man de-stressing on beach

Work deadlines, a calendar full of your children's activities, an illness, or the loss of a loved one - these are just a few examples of major causes of stress. You're probably familiar with the feeling of panic that occurs when there just aren't enough hours in the day to cross every item off your to-do list. Stress can affect every part of your body, from head to toe. Common symptoms of stress include:

  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling lethargic, irritable, restless or depressed
  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling out of control or low self-esteem

Taking time out from your hectic routine may seem counter-productive as a way to de-stress, but the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that slowing down is important to your health. Once you're feeling more relaxed and less tense, you'll become more productive and will be more up to facing a packed to-do list!

Basic Habits
Start de-stressing by focusing on the very basics of life: eating and sleeping. Losing too much sleep and skimping on meals will quickly lead you to feel burnt out.

While you may be able to pull a few all-nighters, and still take care of work and chores, eventually you'll become run-down, tired, and cranky. In the long-run, you will benefit from a lower stress level and overall feeling of wellness if you make a point of getting at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Eating well is just as important as getting enough sleep. Instead of skipping meals, plan ahead to make time for a full breakfast, lunch and dinner. Boost your dragging immune system with antioxidant-rich berries, citrus fruits, and leafy greens. Make sure you're getting enough nutrients in your diet by adding in whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. Stress can create cravings for candy, chocolate, and other high-calorie foods. Try to limit your consumption of "junk food" by limiting yourself to small, occasional treats. It's best to limit your alcohol and caffeine intake as well. Although a cup of coffee might make you stay awake longer, and a glass of wine might seem to sooth your nerves, both caffeine and alcohol can actually increase your stress and interfere with your ability to sleep.

Physical Activity
Getting on the move can help reduce tension in your life. Physical activity is an excellent stress-buster that works on both your mind and your body. Your busy brain becomes distracted when you're engaged in a workout. In addition, the endorphins you release when you exercise help elevate your mood.

The physicality of a good workout can also work wonders for aches and pains. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health explains that exercise can help relax tense muscles, so you feel more at ease.

You don't need to be an Olympic-class athlete to reap the stress-reducing benefits of exercise. Simply pick an activity you enjoy and go for it! Walk, swim, bike, work in your yard, or pick up a jump rope to get your body moving.

Relaxation and Imagery
Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and mental imagery, can help you lift away stress and feel better about whatever pressures you are facing.

Relaxation techniques can be as simple as closing your eyes and taking deep breaths, focusing on each inhalation and exhalation. The slow, flowing movements of yoga and tai chi can relax your body and set you at ease. Guided imagery can also have a positive impact on calming your body. Try picturing yourself in a place you would like to be. For example, imagine you are visiting a tropical beach, and focus on the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter there.

The Mayo Clinic reports that relaxation techniques can have major benefits for your health, such as:

  • Lowering your heart rate
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Reducing muscle tension
  • Reducing chronic pain

Becoming Resilient
A positive attitude can go a long way to reducing your stress level. Instead of focusing on what you didn't complete during the day or how difficult tomorrow might be, focus on the positive: what you did accomplish and how you will strive to do your best.

It's important to realize that there are things in your life - in everyone's life - that you can't change. Learning to accept these aspects of your personal reality can bring a sense of calm to your world. Acceptance helps you learn to bounce back from disappointment and focus on changing only things that are within your power to change.

Acceptance doesn't mean that you stop striving for your goals. Working toward the positive achievements within your grasp is very rewarding. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that remembering to move towards your goals is a large part of managing stress.

Connecting With Others
Stress might make you want to curl up in a ball and isolate yourself from the world. This practice may work for you for a short period of time, but eventually you will feel worse if you do not interact with others.

Instead of cutting yourself off from people who care for you, take advantage of opportunities to spend time with family and friends. Talking with the people closest to you can help you ease your stress. If you can't completely open up to your family members or friends, consider visiting a mental health counselor to help you relieve the burden of keeping your stress to yourself.

HealthAhead Hint: Want to take your mind off your stress completely? Try scheduling a night off. Get together with your friends for a night of total freedom. Find an activity that makes you happy, or better yet, an activity that makes you laugh. A little laughter can go a long way to kicking stress out the door.