Everyone experiences stress. It’s a fact of life that’s impossible to escape. But while we can’t eliminate stress, it’s important to find ways to better manage it and reduce its impact on our health, including brain function.
Experts associate high levels of stress with a host of health issues, ranging from headaches and insomnia to outbursts of anger, drug and alcohol misuse and social withdrawal. It also can cause higher blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and impaired brain function.
High stress impacts age-related cognitive decline, as well. In a study published in BMC Psychiatry, researchers reported that “over the long-term, chronic life stress has been consistently associated with poorer cognitive function, accelerated cognitive decline and increased incidence of dementia.”
Even in the short-term, stress causes cognitive problems. Minor, daily stressors produce transient effects on cognition by reducing attentional resources needed for information processing, the study found. In other words, you are so stressed about an event earlier in the day that it’s difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Clearly, it’s best to reduce stress anyway you can. But what are some of the best methods?
Everyday Ways To Reduce Stress
Everyone has it within their power to reduce stress, but it takes commitment. Stress, as pointed out by health experts, is sneaky. Most of us don’t realize we suffer from stress until it manifests itself through health issues with the body or brain.
The best strategy is to stay ahead of stress, not wait for it to present itself with symptoms. The following ideas on reducing stress are all things you can incorporate into your daily lives without a visit to the doctor, medication or taking more trips to the beach (although that’s not a bad idea if you have a beach nearby).
Get The Right Amount of Sleep
It’s amazing how life improves when you consistently get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. The first step is to set a schedule so that you go to bed and get up at about the same time. Other tips include making the bed comfortable, arranging pillows so you have a good sleep position throughout the night, and keeping the bedroom dark and quiet (no television on, for example).
Learn How To Relax
Your tense and you might not even know it (although those around you probably do). One way to reduce the tension and stress is to learn relaxation techniques. They can be as simple as taking time each day to simply listen to music as you sit and quietly practice deep breathing. Or you can try incorporating meditation and yoga into your life.
Address Bad Habits
Over the decades, we all develop bad habits that rove hard to shake. There are the ones everyone knows about, such as smoking or consuming too much alcohol. But other bad habits can include eating too much unhealthy food or drinking too much caffeine (especially later in the day). At the time, they all might seem to help with stress, but in truth they add to it. The best gift you can give yourself is to drop unhealthy habits.
Don’t Hold It In
If your stress is caused by something that was said or done either to or by you, address the situation as quickly as possible. The old advice for married couples about not going to bed angry or upset still applies and extends to friends and other relationships. Simply talking about an issue releases stress and makes a person feel better.
Learn to Say “No”
This is an area that causes many people enormous amounts of stress. It’s impossible to meet all the demands and expectations of everyone in your life. At some point, it helps to learn when to say, “No.” It helps to practice assertiveness and do it in such a way that you respect others while also standing up for your own rights.
Another smart move is to identify the things in life that are causing stress, and then eliminate or reduce them. One of the common issues is time management. People become overwhelmed with everything they must do on any given day. The best way to deal with that is by practicing better time management techniques (making schedules, giving yourself ample time to complete each task, etc.)
It may seem contradictory, but you can reduce stress by actually putting a little stress on your body through exercise. The difference is that regular exercise works the muscles in your body, which leads to tension release. It also can lead to better sleep and eating better.
Unfortunately, stress isn’t something that will completely disappear. But until you can live in a water house in Fiji or buy coastal property in Belize, you can put some of the above ideas into practice and get your stress down to manageable levels.