Welcome to the New Year! With all the talk about new goals and resolutions, let’s not overlook one of the biggest competitors to our progress: STRESS. Strain and tension creep up on us in ways we least expect as we deal with relationships, business, obligations, school, caregiving, grief, loss, and life changes. If we have no recourse for facing the pressures life throws our way, there could be dangerous impacts on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Within the past year, two of my friends experienced a host of alarming symptoms including severe headaches, body aches, fainting spells, decreased appetite, restlessness, and tremors. After visiting doctors and having a series of tests, the final diagnosis was stress at the worst level. The prescription: relieve the stress and practice better self care.

The news sounded an alarm in my mind, causing me to assess the potential stressors in my own life. I’ve always been a laid back person, not easily rattled. I try to keep a level head and be a peacemaker. I make every effort to keep my life simple and set boundaries. I tend to keep my feelings to myself and try not to let them show. Being a fixer by nature I push myself until issues are resolved. I’m a creative who spends a lot of time dreaming and contemplating, and for this reason, I find it hard to shut my brain off. Consequently, I internalize stress, and in light of my friends’ challenges, I decided to find practical ways to manage the stress in my life. These are the steps I take to unstress!

Nutrition

Stress affects the appetite. We either make unhealthy food choices, eat less, overeat, or eat nothing. We have to be strategic about eating healthy foods and staying hydrated. It is a good practice to read product labels. You want to know what you’re getting and avoid artificial additives and substances with no nutritional value.

Be watchful of anything you rely on to get through tough times, sleep, stay awake, settle down, or calm your nerves like caffeine, smoking, alcohol, or drugs. Each one can put undue stress on your body and come with a list of health effects including suppressed appetite, altered brain activity, abnormally elevated or lowered blood pressure, narrowing or enlarging of arteries, interrupted blood flow, lethargy, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory ailments, and strain on the organs. All of them throw off the body’s rhythm, result in severe withdrawal, and could lead to addictive behaviors and chronic illnesses or diseases.

Put aside the social reasons for indulging and think for a moment about why most health related documents start with questions about our current and past health and substance use habits. The medical professionals are fully aware of the potential health risks. They might or might not advise you to change your lifestyle. Yet, they will give you treatment, prescriptions, and procedures as needed, all of which might be needed at some point. The fact is doctors can’t force us to do anything we don’t want to do. Taking charge of our nutrition is our choice.

I’ve witnessed people close to me struggle with health problems and eventually lose their lives to bad nutrition habits and substance abuse. Watching their struggles and battling my own issues has made me become proactive about nutrition. The body is an amazing creation with an ability to heal itself when we supply it with what it needs. We should do the research and figure out what’s good for us. There are countless resources available about the power of nutrition and guidance from a nutritionist is definitely a good option. We have control over what we put in our bodies and what we put in our bodies matters. Let’s choose smarter, buy better, and fuel our bodies with nourishment that makes us feel our best!

Detox

The major elimination organs – kidneys, liver, colon, lymph, lungs and skin – all work hard to remove harmful waste and toxins to keep us from getting sick. That’s why it’s even more important we make wise choices about what we ingest.

And here’s a big one – let’s stop putting off using the restroom while working or when in public! We go to great lengths to avoid eating food and drinking water just so we won’t have to stop working or use the restroom away from home. Improper elimination brings on toxic buildup, sluggishness, headaches, and more problems. The duress on our organs can be destructive. Nourish and hydrate your body and go when you feel the urge.

Get educated about aromatherapy, whole body cleanses, detox drinks, and herbal teas. And don’t forget about the most old-fashioned detox method: taking a relaxing bath. On a regular basis, I use pure essential oils, organic essential oil soaps, and bath salts. I cleanse with juices, kombucha, broths, smoothies, and medicinal teas. Take a trip to your local health food store and ask questions to find suitable products for you.

Deep Breathing

Our body cannot thrive without oxygen. Stress can cause the mind and body to go haywire. It starts with symptoms like shortness of breath or racing heartbeat and could lead to worse things like stroke or heart attack. At the onset of anger, frustration or panic, you should stop and take deep breaths. Although it might sound elementary, learning to inhale and exhale properly is vital. Not only does deep breathing release carbon dioxide and other toxins, but it also helps you relax, brings calm to the mind, stimulates hormones to make us feel better, keeps the nervous system balanced, and regulates the heartbeat.

The basic steps to remember are: 1) sit or lie down in a relaxed position, 2) inhale deeply through your nose to fill your lungs as your abdomen inflates (without heaving your chest or straining your neck), then slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat several times until you feel relaxed. Do this regularly and particularly when you feel stressed.

Exercise

Exercise is a major stress reliever as well as a form of detox since toxins are eliminated through our skin as we sweat. Physical activity is a proven way to prevent, combat, and overcome many health complications. Walk, run, cycle, dance, swim, join a class, or do the fitness activity you like to help tame stress. I personally love to walk outdoors in the fresh air and dance to my jamming playlist because with every step the tension lightens up. Or you could go to the gym or workout at home with fitness equipment, mobile app, or videos. Many exercises require no equipment and can be done with the resistance of your own body.

If your work requires you to sit down for extended periods, take breaks frequently to get up, stretch, and move your limbs. Remember those restroom breaks which are an ideal time to take a brisk walk. Sitting for long hours limits circulation, weakens muscles, and stiffens joints.

Bottom line, make physical activity a part of your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be complex or lengthy. Just find what works for you and do it!

Rest

Working long hours and staying engaged with electronic devices stress us out and influence our rest patterns. Fatigue, eye strain, and a wired mind are signs that we need more rest. Get proper sleep at night and take naps when you can. Allow your body time to recover from your daily commitments. Shop for a new mattress and pillows if you wake up with aches, pains, or toss and turn excessively.

Entertainment

Free your mind by taking time to step away from the stressful hustle and grind to entertain yourself. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Go to a comedy show and laugh your head off. Go see a sporting event. Experience an arts and culture happening. Dine out at your favorite place or try something new. Start a hobby or work on things your passionate about. Take a vacation, staycation, or retreat. Or plan an entertaining time at home, which is what I do most often. Whatever you choose, do activities that put a smile on your face and bring you joy!

Prioritize & Organize

When our life is chaotic and cluttered, stress enters without knocking. All of us have obligations and commitments, but we can take control over our time. Don’t be afraid to say “no”. This keeps you from overly committing yourself. Before you say “yes”, make sure you have a clear understanding of what you’re being asked to do and the time involved because it might not be a good fit for you. When you agree to a task or job, whether personally or professionally, get clarification and ask all necessary questions to help you get it done efficiently. Plan ahead as often as possible, and don’t make a habit of procrastinating.

Declutter your spaces and get rid of all the things you no longer use or want (my main goal this year!). Establish a place for everything and remember to put them back where they belong.

Understanding your priorities and establishing order in your life keeps stress at bay.

Positive Thinking

We live in the midst of political unrest, mass shootings, violence, abuse, poverty, inequality. Put that on top of our own pressures to make the bills, be successful, or take care of a family. We wrestle with hurt, anger, doubt, fear, and depression. Remaining positive can be hard to do.

In my life, I make a point to recenter my mind regularly, as I have seen and overcome lots of obstacles. Reading devotional publications, prayer, and surrounding myself with positive people bring peace to my mind. I encourage you to step away from the adversity to refocus. Read uplifting stories and books. Start a journal to release your thoughts. Post quotes and words in places where you can read them when you need inspiration. Don’t dwell on negative thoughts or things you can’t control. Instead, find things in your life to be grateful for.

All things considered, we live in a world where stress is all around us. It’s an inevitable part of life. Instead of ineffectively reacting to stress once it happens, we can incorporate healthy actions to restrain its attack on our minds and bodies!

Be sure to look out for sudden body changes, recurring issues and unrelenting symptoms. Consult professional help for solutions, options, and treatment in order to maintain optimal health.

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