Tag Archives: stress level

6 ways to beat stress for better health

Stress juggling too many responsibilitiesWe all deal with stress. It can be a juggling act to balance all of our responsibilities. Your boss just dumped a bunch of work on your desk on Friday afternoon. The car battery died. One of the kids is sick. The property taxes are coming due.

Sometimes everything piles up at once, and you feel overloaded. You may not be able to keep all the balls in the air, and it seems like too much to handle. You can’t avoid stress. It’s just part of life. However, you can control how you deal with it.

Stress can cause you to gain weight and can even shorten your lifespan. By learning to manage stress, you can live a much happier, healthier and more productive life.

Here are 6 ways you can make changes in your life now to help you beat stress for better health:

1. Balance your lifestyle
How you live your life affects your stress level. If one aspect of your life is out of balance, it can lead to stress and dissatisfaction – not only in that area of your life but also in other areas. For instance, if your work schedule has become extremely hectic, it will impact your personal life. Your spouse may wish you could spend more time together. You may miss your kids’ sports or school activities due to work.

Here are some areas to work on to help you find more balance and reduce stress:

Look at your schedule. It’s important to create a balance between your personal needs, work, and your family and friends. Our relationships with others are an integral part of our happiness. Start by looking at your commitments. Maybe you need to adjust how and where you spend your time. Make more time for you. Or plan more activities with your family or friends. There may be things you don’t need to do at all. Sometimes just saying no when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be the greatest stress reliever.

Get enough sleep. Your body uses sleep to rest and re-cooperate from the stresses of the day. Your body and mind need sleep for many other healthy reasons, too.

Eat healthier. By eating healthier you have more energy, may lose weight or maintain your weight, and will feel better about yourself. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and protein can also help boost your immunity. Staying healthy is one of the best defenses against stress.

Make the time to exercise. If you can work exercise into your daily routine and make it habit, you will feel healthier and reduce stress. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, can help lower your stress level.

Find a sense of purpose. You may feel stressed if you aren’t doing anything that’s meaningful to you or that you truly enjoy. You may find a sense of purpose through your family, friends, a hobby you love, work or by volunteering. Your purpose should make you happy to get out of bed in the morning and fulfilled at the end of the day.

These are a few of the areas in your life that can get out of balance. It is also important to make sure you are financially and spiritually balanced. You may find it helps to set goals and improve your habits in order achieve more.

2. Get organized
Being surrounded by clutter can also contribute to stress. If you feel you are constantly searching for things or simply feel overwhelmed by all of the “stuff” in your life, then take the initiative to clean up the clutter and reduce your stress.

You can also improve your time management skills. I know I am often guilty of procrastination. I put things off or do unimportant tasks to avoid what I should be doing. The next thing I know, I haven’t gotten anything worthwhile done. By managing your time more effectively, you can prioritize what is urgent and what can wait. You can also get more things done in a shorter amount of time. That leaves more time to do the fun things!

3. Change your mindset
It’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking. Situations that are out of your control or not even your fault suddenly start to cause you unnecessary stress. Negative thoughts can trigger your body’s stress response. Changing your mindset to more positive thinking can help you cope with stress more easily.

4. Learn to relax
When you feel stressed, take time to relax. It may mean simply closing your eyes, breathing deeply and thinking positive thoughts for a few minutes. You can envision yourself in a place that makes you happy and relaxed. Sit outside and soak up the sun for a few minutes. Go for a quick walk and let your mind wander. You can also use different types of relaxation techniques to help you reduce tension.

5. Disconnect
We live in a plugged-in world. While all of our high tech devices – TVs, cell phones, computers, tablets – can help us stay connected and make work and life easier, they keep us connected all the time. Turn off the computer and cell phone and take a break from technology every once in a while. Spend time with family and friends without the distractions. Go outside and do nothing. Enjoy just being.

6. Reach out
If you start to feel too overwhelmed, reach out to friends and family. Simply talking to someone and venting your frustrations can help you feel better. You can talk to people you know from church or a religious leader. You may reach a point when you want to talk to a counselor or therapist. It’s okay to reach out and ask for help when you need it!

You can beat stress and live a more balanced, healthy and fulfilling life. How do you cope with stress?

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Easy relaxation techniques to reduce stress

1121962_meditationThe kitchen faucet is leaking. One of my kids can’t find her P.E. clothes and the school bus is coming. I need to deposit checks, pick up the finished taxes, drop off the dehumidifier to be fixed, and get my gray roots touched up sometime. Oh, and get a little work done, too.

This is just a sample list of the types of things we all deal with on daily basis. Some stress is good for us. It helps us stay motivated to get things done, and it keeps our minds focused and active. On the other hand, too much stress can be harmful to our physical and mental health.

How can you find the right balance between a little bit of good stress and too much stress? If your hectic lifestyle is getting to you, here are a few relaxation techniques that can bring you back into balance – quickly and easily:

Meditate
When you think of meditation, you may picture twisting your legs into the lotus position, holding your hands up and repeating, “Ohmmm.” However, any repetitive action can act as meditation and help you relax. For instance, walking, swimming, painting and crocheting can help you focus on the moment and find calmness.

The idea is to quiet your mind and let your thoughts slow down. If you start feeling overwhelmed, you can also find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. You can focus on an external point, such as a photo or an object, or you can focus internally on an imaginary scene or a calming phrase. Concentrate on your point of focus and push out all the thoughts that are causing stress. You may get distracted and start stressing again. Simply push it aside and go back to your point of focus until you feel more relaxed.

When you meditate, you are giving your mind a rest from thinking and that constant stream of chatter  running through your head. You can let the negative thoughts go and move on.

Visualize yourself relaxed
This technique is called guided imagery or visualization. You focus on pleasant images to replace your negative thoughts or feelings so that you can relax. I live in landlocked southern Illinois, but I love to go to the beach. I like to picture myself sitting in my beach chair, the waves lapping at my toes, a warm wind ruffling my hair, and the sound of waves crashing rhythmically on the shore. Ah, I feel better already!

Breathe deeply
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, can help you reverse stress by calming your breathing. To practice deep breathing, follow these steps:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, pushing your abdomen out as far as possible
  • Let your shoulders and neck muscles relax
  • Begin to exhale slowly and comfortably
  • Focus on feeling relaxed and calm
  • Repeat bullets 1 through 4 up to 5 times

Relax your muscles
When you are feeling stressed, you may find your body becomes more tense. I find that I tense up my neck, shoulders and jaw which can lead to a tension headache. With practice, you can learn progressive muscle relaxation to relax your muscles when you find yourself tensing up. Find a place where you can sit comfortable or even lie down. You may want to start with a few minutes of deep breathing to help you begin to relax.

Then, focus your attention on your right foot. Slowly tighten up the muscles in your right foot squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold it for a count of 10. Relax your foot and feel the tension flowing away as you let your foot go limp. After a moment, focus on your left foot and follow the same process. You can move slowly up your entire body, contracting and relaxing muscles as you go.

It takes some practice but feels great when you get the hang of it. I also use the technique to quickly release the tension I may be holding in a specific area, such as my neck, jaw, shoulders or back.

Think positively
If you find yourself stressed out about a situation and focusing on the possible negative outcomes, take a mental step back. Engage your mind in positive thinking. It can be very powerful! Start by envisioning something that triggers positive feelings in you. You can envision your spouse, your child (or children), a favorite vacation spot or your pet.

Thinking about these things that make you happy will help you slow your breathing, relax and put a smile on your face. With these feelings of relaxation and peace, you will be able to consider the stressful situation from a new perspective. You will most likely find it less overwhelming and more manageable.

Share some love
One of the quickest ways to feel more calm and relaxed is to cuddle with a loved one. Hug your spouse or partner for no reason. Snuggle up with a child and let the child take the conversation where ever it will go. Or, spend time with your pet. Playing fetch with your dog or petting your cat can provide instant relaxation. A side benefit of spending time with those you love is that you also recognize and appreciate the good things in your life.

Take a musical trip
Music can calm your heartbeat and soothe your soul. You may like to have classical, jazz or opera playing softly in the background to help reduce your stress. Or, you may like to crank up some pop or rock and roll to get out your frustrations and dance to the beat. Turn up the radio in your car and sing along. You may get some funny looks from other drivers, but you will most likely feel more relaxed. No matter how you like your music, it can take your mind off your worries so that you can decompress and enjoy the moment.

Drink a cup of tea
I drink a giant cup of coffee to help me get going in the morning. However, coffee can raise the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. I switch to drinking water after my morning coffee, but I also like to have a cup of hot tea in the afternoon or evening. Green tea offers many health benefits, including fight cancer and heart disease, lowering cholesterol, burning fat for weight loss, preventing diabetes and stroke, and staving off dementia. Chamomile tea is great for calming the mind and reducing stress. Some research has shown that black tea may help lower levels of cortisol when you drink it on a regular basis.

The next time you feel stressed, try a few of these techniques and see what works for you. If you practice them regularly, you will be able to confront that stressed out feeling immediately. You can take control of stress instead of letting it control you.

Do you have techniques you use to help reduce your stress level? Tell us about them!

How a budget can help you create balance

balanced budgetEvery January, I panic over the amount of money I spent for Christmas. I start looking at the bills coming due and our monthly income, and I panic even more.

After a more careful review of 2012, I know that we have over spent and could live more frugally and responsibly. Why does it matter?

First, we can live without some of the things we buy. We don’t need all the “stuff.” Second, I have noticed that my kids seem to feel a sense of entitlement. If they want something, we should just go out and buy it for them. It would be good for them to understand the importance of living within a budget.

In addition, if our finances are out of balance, we will feel out of balance. It can affect relationships, stress levels and sleep habits. Here are a few more reasons to establish a budget, balance your finances and live a balanced life:

Uncover waste
When you create a budget, you see – in black and white – where your money is going. For example, without a detailed account of your spending, it’s easy to ignore how much money you are paying for meals at restaurants and on take-out. After working on my budget, I was shocked to see how much we spend on fuel (gasoline and diesel) in a month. I know I have to do a certain amount of driving, but it makes me think about planning my trips and grouping my errands together.

Reduce stress
As the person who pays the bills, I know when our funds are tight for a particular month. It stresses me out. I lose sleep at night. By having a budget in place, I can be more prepared for the bills and unexpected expenses that come up. I won’t be guessing if we have enough money for a large purchase, or if we need to wait a few months. And I will know that we have the money available to pay all the bills.

Guide spending
Your budget can help you see where you can reduce spending on extras you may not need. At the same time, you may be able to put more funds toward eliminating debt and into savings.

Eliminate debt
There is good debt, and then there is bad debt. How can debt be good? Your home mortgage is a good debt because you are building equity in real estate, which has value. Your car loan is good debt if your loan payment is reasonable. Credit cards are considered bad debt. If you have outstanding credit card balances, creating a budget can help you pay off these debts. You may also be able to put extra funds toward mortgage or car payments to pay down the loan principal and reduce the amount you pay in interest.

Set priorities
A budget helps you get a big picture view of your finances. Your spouse may have different financial goals than you do. You may want to reduce debt, and your spouse may want to save for a vacation. By seeing your budget on paper, you can discuss the priorities you each have and find a way to align your priorities with your budget.

Build new habits
By working within a budget, you can develop new spending habits. You may think about that pair of new shoes or – in my husband’s case – new power tool before you buy it. With the big picture in mind, you realize that your budget plan is more important than these items.

Grow savings
Savings can include your emergency fund or the money you invest for retirement. If you think about saving from every dollar earned, it becomes easier to put the concept of savings in perspective and increase the amount you set aside. You can add your emergency fund and retirement contributions to your budget and make them as important as the house payment and the electric bill.

Give back
Making donations to your church or a favorite charity should also be a part of your financial plans. If you add it to the budget, then it is top of mind and is included in your monthly finances. You’ll feel good knowing that you are improving your financial situation and helping others.

Now that you know WHY it’s important to establish a household budget, next week we will write about HOW to create a budget. Do you have other reasons for living within a budget? Do you have tips for making a budget? Let us know!