Self-care is crucial for stress management

man reading book outside on a bench
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“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.”

This was an anonymous quote that I recently reshared on Facebook since it truly resonated with me. I had been experiencing months of heavy stress and was not making the time for self-care – and was starting to physically feel the negative effects.

In today’s busy world, we ALL find ourselves more stressed than ever before. Work, household tasks, parenting, caregiving, sports, and extra-curricular activities, lack of finances, etc. Then add something like a major pandemic and everything associated with that - stress overload!

Nearly 8 in 10 adults, 78%, say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life
2020 Stress in America Report, American Psychological Association

Other major stressors include health care, mass shootings, employment, money, climate change, and immigration.

A little stress in our lives can actually be helpful by motivating us to get things done, but if we do not manage stress effectively or find an outlet for it – it can become chronic and have negative effects on our minds and bodies. When we experience stress it makes our bodies produce the hormone cortisol which in large and ongoing doses has been shown to cause depletion of brain chemicals and brain cells, lowers immune function and bone density, increases weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease – and can increase the risk for depression and mental illness. It has even been shown to speed up biological aging at the cellular level, which can shorten the life span!

So, it is important to practice self-care or stress management techniques to prevent those negative effects from happening. There are a wide variety of ways to manage stress, some techniques being more of a physical nature like walking, gardening, or yoga and others being more mental like meditation, reading, or listening to music.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, but your stress reducer needs to be something that helps you relax, is soothing and pleasurable, makes you feel good and most importantly – you can build it in your life on a regular basis. According to the American Psychological Association, the most commonly used stress management techniques are listening to music, exercise, watching TV, and surfing the internet.

Proven ways to reduce stress:

  • Look for humor and laugh every day. Laughter and humor reduce tension and stress, lowers depression, and boosts the immune system, which contributes to overall healthiness.
  • Practice gratitude. Positive thoughts and accompanying emotions counter the negative effects of stress. Recognizing and giving thanks for the positive aspects of life can result in improved mental and physical health.
  • Schedule something fun. Anticipation of future events generates excitement and energy in that expectation. Put something on your calendar that you can look forward to.
  • Practice mindfulness meditations. Mindfulness not only reduces stress but also lowers blood pressure, symptoms of anxiety, depressions, substance abuse and chronic pain, improves working memory, emotional regulation, well-being, and immune response. It also assists with focus and attention. There are a variety of practices or exercises that include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, body scan, and even mindful walking and eating!

So this is a great list of strategies to manage and even reduce stress, but how do we make the time to do them? Stay tuned for the next post where I will share ways to make time for self-care and also ways to help hold yourself accountable and stay on track.