Next time someone asks you how you're doing, we dare you to resist answering with, "Stressed." Not sure you can do it? Stress expert Jan Bruce of Stress Management Solution Program meQuilibrium.com is telling us - and you - how.
"If you want to start getting a grip on your stress levels, commit to just one of the following list of 8 healthy behaviours," Jan says. "Sticking to even one of them can help you feel better instantly. Which should you choose? Whichever feels the easiest, whichever you feel will offer you the greatest benefit, or whichever is calling you. There is no one right answer."
Get a full night of sleep - most nights
Changing your sleeping habits won't happen overnight (no pun intended). Making a point of turning off all the electronics and lights at night and hitting the hay earlier takes dedication - and time. It's unrealistic to expect a good night of sleep every night, but most nights? That's doable!
"Make it your goal to prioritize sleep on most nights, giving yourself some wiggle room to stay up late once in awhile," Jan recommends. "As much as possible, try to get into a routine of going to sleep and awakening at the same time each night and morning and notice how your energy and clarity rise."
Remember, the DVR is your friend! On the nights you're wiped, give into bed and tape your favourite late night shows so you can enjoy them over the weekend.
Get exercise 4 days a week
Many people claim that the reason they don't exercise is because they don't have enough time, but that excuse is tired. Make the time! A 30 minute workout is just 2% of your day. When you look at it that way, you should be able to squeeze that little bit in at least every other day.
"Few people can hit the gym every day," Jan says. "Instead, aim to workout more days per week than you skip it. If formal exercise isn’t for you, opt for doing something active, like walking to work, or playing tag with the kids, 5 or 6 days a week. You’ll sleep better, your digestion will hum, and your body won’t feel so creaky."
The key to making exercise happen is finding something that works for you. If you don't like it, you won't do it. Haven't found a workout you enjoy yet? Check out our fave YouTube workout videos.
Eat a home-cooked meal every day
When people hear "home-cooked", they think of complicated recipes, numerous ingredients, and endless dirty pots and pans. Not necessarily! Preparing meals at home can be as simple as making a breakfast of scrambled eggs or PB&J on toast. The key is to spending more time in your kitchen, which doesn't have to equal hours slaving over a stove.
"Food nourishes the soul as much as the stomach," Jan advises. "When you eat out, you are not only more likely to eat less healthfully and consume more calories, you’re also losing the benefit of having someone who loves you (this includes you) prepare your food for you. Eating more home-cooked food will keep you grounded and healthy."
Schedule some quiet time (without your mobile)
Unplugging is difficult, especially for those of us who depend on our mobile devices for work. But in order to nip stress in the bud, it's absolutely necessary.
"The busier you are, the more you need time to do nothing. Silence gives you time to digest the day’s events and to hear your true thoughts and feelings. Vegging in front of the TV doesn’t count. Neither does checking your email on your phone. Dedicate 10 minutes a day to just be," Jan suggests.
Leave a post-it with the word "BE" on it somewhere in your home as a reminder to take a 10-minute timeout when you need it.
Drink up, buttercup! Staying refreshed doesn't just keep you physically healthy - it boosts you mentally, too.
"Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue and brain fog," Jan says. Thirst can also be misinterpreted as hunger and trigger a raid on the leftover pastries in the office kitchen—which in turn causes a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash. Start each morning with a big glass of water and stay on top of your game by always having a glass of water at the ready."
Not a big fan of the taste of plain water? Try adding a little fresh fruit or mint to your pitcher, or opt for a lightly flavoured, sparkling version.
Play with your friends and family regularly
Another key to busting stress? Going out and having some fun! Make time in your day to play - whether it be with your kids or man or pet dog.
"Play boosts creativity, fun and levity—all great antidotes to stress," Jan says. "Doing it with people you love boosts your connection and support system." Playing doesn't have to involve games or fanfare. It can be as simple as relaxing in the park with some friends.
"Study after study has found that people with strong social networks are happier and healthier for longer than people without. So find a way to invest in your relationships—it will pay you back in a myriad of ways."
Cut back on caffeinated beverages
Coffee: our best friend and our worst enemy. This caffeinated wonder is tricky, and one you shouldn't become too dependent on.
"Caffeine may make you feel mentally sharp, but it eats away at your well-being in important ways. First, even moderate caffeine intake can make it harder to sleep at night, and poor sleep is a major culprit in feeling fuzzy and blah," Jan says.
It turns out caffeine is also dehydrating. Not good! Be mindful of how much caffeine you consume and choose your beverages with care. Avoid fizzy pop as much as possible too.
Next time you're craving that second cup, try taking a 5-minute walk around the office or outside. You may be surprised to get the same result - with less downside.
Find a manageable way to give back to your community
Many people want to be able to volunteer, but hesitate to get involved for fear it'll become a complete time suck. Contributing to the greater good around you don't have to be difficult, unpleasant, or an added layer of stress. It can be as simple as spending a few hours a month at a nearby soup kitchen or Goodwill.
"You don’t need to single-handedly save the world," Jan reassures us. "But the more connected you feel to the community around you, the more resilient you’ll be in the face of stress. Is there some simple way you can get involved in something outside the walls of your home and office? Finding a meaningful activity that you enjoy can sustain you when times get tough."
Philanthropy does a mind good. Whether you decide to run a half marathon for charity or volunteer to with a local cause, make sure that what you're doing leaves you feeling fulfilled, not frustrated.
Which stress-busting tip will you choose to try first? Tweet us @sofeminineUK