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Life can be intense, and the past six or so months have been exceptionally disquieting on many levels. Whether it’s been the pandemic itself or the taxing fallout of illness, quarantine, financial uncertainty or isolation, it’s fair to say that people are hella exhausted. But take heart: You can learn to manage your stress levels with a few practical behavioral shifts and some sagacious coping strategies.
8-Step Stress Prevention Plan
Human beings are innately wired to deal with on-the-spot stress, such as the heart-pounding fight-or-flight instinct you feel when faced with danger. But our biology is not equipped to handle repeated exposure to acute stressors, and recurring surges of hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine can ultimately corrode and deregulate cell balance. In a domino effect, other systems break down, causing things like weight gain, insomnia, depression, anxiety and fatigue.
Your best bet is to prevent stress from happening in the first place, and this checklist from Michael Mantell, Ph.D., behavior science consultant and transformational coach, can set you on the preventative path.
- Exercise and be active every day — but don’t overdo it. Too much activity and too little recovery can cause inflammation, which could lead to a host of serious health issues.
- Cut back on coffee. Caffeine can amplify anxiety, interrupt sleep and disrupt digestion, none of which are helpful to achieving calm and balance.
- Like Michael Pollan says: Eat food (not too much), mostly plants. The phytochemicals found in plants help balance your mood by aiding in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
- Tame your thoughts. Events don’t stress you out; your thoughts about those events stress you out. Use meditation to become accepting of the present and observe your thoughts without judgment.
- Really breathe. Deep abdominal breathing connects your body and mind, slows heart rate, relaxes muscles and reduces blood pressure.
- Implement stress-free thinking. Catch yourself mulling over your doom and gloom scenarios, then challenge them. Do you have any evidence that these will occur? Then turn your thinking from dread to possibility, because even if the worst does happen, you may not like it but you will be able to bear it.
- Practice compassion. Compassionate people recognize that imperfection and suffering are common, shared human conditions. Give yourself grace and stop worrying about that which you cannot control.
- Don’t just survive — thrive. Look at every setback as a setup for a stronger comeback. This helps you develop resilience, the psychological mechanism that keeps people going.
Now that you’ve pre-emptively quelled your stress, it’s time to nurture happiness with Mantell’s strategy to make you smile.
- Savor: All of us could stand to slow down a little and proverbially smell the roses. Linger where you are and mindfully focus on the details of whatever you’re doing.
- Me: Time to yourself allows you to unwind, reboot your brain, improve your focus and promote your relationships. Even the little things you do during the day add up: Close your office door to shut out distractions, wake up a little earlier to work out or leave your phone in the car when with friends.
- Interact: Personal relationships are integral to human happiness, and spending time with others, expressing kindness and doing good deeds reduces stress and promotes connections. However, not all interactions are positive, so avoid those who weigh you down.
- Listen: Using your ears can boost your happiness quotient. Listen to the birds chirping or your grandkids playing or the music playing to promote well-being and lift your spirits.
- Empathize: Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can actually give you a leg up. Build empathy for others by permitting your own vulnerability and finding commonality with others around you.