Give yourself a stress tuneup
Relationships. Work. Parenting. Money. Politics. (Oh, the politics.)
On a daily basis, any number of things can cause us stress. It's so common, in fact, that you might not even notice how it's affecting your life. But there's good reason not to let stress rest on cruise control.
When stress goes on for too long, it can harm your physical and mental health, triggering everything from stomachaches to muscle aches to messed-up moods. And according to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress may even raise your risk for serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease and depression.
So what can you do? Give yourself regular stress tuneups. This checklist may help you recognize when stress is taking the wheel in your life and give you positive ideas on how to turn things around.
Ask yourself: Are you:
• More irritable or angry than usual? Too much pressure might cause you to say or do things you'll regret.
Stress-less tip: If you catch yourself lashing out, take a timeout and do something that helps calm you down. Breathe deeply and wind down with some low-key music or stretching.
• Drinking or smoking more than usual? Using alcohol, tobacco or drugs to cope with stress can put your health and safety at risk.
Stress-less tip: Discover better ways to unwind. For instance, devote some time to a hobby or sport, nurture a garden, or toss a ball around with a friend. And talk to your doctor if you need help quitting tobacco, alcohol or drugs.
• Eating more than usual? Stress-eating may lead to weight gain, especially if you're turning to high-calorie options when stress strikes.
Stress-less tip: Plan balanced meals—and be sure to keep healthy snacks on hand. Eating a variety of healthy foods can supply the nutrients your body needs while you're dealing with stress.
• Withdrawing from people? Sometimes we all need alone time. And that's OK. But "no man is an island," to quote John Donne. It's good to connect with others who've got your back.
Stress-less tip: Talk it out with someone you trust—perhaps a good friend or a family member. And be sure to let your doctor know if it seems like your stress is getting out of control.
• More tired, achy or stiff than usual? Stress can zap your energy and trigger aches and pains.
Stress-less tip: Take a walk, a bike ride or a trip to the gym. Exercising can help boost your energy, lower stress and lift your mood.
• Having trouble sleeping? Stress can disrupt a good night's rest. The goal is to get seven to nine hours of shut-eye every night—even on weekends.
Stress-less tip: If worries keep you up at night, get them out of your head and on to paper. Make a to-do list you can tackle tomorrow.
• Worked up over current events? Here's some breaking news for you: News is often negative—and it can really stress us out.
Stress-less tip: Try taking a vacation from your favorite news sources for a few hours, days or weeks. The news will still be there when you get back. And the break might give you a better idea of what healthy limits to set for yourself.