Saturday, March 2, 2024

Plan B to Reduce Your Stress: What to do when stress management articles haven’t helped you

Have you ever read an article on stress reduction and as you were reading it, you felt your stress melting away?

Probably not. Reducing our stress takes action and often reading an article is not enough. Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” To feel less stressed, we need to make a change in our life.

Choose one small change that you will make most days of the week. Just making one or two small changes may be enough to start feeling more calm and relaxed.

In addition to the areas discussed below, limiting or taking a break from reading the news or social media, can also reduce your stress and improve your mental health.

1. Get sufficient sleep. Sufficient sleep is a great stress reducer and energizer. In my life coaching practice, sleep is often the first issue I address with clients. All the other interventions will work better and faster once a person is getting sufficient quality sleep. Light has a powerful effect on enhancing or damaging our sleep. Soon after waking up, go outside and get some natural sunlight and in the evening reduce your exposure to blue light on your phone and computer. Have a consistent bedtime. Set an alarm on your phone for 1 hour before bed and label the alarm “Shut phone and computer and be in bed by X.” When you hear the alarm, put away your phone and computer and get ready for bed. Leave your phone outside your bedroom and use a regular alarm clock to get up. Have a winddown routine to help you ease into sleep, such as a relaxing tea, a warm shower or bath, journaling, meditating, or reading a light book.

2. Eat healthy. Eat a whole foods diet, focusing on whole grains, healthy proteins and fats, fruits, vegetables and legumes. Limit sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains (white flour) to special occasions. Keep the portion size moderate, make sure you are getting adequate protein, eat slowly and enjoy the food. Stop eating 3 hours before bed, as eating later can negatively impact the quality of your sleep.

3. Meditate. There are many forms of meditation. One technique is called breath counting, where you silently count after each exhale, from 1 to 10 and then back to 1. Another technique is called the physiologic sigh and it involves two inhales followed by an extended exhale. Take in a regular inhale through the nose and then inhale again to get in even more air. Then slowly exhale through the mouth with a sigh as the air effortlessly leaves your lungs. As you exhale and sigh, allow your body to let go of tension. Throughout the day, whenever you feel stressed or irritable, try 1-3 rounds of this breathing technique.

4. Get social support. Social support reduces our stress levels. Every day, at least for 5 minutes, have a meaningful conversation with someone. If that is not possible, then at least once or twice a week have a conversation about how your week went. You can schedule with a friend or family member a set time each week that you will call or meet. Look for ways to meet new friends or reconnect with old ones. You do not need to have many friends, but a few close ones that you can share your challenges and triumphs with will make life more enjoyable and enhance your health. If you find it difficult to get enough social support, consider therapy and/or spending time with senior citizens.

5. Address but don’t wallow in your challenges. List your top 3-6 stressors. For each one, make a game plan on how you will address it. Preferably, ask others for advice. (Some examples of what your game plan may look like: breaking stressful tasks into doable steps and scheduling them into your calendar, asking for help with a task, saying no more often to requests for your time, removing non essentials from your todo list, realizing that not everything needs to be done perfectly and good enough is often enough, prioritizing tasks in order of importance, and scheduling “me time” to do hobbies or activities you enjoy.) Each week, schedule into your calendar what you will do that week to address your challenges. Periodically, assess how your plan is going and if need be, ask for more advice. Don’t ruminate on your challenges. Instead, designate 15-20 minutes a day to journal about your difficulties. In addition, spend 5-10 minutes, preferably in the morning, journaling about 3 things for which you are grateful. Try to feel feelings of gratitude for each one.

6. Do acts of kindness. When we feel that we made a difference in someone’s life, besides being a mitzvah, it also reduces our stress and enhances our mood. Every day, look for ways to help others. It can be as simple as giving a warm greeting, encouragement or a sincere compliment.

7. Exercise. Go for a brisk walk every day, preferably in nature. If you go walking with someone else, even better. If possible, also engage in more vigorous cardiovascular exercise. Sports can be both great exercise and a great stress reducer. In addition, it is very important to strengthen your body by lifting weights and/or doing bodyweight exercises.

8. Pray. God can help us with all our concerns and worries. As King David said (Psalms 55:23), “Cast your burden on God, and He will sustain you…” Prayer includes using a prayer book (siddur), reciting Psalms, as well as talking to God in your own language and unburdening yourself to Him. He wants to hear from you. Prayer can help strengthen our faith that God runs the world and our lives; that every challenge is there for our highest good and to help us fulfill our life’s purpose. The next time you are stressed about something, say to yourself, “This is from God for my eternal benefit. Overcoming and growing from this challenge is part of my life's purpose. God is with me, giving me the strength and courage I need to triumph. I will do my best and God will take care of the rest.” You can also turn to God and say to Him, “God, I know this is from You for my highest good. Please strengthen me and help me overcome this challenge.”

Make a daily checklist, listing the different days of the week horizontally across the top of the page and vertically, on the side of the page, list the activities related to the above 8 areas that you will do on a daily basis. Start with just one change and build from there. Each time you do the activity, check it off the list. You can also enlist the help of a peer coach (friend or relative) and during a weekly check in, hold each other accountable and give each other encouragement. For stress that does not respond to the above, consider a life coach or a therapist, depending on the severity of the issue.

As you will discover, engaging in these activities not only helps reduce your stress, they can also enhance your mood and energy levels.

To contact Yaakov for life coaching, click here