My husband always tells me that I stress too much. I like to say that it’s not stress but that I just have a busy and productive mind. The problem is that by the time I outline my ginormous to-do list, I’ve lost the momentum to actually get anything done. Does this happen to you?
Ok fine, maybe I am stressed right now. I kind of feel like I’m working against a deadline of my upcoming surgery and I have to get all the things done before that date. And there are so many things I want to do. If I don’t get them done now, I’ll be in a nebulous post-surgery recovery period and who knows what that will look like.
But the truth is, the “deadline” isn’t real. It’s self-imposed and it’s creating extra stress in my life.
We all know that stress isn’t good for you and it’s been linked with many negative health outcomes and can have a significant impact on your body. This includes everything from stomach pain to high blood pressure to heart disease to headaches to insomnia.
While we often think about our physical organs and systems when managing our health, it’s as important to manage the mental aspects of our health too. And that often means reining in our stress levels.
Here are 11 ways to manage stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed.
1. Start your day intentionally. I was listening to the Rich Roll Podcast and he was talking about his morning routine. Listening to how Rich and his wife approach their morning was enough to finally convince me to approach the start of my day proactively rather than reactively. Wake up on your terms and take a few moments to set your mind and vision for the day before the day starts to bombard you. That might mean meditation or journaling. Or maybe it’s your morning run. Find something that helps to set your mindset in a positive way.
2. Write “Morning Pages”. Every morning, first thing in the morning, free write three pages by hand. Not on your computer but long-hand. Don’t edit and write continuously. This idea is from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It may seem odd – why 3 pages and not 2 or 5? – but there are people who swear by it and that it changed their lives.
Essentially, it’s an opportunity to get all those swirling thoughts out of your head and onto paper. That way, those thoughts don’t continue to swirl around in your mind, making you feel overwhelmed or distracting you from the work you intend to do. I haven’t done this consistently but on the mornings when I do free write, I do feel more grounded and less stressed.
3. Breathe. Seriously, just stop and breathe when you start to feel the anxiety rise. This is one of the most powerful ways to manage stress.
Most of us don’t breathe fully into our lungs. We tend to be belly breathers or shallow breathers, only drawing air into the collarbone area. Instead, inhale by beginning in your lower abdomen and letting the air rise through your belly and torso and all the way up to your collarbones. When you exhale, exhale completely from your collarbones to your lower abdomen. Just take a moment out of your day to take 5-10 deep breaths. Here’s more information on breathing techniques.
4. Prioritize. While I’m notorious for creating a mile long to-do list, that’s not actually very helpful and I never actually get anything done. Instead, focus on the 2-3 things that you want to complete that day. Anything more is a recipe for overwhelm. This will also help you manage your time.
5. Set a timer. This is another one of my go-to tactics. When there’s a task that I dread doing, I set a timer for myself to work for 25 minutes. This is based on the pomodoro technique. This way, instead of working endlessly for a few hours and not actually getting anything done (because I’m distracted or not motivated), I work on something for 25 minutes and take a 5 minute break when I can attend to the things that might otherwise distract me (ahem social media). Then I work another 25 minute block and I actually get my work done and am more productive. Plus, 25 minutes feels like a very manageable and reasonable chunk of time.
6. Stop multi-tasking. It often feels like a badge honor to say that you’re a master multi-tasker, that you can get a multiple things done at the same time. But can you really? Can you really do a good job when you aren’t really focused on any one thing. Instead, it just serves to increase your stress and anxiety levels.
7. Go for a walk. Getting up and moving can help break the monotony of work, especially when you’re stuck in a rut and need inspiration. In fact, walking has even been shown to increase creativity. Need tips on getting you your steps? Here are 14 ways to increase your daily steps.
8. Practice yoga. Did you think that I was going to talk about stress reduction without talking about yoga? Yes, yoga offers a number of physical benefits but two of the greatest gifts of yoga is the mental strength it offers and how it can teach you to breathe. Yoga helps you to see that you are stronger than you may think, which is one way to manage stress and the feelings associated with being overwhelmed.
9. If it doesn’t serve you, let it go. This is something that I often say when teaching yoga. There are a number of things that may come up in a yoga class that doesn’t serve your body in that moment. You may not want to do a certain pose because of an injury or maybe you’re pregnant. You may want to rest in child’s pose because the high energy of a class doesn’t match your current energy level. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t serve you and your body, it’s OK to let it go. When we let go of those expectations, it can have a huge impact on stress levels.
10. Don’t forget to eat right and exercise. It’s often a vicious cycle – when you’re stressed and overworked, you tend to skimp on eating right and making time to exercise. Yet it’s precisely those things that help to keep the stress at bay. Pay attention to the food that you eat and how it makes you feel. Take time to move your body, doing what you love.
11. Sleep. Sleep is also one of the first things that gets thrown out the window when we are stressed. But our body needs sleep in order to repair physically as well as to assimilate what we’ve learned throughout the day and to perform well mentally. Lack of sleep has been shown to lead to higher cortisol levels – the main stress-related hormone in our body.
How do you manage stress and feeling overwhelmed? What strategies work for you?
This post is the fifth in a series of posts taking a closer look at the ingredients that make up my wellness story that I’m doing in partnership with Orgain as their Blogger Ambassador. Join in the conversation by following #HowIOrgain on social media. I received compensation and Orgain products as part of this program. All views and opinions expressed are 100% my own.
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