Stress. Everyone has it. And undoubtedly, at some point or another, you’ve felt that your stress is greater or more justified than another’s.
I blame America. In the fast paced culture we live in, we glorify stress. We use it as a synonym for success, when in fact, we should be doing the opposite. The higher the stress of your job, the more deserving you are of accolades. We think of cities like New York full of high-strung, successful people pounding the pavement and making a name for themselves in the bright lights, and think that being the last person in the office is worthy of recognition and praise.
I can’t tell you how many friends of mine talk about their stress as if they are bragging. Conversations like “How are you?”, “Good, so busy, so stressed out, but good”, happen on the daily. I find that slightly comical, but mostly alarming. If you’re so stressed out, you obviously are not good. You are the farthest thing from good. So if you’re guilty of skipping your lunch break this week, ordering a venti double-shot espresso while checking your email, or irrationally lashing out at the “middle man” who put you on hold for too long because of your stress level, you are not alone. Please, read on.
For years, studies have shown stress as a precursor for serious diseases. It has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, liver failure, and other chronic illnesses. What’s more, when you are experiencing stress, hormones like ghrelin (the hunger hormone) are triggered and can cause you to overeat. Stress eating is real, ladies and gents (there is actually a somewhat scientific explanation for the bag of chips which is magically empty after a stressful afternoon). Let’s call it what it is: unhealthy. We need to learn to de-stress somehow, as if our life depended on it – because in reality, it does.
I know what you’re probably thinking: I’m a 20-something girl without a family to support and no real worries, I can’t understand stress like you do. And while I won’t try to argue over who is more worthy of stress, I will justify that no matter how stressed out you are, the single most important thing you can do for your health is learn to manage your stress.
These are words that I have heard straight from the mouths of cardiologists. One even argued that having a glass of red wine at 10 am is a healthier option than letting your stress get the best of you, if that’s what it takes to manage your stress. Personally, I think that’s a little extreme, but I totally appreciate where he was coming from here. At the end of the day, your health is the single most important thing in the world and it could be suffering the consequences for years to come without you even knowing it, if you can’t get a grasp on your stress levels.
Five Tips to Help Managing Stress:
- Identify the Source. It’s a lifestyle change. The first step is to identify your main sources of stress. Is it your work? Bills? Relationships? Figure out the overarching issue, then try to really narrow it down. If work is a problem: is it deadlines or the specific nature of the job? Coworkers or the hours you have to spend doing the work? Trying to pinpoint your sources of stress will make it easier to manage. For example: at one of my previous jobs, I realized I didn’t really mind the long hours as long as I had time to fit my workout in before work. I was training for a marathon at the time, and running 9 miles at night truly stressed me out. It was a simple fix: I got up a little earlier and came in a little later, but then happily made it through my day without worrying about my night run.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Many things are simply out of your control. In that situation, you have to learn to let them go somehow. Holding on to things that are out of your control are not only a cause of stress, they also are a waste of precious time that you could be using to do other more productive or fun things! If the little things get under your skin, consider different ways to address it so you can let it go: talk it out with a friend, practice meditation, or my personal favorite, run away from your problems (literally – go run).
- Get Enough Sleep. Nothing makes us crankier and more stressed than losing sleep. Sometimes our sleep schedule is out of your control. Work calendars, babies crying, or burning the midnight oil trying to finish up a project, doing your best to shut it down at a reasonable hour and hit the hay is honestly one of the most effective ways you can help reduce stress and other negative health side effects. (Plus, it’s much easier to make healthy food choices when you get enough rest. Which brings me to…)
- Fuel Your Body. Making balanced choices by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables (including those dark leafy greens), whole grains, low fat dairy and lean proteins can absolutely effect your mood and stress levels. Resist the urge to ‘stress eat’ and choose something balanced that will fuel your body to keep you hustling all day long. Your body will thank you later, trust me! (Plus, eating balanced meals throughout the day can help you sleep better at night. See how this can come full circle here?!)
- Find an Outlet. Whether it’s daily meditation or yoga class, a 15 minute walk outside between meetings, or a morning run to get the blood pumping before work… you have to find what works for you and stick to it. Exercise is so important to help reduce and manage stress levels. As Elle Woods taught us, endorphins (the happy hormone) are released when you exercise, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands. And also, endorphins help fight off stress and anxiety. I promise you, if you find a healthy outlet for your stress, you’ll find yourself in a happier place and also likely be more productive throughout the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a first-hand offender as well and definitely do NOT have this all figured out. I’ve found myself in jobs that cause me to work twelve hour days, skipping lunch or slamming something unhealthy at my desk while I crank out emails. It has disturbed me to my very core, because that is not a behavior I condone. Every time this has happened, I have tried to take a step back, reevaluate my situation and priorities, and tackle the stress head-on. It’s something I try to prioritize, and remind myself to put myself and my health first sometimes! I’m not, by any means, encouraging you to lose your motivation or drive in life. Keep moving mountains you hustlers, but allow yourself to rest and catch your breath once in a while. You’re doing better than you think.