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Published on October 24, 2019

7 Effective Ways to Cope with Stress

7 Effective Ways to Cope with Stress

We all experience stress, but how we handle it affects our lives to various extents. Maybe you’ve tried to be less stressed, but you haven’t found many effective ways to cope with stress.

Before getting into how to reduce stress, let me give you an introduction to what stress is.

There’s no medical definition of stress, and health care professionals often disagree over whether stress is the cause of problems or the result of them. This can make it difficult for you to work out what causes your feelings of stress or how to deal with them. Stress affects us in a number of ways, both physically and emotionally, and in varying intensities.

During my career, I’ve helped many people that had an extremely demanding lifestyle (mainly due to their job) to manage and reduce stress. The core of my practice is to help busy people feel good (both physically and mentally), and managing stress is often the most important component of every program I write.

Over the years, I came up with a set of practices that, when done consistently, can help even the busiest executive to keep his/her stress levels under control and generally be healthier and more productive.

Did you try to be less stressed but with poor results?

To fully understand why these practices are so effective, we first need to understand that stress can actually be divided into two different categories that are tightly intertwined:

Emotional Stress

Emotional stress is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure. This pressure can come from different aspects of your day to day life; such as an increased workload, a transitional period, an argument you have with your family or new and existing financial worries. You may find that it has a cumulative effect, with each stressor building on top of one another.

During these situations, you may feel threatened or upset, and your body might create a stress response. Your body’s reaction to your emotional state is the release of a multitude of stress hormones that, in turn, affect the way your body feels, moves, and responds to external stimuli. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms, change the way you behave, and lead you to experience more intense emotions.

You can see that emotional stress has a tangible physical repercussion on your body. This is due to your body’s reaction to your thoughts and not to physical activities or external sensory inputs.

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In simple words, when you’re thinking “stressful thoughts,” and you are unable to stop thinking about them (especially if you are worried about something that is outside of your control), you experience what I call emotional stress.

Physical Stress

Physical stress is your body’s reaction to external stimuli that trigger a “fight or flight” response and also, your body’s metabolic reaction to what you breathe, drink, and eat.

Physical stress is not intrinsically bad; in fact, it can be very helpful. For example, exercising causes physical stress, but it relieves emotional stress.[1] Also, having a stress response because a car is about to hit you while you’re crossing the road may turn out to be life-saving.

On the contrary, eating processed food, drinking alcohol or sugary beverages, and smoking or using recreational drugs are all negative physical stressors.

Physical stressors like exercising are something that we want our body to experience often, but they are still a form of stress that, when added to a lot of other stressors, may actually have a detrimental effect on our health.

For example, trying to run a 10k fasted when you had a four-hour sleep and an emotionally stressful week may not be optimal for your health. You would probably be better off doing a 5k after a good meal and a 20-minute long meditation.

At this point, it’s easy to see that everyone experiences stress to various degrees. However, when it is affecting your life, health, and wellbeing, it is important to tackle it as soon as possible.

7 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress

If you had looked online for “ways to reduce stress,” you probably found a bunch of generic advice like “try to sleep more” or “exercise regularly” and “eat healthily.” While these are all great things that we all should do every day, I found that, when trying to help a very busy client to reduce his/her stress levels, this simple advice wasn’t really helping them. In fact, it only made things worse.

For this reason, instead of giving you generic advice, I am going to give you 7 practical strategies that instantly reduce stress, and can be implemented in your daily routine without taking too much of your precious time.

Reducing Physical Stress

1. Manage Your Blood Sugar Levels

When we ingest foods or drinks that contain sugars (20g or more) or high glycemic carbohydrates (like white rice, bread, or potatoes), we quickly experience a burst in energy. This is due to our blood sugar levels rising. When this happens, our pancreas produces the hormone insulin, which, in turn, lowers blood sugar levels by storing the nutrients we have in our bloodstream either in our fat cells, muscles, or liver. This process causes an “up and down” in our energy levels and, also, when the blood sugar levels become low, we experience hunger and cravings.[2]

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These ups and downs in blood sugar have been linked to an increase in stress. It’s easy to see that, when we are having a stressful day, being all of a sudden tired and hungry won’t really make our stress levels go away. Quite the opposite, in fact, fatigue, and eating disorders are clear symptoms of stress.

In the book 12 Rules For Life, Dr Jordan B. Peterson explains how, when treating patients suffering from stress and depression, he always prescribes them to swap their breakfasts and lunches with low carb options like eggs, meat or fish. Dr Peterson says that this little trick is often as effective as prescription drugs. In fact, most patients won’t need any prescription drugs and simply get better because they have stabilized their blood sugar levels throughout the most stressful part of the day.

If you are used to having a high-carb breakfast like yoghurt, cereals, Caffe-lattes, or fruit smoothies, try to swap them with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, or sliced meat. You can do the same for your lunch by having meat or fish with some vegetables. This little bio-hack will allow you to have a more stable level of energy throughout the working day and, also, give you a feeling of satiety. Reducing hunger and fatigue will inevitably help you reduce stress too.

2. Drink More Water

Drinking water has a multitude of health benefits, but when it comes to reducing stress, the most noticeable are:

A well-hydrated body allows you to think clearer and faster and get more things done because you won’t feel as tired. Most biochemical processes that happen inside the brain require water and minerals. Staying constantly hydrated will optimize your brain function and help you to perform better at your job.

Having too many things to do and, yet, feeling unproductive, is a huge cause of stress amongst busy people. Something as simple as having a refillable water bottle always with you and sipping every five minutes or so can have a positive impact on your stress levels, health, and performance.

3. Working out on the Same Day/Time Each Week

I already said that physical exercise had been proven to reduce stress levels (despite being metabolic stress itself). I also said that working out when you are already stressed and short on time may actually have the opposite effect and increase your stress levels even further.

Having a fixed day and time each week dedicated to exercise (preferably in the morning, before meetings, and calls start to disrupt your day) is essential if you want to reduce stress.

A very useful trick is to book the time blocks you want to dedicate to exercise a week or two in advance, before booking work meetings and social events. By doing this, you accomplish two very important things that will lower your stress levels:

  • Be more consistent with exercise (since you will be less likely to skip your sessions once they’re pre-booked in the early mornings)
  • Remove the thought that “you still have to exercise” from your head, so that you won’t have to think about ways to squeeze that hour-long workout within an already packed working day. The less stressful thoughts you have in your head, the lower your stress levels are.

4. Sleep Following Your Circadian Rhythm

We all know that sleep is paramount when it comes to managing stress. What you might not know is that each individual may benefit from sleeping and waking up at different times.

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In the book Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walkers observes that some individuals benefit from a regular sleeping pattern (the typical 10 pm to 6 am) while other individuals have a better quality of sleep when they can sleep late at night and wake up late in the morning ( 1-2 am to 10 am). This phenomenon is due to the body’s tendency to follow the circadian rhythms (basically our natural clock that is affected by the movement of the Earth).

Dr. Walkers noticed that, when the latter group of people had a typical 9-5 job, they were much more prone to stress, and they were also more likely to develop conditions like depression and neurodegenerative diseases.

If you are a fan of early mornings, waking up as early as 5 am and going to bed as early as 9 pm is probably a good thing for your health and will definitely lower your stress levels, since you will have some extra time in the morning to either exercise or to get ahead with your to-do list.

If you are a nocturnal animal and you struggle to get to bed before midnight, you should try to get at least three lay-ins (when you wake up later than 9 am) each week. This could be done by taking some late shifts at work and not booking early activities during the weekend.

Reducing Emotional Stress

Before exploring my favourite ways to reduce emotional stress, I need to stress the fact that physical stress should be addressed first. This is because emotional stress is often due to interaction with other people or situations that are outside of our control zone.

You might be emotionally stressed because you’re being pressured by your boss or because you’re experiencing some tension in your relationship. You also might be stressed because you’re worried about things that you can’t do much about (like someone else’s health or the economy).

Emotional stress is often outside of your control zone, while physical stress is nearly always a conscious choice that you have total control over. Put simply, you can’t change the economy, but you can definitely exercise, eat well, and sleep more.

Now that I’ve made this clear let’s move on to my favourite ways to reduce emotional stress.

5. Carefully Plan Your Week on a Sunday Evening

The one thing that will help you manage and reduce stress after taking care of your health is “improving productivity.”

Being able to get more done in less time can help you stop feeling overwhelmed and allow you to find some extra time to do activities that reduce stress like meditation, being in nature, or reading a book. For this reason, spending a whole hour on a Sunday evening to carefully plan your working week, hour-by-hour is a must-do. Use this system to maximize the efficacy of this exercise:

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  • Start by booking exercise, grocery shopping, and time alone (to do whatever non-work-related activity you desire). Give those activities the same priority you would give to a work meeting.
  • Once you booked those, go through your to-do list and prioritize the different voices from most important to least important. Book them accordingly.
  • Make sure to book the least important activities later in the week, so that you can reduce the stress load caused by the most demanding tasks before it starts to build upon you.
  • Last but not least, book your sleeping time. This might sound funny to you, but you probably check your calendar more than 20 times each day. Seeing a time-block called “sleep” at a precise time in your calendar will automatically instruct your brain to prepare for sleep around that time.

6. Book Big Chunks of Alone-Time for Your Most Demanding Projects

Another crucial factor in reducing stress is avoiding distractions. Phone notifications, emails, phone calls, and interactions with people can totally disrupt your flow when you’re working on a demanding task.

Multiple studies confirm this. Distractions don’t just eat up time during the distraction; they derail your mental progress for up to a half-hour afterwards (that’s assuming another distraction doesn’t show up in that half-hour). In other words, that “30 seconds to check Twitter” isn’t just 30 seconds down the drain; it’s 25 minutes and 30 seconds.

And all these distractions not only hurt productivity, but they also have negative emotional effects. Research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood, and lower productivity.

In the book Deep Work, Cal Newport explains how the greatest thinkers in history had the habit of isolating themselves for hours (or even days) to fully focus on their most meaningful work. While you don’t need to move on alternate weeks on a medieval tower with no electricity (like Carl Jung used to do), you can definitely find a quiet space where you can immerse yourself in your most stressful tasks.

When you do that, make sure to turn off all phone notifications and ask not to be disturbed. You will be surprised by how big of an impact this practice has on your overall stress levels.

7. Delegate the Least Important Tasks

Last but not least, spending time on doing tasks that you don’t deem important or could/should be done by someone else can cause stress. This is due to the fact that you won’t dedicate time to the most important voices of your to-do list and, consequently, build up emotional stress.

When you plan your week, spend some time thinking about how you could delegate those annoying tasks to either a paid professional or someone that would be eager to help you. Don’t be afraid to open your wallet and hire someone like a cleaner or an online assistant. If you fall ill because of stress or you end up in need of a therapist, your bill will turn out much higher.

Here’s a guide to help you learn to delegate: How to Delegate Work Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

Bottom Line

These seven tricks I’ve just listed are extremely effective and very easy to implement in your day-to-day life. Feel free to experiment with them and find the perfect mix that works best for you.

Note that I didn’t mention any strategy to deal with your own negative thoughts, I actually wrote a whole book about it — Stress-Free in 7 Simple Steps: A practical guide to mindfulness for beginners. When your negative thoughts are the main cause of stress, you should always seek the support of your loved ones and also the help of a skilled therapist.

More About Stress Relief

Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Davide Alfonsi

Celebrity Coach, Author and Mindfulness expert

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

1. Understand Yourself Better

Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

2. Keep Track of Small Changes

I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

3. Become Aware of What Matters

As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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4. Boost Creativity

The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

6. Process Life Experiences

When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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7. Stress Relief

In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

8. Provide Direction

Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

9. Solve Problems

Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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10. Find Relief From Fighting

Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

11. Find Meaning in Life

Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

12. Allow Yourself to Focus

Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

14. Let the Past Go

I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

15. Allow Freedom

Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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16. Enhance Your Career

Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

18. Catalog Your Life for Others

No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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