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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 November 15, 2019

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, these bad habits are difficult to break because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental and emotional health.

Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

2. No Motivation

Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academics and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

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This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family and life in general.

If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to break bad habits.

A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to eventually become a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

Over-eating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of crisps, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are needed by us. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

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You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

5. Upward Comparisons

Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

6. No Alternative

This is a real and valid reason why bad habits are hard to break. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

Someone who has physical or psychological limitations such as a disability or social anxiety may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

7. Stress

As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing bad habits.

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When a person is stressed about something, it is easy to give in to a bad habit because the mental resources required to fight them are not available.

Stress plays such a huge role in this that we commonly find a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

8. Sense of Failure

People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

Over-eaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store.

Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

If such people slip even once with a glass of wine or a smoke or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

9. The Need to Be All-New

People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit.

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10. Force of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or munching on crisps when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

Final Thoughts

These are the main reasons why bad habits may be difficult to break but it is important to remember that the task is not impossible.

Do you have bad habits you want to kick? My article How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One) gives you tips on well, how to kick bad habits while my other article How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You gives realistic information on what to expect while you’re trying to quit them.

There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?

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