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10 Ways to Manage Stress So It Doesn’t Make You Sick

10 Ways to Manage Stress So It Doesn’t Make You Sick

I experienced a long-term illness relating to prolonged high levels of stress because I hadn’t learned ways to manage stress. I came to a point where I had to do something major about it. It was a life-changing experience. I dove into books, meditation, and prayer. I saturated my mind with research. I took time off work.

My stress resulted from a series of events. Because I hadn’t learned the right ways to manage stress, my body became very sick. What also contributed to my stress was my thought patterns. I always focused on high achievement and tried to go beyond my abilities. As a result I burnt out quite a few times.

Witnessing people twice my age who suffer from an array of problems due to a lack of stress management skills really put things in perspective for me. They have accomplished amazing things, but at the cost of their health, family and own well-being. Seeing the complications and regrets of some of these people has really enforced my desire to learn how to lead a balanced life from a young age.

When my body wasn’t functioning properly, stress was completely overlooked. The doctors and specialists never asked about stress or tested my body for increased cortisol, hormones and symptoms related to stress. I had to find out about those factors through my own research and by turning to a naturopath. I am not against doctors, but the experience made me realize that we are responsible for our own bodies. We need to recognize the warning signs, take time out to center ourselves and always be conscious of our health.

Before you jump into the stress-management techniques, you should look at some of the symptoms of stress to see if you might be suffering from it.

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Physical signs of stress:

  • Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
  • Heart palpitations; racing pulse; rapid, shallow breathing
  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Shakiness, tremors, tics, twitches
  • Heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation
  • Nervousness
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Excessive sweating, clammy hands, cold hands and/or feet
  • Rashes, hives, itching
  • Nail-biting, fidgeting, hair-twirling, hair-pulling
  • Frequent urination
  • Lowered libido
  • Overeating, loss of appetite
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs and medications

Psychological signs of stress:

  • Irritability, impatience, anger, hostility
  • Worry, anxiety, panic
  • Moodiness, sadness, feeling upset
  • Intrusive and/or racing thoughts
  • Memory lapses, difficulties in concentrating, indecision
  • Frequent absences from work, lowered productivity
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of sense of humor

Prolonged and/or intense stress can have more serious effects. It can make you sick! There are more symptoms/signs—this is just a guide.

Now, what are some ways to manage stress?

1) Don’t rush through life

Why are we all rushing anyways? I don’t want to be morbid, death awaits us all. Are we in a rush to die? People put their health at risk to pursue their ambitions. This can create an urgency that leads to stress. I myself have felt this need to achieve a lot from a young age, with the result that I was always busy and put in a lot of effort toward the future. Currently when I feel that need to rush and be busy, I immediately recognize it and do something about it, even if it means a day or two off. This centers my mind and body and helps me live in the moment. Slow down, enjoy the ride and be effective—not just busy.

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For those in their 20s (like me) this quote hit home for me: “Nothing will ruin your 20s more than thinking you should have your life together already.”– Aimee-Cherie

2) Don’t skip meals

Being involved in the workforce for many years I witnessed fellow employees missing lunch due to a heavy workload. They would also share the fact that they had no time for breakfast either. Placing work or commitments before your health can lead to stress on your body. The body requires fuel to work efficiently and if you’re not taking the time to fuel up, you will run on empty. You wouldn’t keep driving a car without fuel! So why would you do it to your body?

3) Don’t take your stress out on those close to you

When you’re stressed you may not act like yourself. The people around you may become targets of attacks in a heightened state of emotion, anxiety or impatience. It is important to implement self-control and perhaps fair to communicate how you feel with those you trust. When I have opened up about how I feel, I have been amazed at the words of encouragement that I have received. It puts things in perspective and shows us how stress is self-created and can be eliminated. Your family and friends should be the people you can be relaxed with. So don’t burn those bridges!

4) Don’t blame everyone else

If you tell yourself that it is everyone else’s fault that you are stressed, that does nothing but keep you stressed. Years ago I was in a position where I was given a lot of responsibility and not much training. That imposed stress on my body, mind, and desire to work. I stuck it out because the money was good, I felt lucky to be given the opportunity, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I blamed my stress on the workload, a boss who didn’t listen, and peers who spent more time gossiping than working. Eventually I burned out. Take control of your life. If you can’t change the environment, find a new one.

5) Don’t overwork yourself

At the age of 26 I am quickly learning the importance of not overworking myself. From a young age I had a high achiever’s mentality: I pushed too hard and would be discouraged if results were not at a high standard. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for high standards, but aiming for perfectionism at the cost of your happiness is sure to disappoint. In the corporate world and among people I know, there are many who overwork themselves and label it success. Overworking yourself can cause stress in your body, mind and soul. It’s disruptive to a balanced life. I view success as having a well-rounded life and schedule, one that makes time for health, relationships, family and downtime.

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6) Don’t make excuses when you are unwell

I remember a woman who was awfully sick and kept coming into work. She complained that she had a lot of work to do and no time to take off to recover. I recognized her excuse because I had used it myself before. I told her, “You can’t work if you’re dead.” She took a day or two off to recuperate. If your boss or those around you can’t respect your choice to take care of health, they are not worth your time!

7) Don’t ignore it

If you are feeling stressed out, or if you relate to any of the symptoms above, don’t ignore it. Many live in denial and cease to do anything about the state of stress they are in. People may not even realize how stressed they really are. I didn’t. It wasn’t until I allowed my body to recover and went on a journey of self exploration that I came to terms with how stressed my body was. I feel I escaped an early death or long term disability. Don’t keep putting off those warning signs. Check in with yourself and do something about it. Learn stress management skills and get to the bottom of your stress before it gets worse.

8) Don’t take your body or life for granted

Stress is a sign that we need to slow down, take action and focus on what is stressing us. By pushing stress to the side and allowing it to build up, the person who suffers the most is you. Stress can lead to serious illness, psychological disorders and death. It can hurt and cause pain for those closest to you. I never knew stress could bring on disease until I experienced it first-hand. Stress is serious if left unmanaged and/or ignored. If you feel you may be letting people down because you need time out, you need to start loving yourself more. Quitting my career to focus on my health and moving away for six months meant putting myself first. I surrendered having a great income, job security (in a sense) and my career, all in order to get myself together. I distanced myself from family and friends for a short while to be alone and regain strength. The people who love you will stand by you. You may also attract the right people into your life, people who will help you in your journey toward a balanced life.

9) Don’t put off exercise

Exercise helps with releasing stress and clearing the mind. When you are looking after yourself physically you can have a better approach toward your work, issues, and stressors. When I feel overwhelmed, going for a walk or run in the sun gets all the negative energy out of my body. Just don’t overdo it. Stay balanced, focused and consistent. Don’t over-train as it can lead to further stress.

10) Don’t let tomorrow’s worries overwhelm today

If you worry, have anxiety, and people refer to you as a stress head then you are not alone! Since I was a little girl I was worried all of the time. It didn’t help that I came from a religious background where they told us to be good or we would go to hell. Nonetheless, my journey of letting go of worries, anxiety and what I cannot control has been amazing. I will admit it’s been tough but it’s very possible. Embracing the present moment and allowing things to be will decrease your stress. Those butterflies, tight knots in your belly and racing thoughts can be managed. At any time in our life tragedy can come, relationships may end or you may not do well in your assignments! Spending your energy and thoughts on worry won’t help you or your body. Have faith that life has good things in store for you. Allow what is meant to be, be, while doing your best in your own endeavors. When one door shuts, another will open. Say no to stress by saying no to worry!

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There are a lot more stories and guides to stress out there. Here are a few references I found useful:

Australian Psychological Society 2012,Understanding and Managing Stress, http://www.psychology.org.au

Elkin, A 2013, Stress Management for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons

Lees, M 1966, D-Stress Building Resilience in Challenging Times, Inner Cents

Parmer, S & Cooper, C 2008, How To Deal with Stress, (2nd Edn)

Featured photo credit: GaborfromHungary via morguefile.com

More by this author

Anjelica Ilovi

Anjelica writes about how to grind and unwind for increased productivity, focus and joyful living anjelicailovi.com {grind + unwind}

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

Feeling tired all the time?

Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

What Happens When You’re Too Tired

If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

  • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
  • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
  • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
  • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
  • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
  • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
  • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

Unfortunately, yes!

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

  1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
  2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
  3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

Symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low stamina
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Low motivation

These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

  1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
  2. Exercising regularly
  3. Using stressbusters
  4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

  • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
  • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
  • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
  • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

L — Living Healthy

Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

1. Unplug

Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

2. Unwind

Do something to relax.

Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

3. Get Comfortable

Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

E — Exercise

Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

That’s what happened in my case.

But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

That made sense to me.

So, I decided to swim.

I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

A — Attitude

Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

Breathing.

But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
  2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
  3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
  4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
  5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
  6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

N — Nutrition

Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

  1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
  2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
  3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
  4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
  5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
  6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
  7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
  8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
  9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

The Bottom Line

If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

  • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
  • Regular Exercise You Love
  • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
  • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

More Tips to Help You Rest Better

Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
[2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
[3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
[4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
[5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
[6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
[7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
[8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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