Have you mastered stress, or is stress mastering you? Between work deadlines, bills, and family and friend obligations, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And if it goes on for too long, you’ll find yourself struggling to merely survive instead of thrive.
I know firsthand how brutal it can be when you don’t make an effort to manage your stress on an everyday basis. And I also know firsthand that if left unmanaged,it puts you at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, weight loss or weight gain depending on your physiology, depression and other problems.
Around three months ago, the hustle and bustle and stress of everyday life started to derail me. I was sleeping only three hours a night, neglecting the gym almost every day, and withdrawing from my loved ones. I stopped my daily walks and moments of solitude, prayer and meditation, and stopped writing in my gratitude journal. My life was quickly spiraling downward into one big fat mess.
Here are 15 things that I did to take control of my stress. You can use these or modify them to fit your own life and personality.
1. Increase your endorphin production.
One of the quickest and surest ways to defeat the negative side effects that come from stress is to get your sweat on. You can start small if going to the gym seems too overwhelming. Take a daily 15-minute walk. When you do physical activity, your body releases endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in your body.
2. Pay attention to what you’re putting in your body.
People often turn to junk food when they’re stressed. Eating a cookie now and then won’t necessarily harm you, but if you do it regularly, there will be consequences. According to Mark Hyman, New York Times bestselling author of Eat Fat, Get Thin, eating whole, real foods restores balance and reduces the effects of stress on your body. Replacing harmful substances such as caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars, with clean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats helps regulate your hormone levels – including the stress hormones.
3. Create a stress jar.
Sit down every morning (or before you go to bed) and make a list of things that are bothering you and stressing your day. Write down the things you can control and the things you can’t. Once you make that list, fold the piece of paper and put it into a box or a stress jar. Put that jar in a closet or in a place that won’t constantly attract your attention. “Out of sight, out of mind” is an old saying that can help you in this instant. You’ve written down your worries, so now put them away for the day and forget about them.
4. Keep a gratitude journal.
Whether big or small, write down everything that comes to mind that you are grateful for right this moment. You can start small with something as simple as, “I am grateful that I am healthy and strong. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am grateful I live in a city that’s enjoyable and fun.” The mere act of writing down things you’re grateful for will change your outlook on life. Do this every day.
5. Make a list of your goals.
After writing in your gratitude journal, make a list of your goals – no matter how far-reaching they may seem at this point in time. Writing your goals in a journal is a powerful way to rekindle your passion and remind yourself of your dreams, ambitions, and what’s truly important.
6. Learn how to say no.
Learn how to say “no” to things that would only add more stress to your life. It’s easy to fall into a “people-pleasing” trap where you say “yes” to everything. Perhaps you want to spend an evening at home alone and someone invites you to go to a party? What do you do? Perhaps people are asking you for free services because they’re your friend or because they don’t respect your time. What do you do? You have to learn how to say “no.” Whether it’s in your personal or professional life, agreeing to more than you can manage is a surefire recipe for stress.
Related: What You Need to Do Next Time You Stumble
7. Surround yourself with positive and encouraging people.
Surrounding ourselves with positive and encouraging people during stressful times can brighten our mood and help us put things in perspective. Who wants to be with someone who is negative all the time? There’s nothing more depressing or stressful, so avoid those who stress you out.
8. Get lost in a great book.
Being able to pick up a great book and get lost in it has the potential to transform your mindset and help you start to see the world in a different light. There’s nothing more relaxing and wonderful than reading a great book by one of your favorite authors.
9. Create your own Mastermind group.
Gather together some highly motivated and ambitious individuals, peers and associates, and build a Mastermind group. The group works like peer-to-peer mentoring in which you either meet or talk on the phone a minimum of once a month. You can even create a private Facebook Page for this group to discuss ideas. In this group, you can brainstorm with one another, talk about your current goals, plans for the future, and the stress that is bothering you at the moment.
10. Look in the mirror and talk to yourself like you’re a champion.
There are two types of people in the world. There are those who tell themselves they are a victim, and those who tell themselves they are not a victim, but rather, a champion. This brings to mind the great Muhammad Ali who died last week after many years of suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He was the grandson of a slave, but did he let that define him? No, he saw something greater in himself. He proclaimed himself “The Greatest” before anyone else did and spent a lifetime living up to this statement. Instead of negative self-talk, Muhammad Ali created empowering self-talk.
11. Tap into the power of meditation and solitude.
When I finally decided to give meditation a try, I became instantly hooked. Practicing meditation on a regular basis can not only drastically minimize the effects of stress, but also help you live a more fulfilled life. I recommend an app called “Calm” aimed to help newcomers practice meditation. Solitude goes hand-in-hand with meditation because you need quiet for both. Amazing things begin to happen when you shut off the noisy and distracting world and listen.
12. Resolve to finally complete a project or task you have been begun.
Take a look at your important projects and tasks to see what you have been putting off for quite some time. Pick that one thing and work until it’s completed. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
13. Sleep more.
If you have been sleeping six hours, sleep seven. If you have been sleeping seven hours, sleep eight. Find 20 minutes or so throughout your day to close and rest your eyes. Sleep matters and a lack of it is a major contribution to the negative effects of stress.
14. Leave the office for lunch.
Take a walk or eat outside. Force yourself to leave the office for lunch if you can. This will help you to redirect your focus and come back even stronger for the second part of the day.
15. Be of service to someone
How many times have you helped someone today? It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture – it could even mean just listening to a friend tell you about their day. Asking others how they’re doing is a way to be of service. We get wrapped up in our own worlds far too often. There’s a whole world out there that’s waiting for you. Want to feel instantly better? Go be of service and make someone else’s day.