Dusty bottles of essential oils line your closet shelf. You have downloaded several meditation apps and have an ironically high number of books on your bookshelf about simplifying your life. It’s true – you’ve made valiant efforts at keeping stress’ ugly effects at bay. Yet somehow stress settles into the cracks of your life like spilled coffee on your car’s dashboard. Stress is not uncommon, not easily obliterated, and definitely not pleasant. National Public Radio found that among 2,500 surveyed American adults, one-in-four reported having experienced a “great deal of stress” in the past month. What’s even more shocking is that Millennials, or those born in years ranging from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s, experience the highest ratio of stress out of all age groups. In 2015, the American Psychological Association found that 36 percent of Millennials reported an increase in their stress level in the past month, and over half reported that they had lain awake in the past month due to stress. Given that April is National Stress Awareness Month (as if we need another reminder about how much stress sucks), we’d like to bring to the table a few tips on how to get a handle on your tension, and maybe even knock it back a few notches.
- Get movin’! Exercise is like the A+ student in the class that keeps doing more and more extra credit, just because she can. Stress relief is a huge benefit of exercise. Working out combats anxiety with a one-two punch by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol, and by increasing dopamine and serotonin, properly dubbed the “feel good” hormones.
- Avoid the stress party. Have a friend who is wound so tight he could spin off into orbit at any moment? Secondhand stress, where you actually take on tense feelings purely by being around someone who’s tense, is real. Much like secondhand smoke, the effects are just as yucky as if you are the one perpetuating. Try to avoid taking on a loved one’s problems, or spreading yours around. We all have plenty enough of our own, for goodness sake.
- Spending exorbitant amounts of time locked into digital devices separates us, physically and mentally, from those around us. Excessive use of these devices can make it more challenging to maintain real-life relationships with others, only leading to more feelings of isolation and, you’ve got it, STRESS.
- Get over yourself . . . and GIVE. Looking beyond our own issues and volunteering for something we care about is the ultimate win-win. When we volunteer, aside from putting our problems into proper perspective, we also get the benefit of heightened self-esteem and positive social interaction. Also, the same feel-good hormones that get released when we exercise do their thing when we volunteer as well. Giving back is as much about releasing stress as it is about the act itself. Both are awesome!
Keeping those anxious thoughts in check is crucial, given the pretty terrible side effects that prolonged stress can have. Picture extra wrinkles, ulcers, painfully tight muscles, gastro-intestinal disturbances, sleeplessness and more. Not to mention that stressed-out you is probably not much fun to be around. Stress Awareness Month may find you already VERY aware of your stress, and what is causing it. Let this month also remind you that options abound for fighting it. A good place to start is with perhaps a few extra HIIT workouts to fight off negative thoughts and nervous energy. After that – who knows? You may end up downward-dogging to the scent of dusty lavender after all.