of stress can help motivate you to achieve things like hitting a deadline for an important project, and bungy jumping off a bridge can raise your adrenal levels through the roof and make you feel on a high afterwards, the less time we spend in this mode, the better. Although it makes us alert and better able to respond to the challenges ahead, it takes a huge toll on our bodies after a while and can lead to adrenal fatigue or burnout.

I came close to having a mild form of burnout in 2013 when I was self publishing my book, The Suitcase Entrepreneur. At first it was exciting to work on the launch of my first ever book that I’d worked so hard to write. I used a positive stress to achieve so much and be ridiculously productive. I felt on a high and in flow. As time wore on, I was juggling so many facets of publishing the book that I simply couldn’t switch off. I was working really long days and forgoing exercise and time out just to make this thing a bestseller. As a result, mid way through my book tour, I realized I was only getting a few hours sleep a night, I wasn’t handling the project as well as I could have, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying or laughing as much as I should have been.

Once I recognized this and started to take more time off, get plenty of fresh air and exercise and set boundaries, I felt better. But my body took months to recover, and for some people it can take years. So anything we can do to keep ourselves in the “rest and digest” mode as much as possible is worth the effort, since our long-term health may depend on it!

Three Practical Ways to Reduce Stress Today

The best way to stay on top of your game and feel less stressed is to learn what truly makes you feel relaxed. For you this may mean spending time on a hobby you love like building train sets or gardening. Or it might be hanging out with your favourite friends, going on a bike ride or getting out into nature.

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I personally love starting the day with by writing down three things I’m grateful for and easing into 15-30 minutes of yoga which makes me feel like a million dollars. Throughout the day I make sure to take lots of breaks – cuddling and playing with my puppy, going on a spontaneous walk in nature, doing a gym workout or relaxing with a book.

Whatever method you choose has to be one you enjoy. To help you out, here are three ways to ensure you reduce stress in your life on a daily basis.

1. Free Your Mind

There’s no better time than now to start meditating, if you’re not already. Even five minutes a day can make a world of difference. There are all sorts of meditation including walking, guided, visualization and chanting meditations to suit your needs.

I like the Insights Timer app for offering you up guided meditations from one minute to several hours, or the choice to just set a timer that plays a gong when you’re done with breathing and focusing on the present moment.

Or simply mind your mindfulness – practice the art of being aware of the present moment.[1] It sounds so simple yet is much harder (initially) do to than you may think. But it can melt away stress by getting you to focus on the present moment, and just soak in how lucky you are to be alive, and all the beauty that surrounds you that you may be oblivious to.

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Trust me it’s there. Put down your pen, switch off your mobile and look up from your computer screen and just observe. And breathe.

I personally love Dr Libby’s advice on doing 20 deep abdominal breaths each day for instant relaxation (around 3pm is a great time to re-energize through this insanely simple technique). Want to learn more? Read 8 Mindsets Which Prevent Success And Happiness

2. Move Your Body

Rather than getting all pent up and stressed out, release that toxic energy with exercise. Even a brisk walk can help, especially after a frustrating phone call or meeting. Walking not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension.

It might be that techniques like yoga or tai chi help you more. These combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

Or you can head off to crossfit, jump on your bike, dance around your kitchen like crazy or run after your kids and play with them. All of this will pump oxygen through your veins, and produce oxytocin – commonly known as the love drug, whilst reducing your stress levels.

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3. Get Social

I am not talking about jumping on social media here. I mean calling or meeting up with your friends, family, spouses, co-workers and mentors.

Anyone who brings you joy, motivates you, nurtures and supports you is going to help increase your longevity. Close relationships with family and friends gives you the emotional support to sustain you, especially at times of chronic stress.

Take a Deep Breath

At the end of the day, when it all feels like too much, take a few DEEP breaths and no matter how hard it is, state one thing you’re grateful for right now.

You’ll be surprised how diverting attention away from the negative, to the positive can instantly shift your stress levels and put life in perspective.

Buy Natalie’s best-selling book The Suitcase Entrepreneur on Amazon

Reference

[1] Natalie Sisson: Mind Your Mindfulness

More by this author

Natalie Sisson

Best Selling Author of The Suitcase Entrepreneur, CEO, Speaker, Global Adventurer

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Published on July 15, 2019

10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

10 Simple Strategies to Make Your Life Better Starting Today

Habits are an important part of the direction you take your life, and — as I’ll share with you shortly — there are certain daily habits you can adopt right away that are guaranteed to improve your life.

Think back to when you were just six or seven years old…

At that age you probably didn’t have many habits. But, as the years went by, you picked up more and more good and bad habits.

You may not have thought about it before, but habit forming never really stops.

That’s why it’s never too late to change your habits and transform your life.

So, if you feel burdened by your bad habits, start kicking them into shape by replacing them with these 10 positive, life-changing strategies:

1. Go to Bed a Little Earlier and Wake up Earlier 

Starting tonight, get yourself to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual. And, then make sure you get up tomorrow morning 30 minutes earlier, too. This small change can have a BIG impact on your day. 

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Instead of furiously rushing in the morning to get ready for work, the extra time will give you a golden opportunity to start your day off on the right note. You can drink a smoothie while sitting on your porch, spend 10 minutes exercising and stretching, and still have time to read a few pages of an inspiring book.

2. Be Grateful for the Good Things in Your Life 

Setbacks and obstacles are inevitable in life. But, with a positive mindset, you’ll be able to overcome most of these. And, when you do, you’ll boost your self-confidence. 

This is something you can definitely be grateful for. 

However, if worst-case scenarios are playing out in your life, then sometimes, to stay strong, you’ll need to keep your mind on the good things that are happening to you. For example, your relationship with your partner might be crumbling, but your career is continuously getting stronger. It’d be easy to feel downtrodden and miserable about your relationship problems —  but, it would be much healthier to keep your mind and gratitude on these things that are going well, such as your career.

3. Drink Water All Day Every Day 

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice of drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, but are you following that advice? If not, you’re robbing your body and mind of essential hydration. 

With the right amount of water intake a day, you’ll be amazed how good you feel — and how good you look!

4. Take 15 Minutes to Set Goals for the Day, and Then Tackle Them One by One 

This strategy will put your life into a new stratosphere! And, it’s very simple to do. 

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Simply spend 15 minutes in the morning (either at home or at work) planning what you need and want to achieve during the rest of the day. Once you’ve listed your tasks, the next step is to put them into order of priority. 

For instance, you have three things to do: catch up with your emails, write a project update, and prepare a briefing for your CEO. It’s best if you put these in order of importance. In this example, your emails can probably wait until you’ve created your CEO brief and updated your project documentation.

5. Turn Off Your Cell Phone (or Put it on Airplane Mode) When You’re Focusing 

A 2012 study found that even looking at a cell phone or feeling it vibrate in your pocket can significantly distract focus and reduce your ability to complete complex tasks.[1]

It’s no surprise really, as our thoughts are subconsciously drawn towards checking our phones when they’re switched on. It’s a bad habit — but one that most of us have. However, when you need 100% focus (like I do when writing my articles), then switching your phone off, or at least putting it into airplane mode, will free your mind and supercharge your focus. Try it and see!

6. Walk as Much as You Can 

Have you noticed that most people’s lives are sedentary? They drive to work, sit in front of a screen all day, then drive home and binge on the latest Netflix series. It’s no wonder there’s a growing epidemic of obesity and mental health issues. 

Our bodies are made to move — so we should move them! This can be as simple as walking up the stairs to your office instead of taking the elevator, and going out for a walk around the block at lunchtime. In the evening, instead of arriving home and crashing on the sofa; spend 20 to 30 minutes walking around your block.

When you make these things a habit, you’ll be amazed by how much better you feel. You’ll have less stress — and more energy.

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7. Be Mindful of Your Surroundings

How often do you stop, think and appreciate the “here and now”? I’m guessing not very often. But, I understand why. Modern life is demanding and fast-paced. There’s precious little time to appreciate the small things. 

But, if you want to live a healthy and happy life, you must break out of this trap. You can do this by allocating 15 to 30 minutes each day for mindful meditation. This could be in a park, in your garden, or even in your lounge. The trick is to focus 100% on your surroundings. 

For example, if you’re outside, watch how the leaves on the trees blow around in the wind. By keeping your focus on this movement, you’ll clear your mind from your usual stresses and strains. This will give you brain a much-needed break. And, as well as improving your mental health; you’ll find your creativity gets a boost, too.

8. Ask for Help When You Need It 

No one can know or do everything. Which is why you shouldn’t be embarrassed to delegate tasks to others when needed, ask questions when you don’t have the answers, and work with partners and colleagues to clarify intentions. 

When I first set up Lifehack, I tried to do everything myself: blog writing, website creation, marketing, financial planning, etc. However, I quickly learned that it was much better to hire some help. Not only did this inject some fresh ideas and inspiration into Lifehack — it also made the whole operation way more enjoyable!

9. Practice Self Care 

Are you looking after yourself as well as you should? If not, then take steps to improve your diet, exercise more, and to speak to yourself with encouraging words and thoughts. 

The latter suggestion is often overlooked. But how you speak to yourself determines how you feel, what you believe, and what you achieve.

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10. Embrace Learning 

You cannot transform your life without learning something new. That’s because the process of change forces you to adapt. But, many people stop learning as they get older, as they find the learning process boring and bothersome. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. It can be fun and rewarding. 

Whether you decide to learn to play guitar or study the basics of accounting — embrace learning, and begin changing your world for the better.

I’m sure you’ll agree that these 10 strategies are simple enough for you to start putting them into action in your life. (I suggest you begin today!) 

Nevertheless, you’ll probably need to use some extra willpower for the first 30 days or so, as this is the typical length of time it takes to create a new habit. After that, these strategies will be part of your day-to-day life, and you won’t need to think about having to do them. In other words, they’ll have become habitual actions.

If you need any further encouragement to get started with the 10 strategies, then consider this:

Even just adopting one of the strategies can turn the tide in your favor. But, when you implement all 10, you’ll create an unstoppable trend towards success, health and happiness.

So start making your life better — today!

Featured photo credit: Javier Garcia via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Deborah R. Tindell and Robert W. Bohlander, Wilkes University: The Use and Abuse of Cell Phones and Text Messaging in the Classroom: A Survey of College Students

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