Today has been a rough day around here…for me. Every 6 months or so I walk into my kids’ rooms and want to vomit. I’m sure if I take one step in their rooms I’ll either die from the toxic fumes or get the plague from touching something. It’s rough. I banish them from their rooms and spend the afternoon filling bags with trash and boxes for Goodwill. It may sound like I’m doing their chores, but the trade-off is that I get to send whatever I want to Goodwill, no questions asked. I put them in front of a two-hour movie and assumed I’d be able to do both their rooms in that time. After all I’d made them “clean” their rooms in advance so I just had to go through drawers and closets. That shouldn’t take more than an hour per room, right? I was so wrong! Four hours (yes, I did say 4 hours) later I finally finished my son’s room. Just one room. I didn’t even get to my daughter’s room. I did take a break about 3 hours in to put some chicken in the oven for dinner, eat a piece of chocolate and beg a supportive hug from my husband. Tomorrow I start on my daughter’s room. Luckily we are headed to target in the morning so I’ll be sure to stock up on dark chocolate. Now that I’ve vented my woes, let’s talk about stress.
I talk a lot about how to eat healthy, how to exercise for the results you want, how to enjoy food without the regret, etc. One thing I don’t talk enough about enough is stress. We can be doing everything right as far as fitness and nutrition goes but if we can’t get a handle on our stress levels it doesn’t make much difference. Here’s why. Stress has many negative affects on your body.
How Stress Affects You
- Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system. This puts a stop to digestion. Digestion is how we absorb nutrients and detox. If we can’t do either, it doesn’t matter what we eat; we’ll be malnourished and toxic.
- Stress makes weight loss much harder than it needs to be. Stress sends a message to our bodies that we’re in a dangerous situation and we need to store fat. And this fat gathers, guess where. Right around the middle. So if you feel your “gut” is too big it may have more to do with stress than a need to do more crunches.
- Stress lowers our immune defenses. This can lead to something as simple as a cold (though if you’re a mom trying to take care of the world… or a man, there’s nothing simple about a cold), or more serious diseases.
- We’ve talked about how stress activates our sympathetic nervous systems. If this happens too much, it can lead us to shutdown, aka adrenal fatigue (which is really HPA access dysfunction. Which is really just a fancy way of saying the communication between our hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands is screwed up so our adrenal glands don’t know they need to release their energy-inducing hormones, but I digress). This causes extreme fatigue of both body and mind. The kind of fatigue you can’t get over with a day of binge watching Netflix and a really good night sleep.
- Stress also leads to mental issues like anxiety and depression.
None of that sounds good. If any of this sounds like you, we need to get a handle on your stress now. The question is, how? I hate reading articles that suggest huge, time-consuming things to reduce stress. I’m a mom! I can’t even pee without someone banging on the door screaming my name! How am I supposed to climb a mountain and chant peaceful mantras every morning?! So let’s get real. How can you practically reduce stress? Here are a few ideas.
12 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress
Meditate, but do it in a manageable way. I love the Calm app. It has 10 minute meditation sessions you can do anywhere. I don’t do it daily but it’s such a peaceful way to relax when I feel like I may run down the street screaming and ripping my hair out. Right, moms?
2. Mindful Eating
Sit down to eat and focus on eating. Don’t eat in the car or running around the house. I know this isn’t realistic for every bit of food that goes into your mouth, but whenever possible sit down to eat and chew your food slowly. The act of eating in a relaxed state and slowly chewing your food encourages healthy digestion. Also (this is the tough part), just eat. Don’t read, don’t Facebook, don’t Pinterest; just eat.
3. Enjoy the Outdoors
Go outside everyday. Sunshine and fresh air have the power to relax us and bring us joy. I personally like to stand barefoot in the grass for a few minutes everyday (after I pooper-scoop). I also eat breakfast outside whenever I can. This helps me start the day off right. This is also a great way to get some extra Vitamin D which helps us be healthier, which helps us reduce stress.
Get enough sleep. This one is tough as a mom but it’s really important. Lack of sleep makes us more irritable, less focused, more likely to become uncharacteristically emotional, etc. All these things lead to being more stressed. Shut off electronics an hour before bed, sleep in total dark, and make sure your bed and pillow are comfortable. Try to stop drinking anything an hour or two before bed so you don’t have to wake up at 2 a.m. to pee. Find what helps you go to sleep. I always read something mindless before bed to tire out my eyes and shut off my brain.
5. Be grateful
It’s really hard to be stressed when you’re focused on your blessings. Expressions of gratitude can be different for each person. You may be the gratitude journal type. End each day by writing down three things you’re grateful for. Another option is to stop yourself in your tracks every time you find yourself stressed and think of 3-4 things to be grateful for that day. This can be as simple as food to eat and bed to sleep in. It can be specific people or events. My son said it best when he told me, “Everyone on the planet always has five things to be grateful for.” For me, I say two prayers of gratitude each day. In these prayers I don’t ask for anything but just list things I’m grateful for.
It’s amazing how relaxed I feel after stretching. When my husband and I put the kids to bed and have some time to wind down, we turn on a show and I stretch. This can be 5 minutes or even an hour. Any amount of time will still have huge benefits. If you’re not sure where to start, check out fitnessblender.com. They have a ton of great stretching routines in varying lengths. Try to end each stretch session by laying perfectly still and relaxed for 1-2 minutes.
7. Rock On
Listen to music. Music has always had a powerful effect on me. It’s confession time. Every day I turn on music while I’m in the shower and sing at the top of my lungs. It’s hard to be angry and stressed while singing Dashboard Confessional songs at the top of my lungs. Plus, I sound amazing in the shower!
Take a magnesium supplement. Magnesium is known as the calming mineral. It’s a great way to soothe anxiety and even helps you sleep. Take it before bed to help you relax. I like to drink Natural Calm every night at about 7 p.m.
9. Clock Out
Have a “quitting time.” With everything I have going on, I feel like I could work 24-hours a day. The days I work right up until bedtime, I’m too stressed to sleep and am generally in a bad mood. My quitting time is 9 p.m. It doesn’t matter if I’ve finished everything I set out to do that day, I stop working at 9 p.m. That gives me an hour and a half to read, talk to my husband, etc. This ensures I can always have a calm end to my day, no matter how busy I am.
10. Have sex
I recommend choosing your spouse for this particular activity… Sex releases chemicals that promote happiness an relaxation. Being close to another person has also been proven to reduce stress. Another stress-reducing benefit of sex is that it encourages a better night’s sleep. All-in-all, this is a great stress reducer.
But make sure it’s something you enjoy. This may seem strange since exercise is a stress, but it’s a different kind of stress. Exercise is an acute stress, meaning it’s short-lived and has an end. The kind of stress we need to get rid of is that chronic stress that seems to never end. Just like sex, exercise releases chemicals that help us feel happier and help us sleep better.
12. Have a Personal Mantra
I know I mocked the idea of spending my day chanting mantras at the beginning, but have a phrase you can think of to keep you going when things get tough. I’ve always been so hard on myself. I HATE when I try to do something and it doesn’t work out how I planned. I get frustrated, stressed, emotional, etc. One day when I was having one such episode it hit me, “I can only do my best and that’ll have to be good enough.” Since that day, that phrase has stuck with me and comforts me when I get upset with myself for not doing as well as I wish I could. Find a phrase that helps you know everything will be okay.
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. Like the other advice I give, do what you can and don’t feel guilty about what you can’t. If you can only pick one thing from this list, it’s a GREAT start. The point of stress-reduction is to reduce stess, not give you another list you have to get through every day. If you have other ways to reduce stress, please share them.