Without a little stress in your life, you might not go to work to pay the bills. You might choose watching Modern Family over encouraging your son to study for his algebra test. Or you might not be quick enough to steer out of the path of a lane-drifting semi on a dark road. The stress response is the body’s way of preparing us, quickly, for a threat.
Acute stress keeps us sharp, motivated and safe. Chronic stress, however, is detrimental to good health. Doctors have long known that constant mental stress can trigger anxiety disorders and clinical depression.
Here are some ways you can reduce chronic stress in your day-to-day routine.
Stress Trigger: There is too much on your plate, and you are feeling overwhelmed.
Stress Buster: Prioritize. “Make a list of the things that are important in your life and note the things that bring you happiness,” suggests William Pollack, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. “Shuffle your commitments based on your answers.”
Stress Trigger: You’re feeling tired and unmotivated but need to appear upbeat for a meeting or public event.
Stress Buster: Cue up Bruce Springsteen. Research shows that listening to your favorite music can lift your mood and ease stress.
Stress Trigger: You’re stuck in traffic, and an aggressive driver cuts you off.
Stress Buster: Relax your jaw. Stress increases as your control over a situation decreases. If you’re behind a slow driver or stuck in a traffic jam, avoid tensing your muscles — especially clenching your teeth. Practice deep breathing and loosen your grip on the steering wheel.
Stress Trigger: Your flight was delayed … again.
Stress Buster: Since you can’t fix this problem, be ready with a backup plan. Put the forced “free time” to good use by catching up on work. Or, better yet, use the time for self-improvement. You can find hundreds of enlightening college lectures or instructional videos on iTunes, YouTube or lynda.com. (Or what
about finally completing that Scout leader training you’ve been putting
off at my.scouting.org?)
Stress Trigger: Your Scout is overscheduled and hasn’t picked an Eagle service project yet, and homework and grades are suffering, which makes him (and you) stressed.
Stress Buster: Prioritize what’s important — and that includes family time, according to the National PTA. Ask your child to write down all his or her assignments and activities, and rank them by importance. Help him or her select one or two less-crucial items on the list to temporarily eliminate. This gives your child a sense of control, which will ease feelings of stress and tension.
Stress Trigger: You can’t sleep because you’re thinking about the next day’s tasks and deadlines.
Stress Buster: A cuppa tea. Chamomile tea has been the go-to calming beverage before bed, but there’s actually very little scientific evidence proving it enhances sleep. If it’s not working for you, try valerian and lemon balm teas, both of which have been shown to be effective in European studies. Lemon balm and valerian root have long been used as mild sedatives.
(Don’t forget: You should always check with your doctor before trying herbal supplements, which might interact with prescription medications.)