We’re all aware that stress can be a silent killer. Stress, or the inability to cope with the ongoing pressures of life, can physically manifest in digestive, immune, and reproductive issues. But chronic stress doesn’t just manifest physically – it alters the brain. This can lead to anger, depression, sadness and irritability. In people prone to some mental disorders, stress can act as a trigger, making symptoms manifest or exacerbating things.
It’s clear that when stress goes unmanaged, it’s almost impossible to have good mental health. If you want to boost your mental health, one of the first steps you must take is to reduce stress. It’s impossible to totally eliminate stress from your life. Too much stress is certainly a bad thing, but without some stress our minds wouldn’t really know how to motivate us. The good news is that it can be managed. Daily practices to mitigate the negative effects of stress can work wonders on your mental health.
It’s important to take a step back from whatever is causing stress
“It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you let yourself have time to do something else, which can help you have a new perspective or practice techniques to feel less overwhelmed,” says the American Psychological Association. “It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even just 20-minutes to take care of yourself is helpful.”
Taking some time to just relax is crucial to promoting better mental health. You may think it will cause you more stress to neglect your duties, but in the long run it will actually help to reduce your stress levels.
Ok, so how do I relax?
Easier said than done, right? Well, there are plenty of activities you can try to help you manage your stress and most of them can be done in 20 to 30 minutes. Meditation, which usually involves focusing and streamlining your attention away from your stressors and onto something calming – an image or a repeated mantra – has numerous positive effects. The Mayo Clinic says that meditation can help you “gain a new perspective on stressful situations, build skills to manage your stress, increase self-awareness, focus on the present, and reduce negative emotions.” Here’s a good primer on the types of meditation to get you started.
Meditation isn’t the only way to relax. If you’re more active, try yoga. If you’re not in the mood, simply sit and focus on your breathing. Take a walk. Play with your pet for 20 minutes. Anything that takes you away from your stressors and focuses your attention on something calming can help.
Treat your body right
Stress can manifest in physical illness and pain, but it also works the other way around. Bad physical health can exacerbate stress. Take a three-pronged approach.
First, eliminate habits that are known stress-inducers. Cut back on your alcohol use. Quit smoking. Limit your caffeine intake. Second, eat right. A healthy diet can improve the mind. Add brain-boosting foods like fish and leafy greens to your diet. Cut out things like sugar and refined carbs. Lastly, get some exercise. It’s not only good for your body, but exercise actually improves mental health by increasing blood flow to the brain and releasing stress-killing chemicals. If you follow these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to less stress and better mental well being.
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