Tips on Stressing Less & Finding Happiness & Relaxation in Our Busy Lives
Guest article from MINES’ Trainer and Wellness Coaching Partner Joelle Dunaetz
People often ask me how to better handle stress and for suggestions on how to relax and enjoy life more. With work, family, and so many expectations demanding our energy and time, most of us are nearing, if not already fully submerged in stress. How can we better cope, even thrive?
Before getting into the tips, let’s take a look at stress. Stress is a reaction to excessive pressure (usually perceived) that sends us into a flight, fight or freeze response. Evidence shows that stress negatively impacts our ability to remain healthy, impairs the immune system, and depletes the body of needed nutrients. Most of our stress comes from our thinking and expectations.
Although it is not possible to eliminate stress completely, there are effective ways to reduce stress in your life. Here are tips and suggestions to help you stress less while feeling more relaxed and fulfilled.
Tip #1- Exercise
Exercise is the best way to release the built-up cortisol the body produces when it goes into stress mode (which, if stored in the body, could result in health issues). It is crucial for overall health and wellbeing. It also creates endorphins, the feel-good hormones that improve mood, motivation, and even tolerance to pain.
Ideally, you want to move enough to use energy and increase blood flow (physical activity). You gain even more physical and mental benefits if you increase movement time, frequency, or intensity.
Tip #2-Learn how to relax/Do things you enjoy and activities that engage you (flow)
Take respite time to rest your body and mind. Pamper yourself, meditate, do something playful, stretch, schedule time to go out in nature, or do a relaxing activity. Learning to relax and take time for ourselves is critical to feeling satisfied, more productive, and maintaining balance in our lives. What activities do you enjoy? Which gets you into an absorbed flow state? How can you incorporate these into life?
A word on Happiness
Researchers know that negative emotions such as sustained stress or fear can contribute to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
It has been found that people with high levels of positive emotion develop fewer colds and are less likely to get flu. Researchers conclude that happiness does change your odds of getting a disease or dying young. Positive feelings broaden horizons and build social, physical, and intellectual skills.
We all want to be happy, yet happiness is not just a goal but a process. Think of it like fitness, you need to work at it daily, but once it becomes a self-reinforcing habit, it becomes easier.
Tip #3- Practice mindfulness/Slow down and be present- Mindfulness is a simple practice that can be used anytime to still the mind and relax. It’s a way to be more actively aware of life as it is happening. By being in the present moment you are not dwelling on past events or worrying about the future. The easiest place to start is to focus on your breath or tune into your senses.
How to practice being mindful…
Stop and notice – thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, breath
Use your breath as a guide/anchor, or scan and relax your body
If the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment/focus
Release judgment, just be aware
Tip #4- Schedule regular breaks from focused work- Yes, this matters! You need time to recharge your battery daily. It is suggested that after a period of focus (1 ½-2 hours), you need to create breaks (studies have proven this!). Walk away from your desk or project for 10-15 minutes and clear your mind. Avoid looking at your phone or watching TV. Take this time to be in the present moment, close your eyes, ‘zone-out’, go for a walk, or do something else relaxing. This can help you be more productive.
Tip #5- Set boundaries- We can’t be everything for everyone. Set clear limits about how much of yourself and your time you can give. Learn to say ‘no’.
Tip #6- Avoid ‘shoulds’, social comparisons, and overthinking- When we get locked into our thinking traps, we stop ourselves before we even get started. Much of our reactive thinking isn’t helpful or even true. We need to question our assumptions, judgments, and limited thinking, and then replace them with positive, affirmative, supporting thoughts and actions.
Tip #7- Develop strategies for coping with stress- Stressful situations happen, and we have little control over other people or many situations and life events. How we interpret these situations, and how we respond, is within our power. We can better cope by checking how we view a situation, by planning and being ready with strategies, or by being ready with healthy ways to respond to stressful events.
Tip #8- Take time in nature – Nature heals and is restorative. Attuning to nature’s pace allows us to slow down and be more present in our lives.
Tip #9- Get enough sleep- Your body needs time to regenerate, and good sleep provides this. Studies show that chronic lack of sleep may have detrimental effects on productivity, focus, and cognitive abilities.
Tip #10- Express gratitude/count your blessings – Shifting our thoughts to more positive ones can help us redirect negativity before it can affect our mood and cause us harm. An easy way to do this is by reminding ourselves of the good things in our lives. Make a list of what you’re thankful for. It could be a loved one, the roof over your head, or a happy memory.
Tip #11- Don’t take life so seriously! The attitudes we hold on life really do affect our experience. As mentioned earlier, the more we can catch our thinking, and reassess how we are looking at life, the more conscious and in control we are of our wellbeing and joy. Smile more and let laughter heal!
Consistency and Success
The secret to making any change, including accessing more relaxation and happiness, is to hold the awareness and start slow and easy. Consistency is the game, as is being compassionate with yourself. Why would making this change be important to you?
Focus on one or two mini-steps, make it easy, and keep practicing. Definitely acknowledge yourself for any steps you have taken, this actually provides reinforcement. Consistency is more important than the amount. This is how change happens. Perhaps you work with others or join a group. Make a plan and schedule! Keep practicing and trying different techniques! There is no right or wrong way. Be gentle with yourself, yet consistent. This is an ongoing practice! Good Luck!
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin 2007) by Sonja Lyubomirsky)
Joelle Dunaetz is a professionally trained certified life, wellness & nature-connected coach, and owner of Wellness in Balance, LLC and Dancing Mountain Storm Consulting. She has been guiding and empowering clients toward positive lifestyle change while creating a healthy, satisfying life for over 20 years.
She specializes in healthy movement, stretching/yoga, guiding and teaching people relaxation techniques in order to reduce stress and enhance their quality of life, especially in nature.