We all have our go-to stress reliever. It might be a quick jog after work. Maybe it’s getting up early to play basketball with the guys, or to have coffee and some time to yourself before the kids are up. While that one thing is certainly a good thing, you could make an even bigger dent in your stress by managing it throughout the whole day — even if the steps you take seem small.
Lose the snooze. Being tired makes even minor stresses tougher to deal with. Instead of breaking up the last quality hour of your sleep with snooze button intervals, just allow yourself a 15-minute buffer.
Get high-intensity exercise. Research shows that even brief exercise before stressful encounters relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure spikes during moments of stress. However, START by going for walks, and slowly increase your intensity over a few weeks.
Stretch. Even if you don’t have time for a morning run, stretch in the shower and after exercise to ease tension and loosen tight muscles.
Eat smart. Start the day with healthy choices, such as whole-grain cereal, low/no sugar yogurt and fresh fruit. A nutritious breakfast can help improve concentration and jump-start your metabolism, giving you energy that lasts all morning. Keep healthy snacks (such as unsalted mixed nuts) handy to curb hunger throughout the day.
Mute your commute. Is your car an extension of your office? Instead of making calls, silence your phone and use the time to organize your thoughts and priorities for the day ahead. Listen to your favorite music, podcast, or an e-book to unwind and relax.
Try the two-minute rule. If you can address an email in two minutes or less, go for it. If not, start with other, more critical tasks first. Circle back to deal with lengthier email responses during strategic 15-minute intervals throughout your day.
Limit email checking. According to a University of California study, each interruption can cost you an average of 23 minutes before you return to the original task. Cutting off your email temporarily can greatly improve focus and reduce stress. Turn OFF the bells, whistles, and alerts on your phone.
Manage expectations. It’s better to set the bar a little lower and exceed a modest goal than to miss a loftier goal. But the key is to continue setting goals! People are happier with unexpected good outcomes than with predictable success, say researchers at the University of Florida.
Practice a “soft no.” It’s easy to underestimate the time many tasks will take, which often leads to burnout and over commitment. Instead of saying yes to everything, be empowered to start saying no.
Press “play.” Researchers at the University of Windsor in Canada found that people who listened to their favorite music felt more positive and did better on creative tasks. Play classical or other calming music in the background while at work or working on things at home.
Move it. Working without breaks actually makes you less productive. Get up from your desk several times a day (every hour or so) for gentle stretching, a trip up and down the stairs or a short walk. Even changing your scenery — like working in an empty conference room for a bit — can be refreshing.
Cue the transition. Do something each day that tells your body and brain that work is done and you’re shifting to home and family mode. It might be as simple as changing out of your work clothes or taking your dog for a walk — anything that you can use to set a routine in place and help you transition into relaxation.
Find 15 minutes of fun. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that engaging in pleasurable activities led to reductions in blood pressure and cortisol levels (stress hormone). Try to squeeze in at least 15-30 minutes of “me-time” before tackling evening demands. Catch a sports update or, better yet, shoot hoops or enjoy any outdoor activity — time spent in green spaces and nature has been shown to significantly reduce stress.
Form a “home” team. Kids can handle more responsibility than you may think. Research shows that even toddlers can be helpful around the home! Assign everyone their own duties, such as laying out their clothes and packing their bags for the next day. Delegate tasks to others to unburden your plate, which takes stress off the morning, gives back time and creates more capable kids in the long run.
Wait — did you remember to do some deep breathing today? Inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling through your mouth can help alleviate stress and keep your heart rate under control. Try breathing in for six seconds, hold for two, and then breathe out for seven. Do this at intervals throughout the day for best results — in the car, at your desk, anywhere.
You’re finally ready to wind down, and a good night’s sleep is a final step to managing stress. If you’ve taken measures to lower stress over your entire day, it should be easier to settle in. But there is always another thing you can do to put stress to rest: Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and some insights into what might work best for you.