The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes an annual Stress in America report that provides a snapshot of the stressors facing us today. In their 2016 report, 58 percent of people surveyed cited ‘work’ as a main stressor. We’re expected to put work before everything else, answer emails at 10 pm, show up when we’re ill, and perform at our absolute best at all times.
But, let’s be honest, your work week isn’t just a work week. You might have kids playing sports, or meetings for the board you sit on, or the car needs an oil change. There’s always something that comes up. The following scenario is all too common: Wake up late, rush out without eating breakfast, pick up something quick and easy for lunch, stay at work late, hit traffic on the way home, realize there’s nothing in the fridge, order take out and watch Netflix. Rinse and repeat. So, not only is our work day stressing us out, but our lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and limited exercise adding to our current mental state.
We’ve heard this before…stress raises our cortisol levels and when our cortisol is constantly elevated, it puts us at risk for myriad health concerns. So, with the state of our stress not getting any better and the state of workplace health culture very slowly improving, what are some ways we can mitigate the impact of stress on our mental and physical well-being? Not only do we want to minimize stress as it’s happening, but we want to be proactive in combating it before it takes over.
Here are the top 6 ways:
1. Meal prep: This is a great #1, go-to way of making sure you’re set up for success during the workweek. It’s a triple whammy: meal prepping means you won’t stress about having to cook each night, you won’t have to spend money eating out, and you won’t have to stress about spending money and eating out! Do yourself a favor and spend 3 hours meal prepping once per week. Enlist your spouse and kids to make it a family activity! The internet is overflowing with resources, recipes, and hacks for making meal prep a pain-free process. It really can be a simple, pain-free process! You’ll be so happy when you’re driving home from work to know that it’s already taken care of.
2. 10 minute walk: Taking a walk when you get home from work can help in more ways than one. First, walking (or any type of exercise) boosts endorphins which in turn can reduce our stress hormones. This also gets us out of the house which is great for those of us that tend to binge-snack as soon as we walk thru the door. Bonus points for finding a path that has a lot of greenery which can help put us in a sort of meditative state calming both our body and our mind.
3. Eat a snack: Wait, didn’t we just say to go for a walk instead? What we mean is to avoid stress-eating…if you typically want to reach for the ice cream after a stressful day, eating a nourishing snack can help. Pick some healthy fats and protein like a handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg to hold you over until dinner. This will keep you from eating your way through the house before you’ve even finished cooking.
4. Put on some music: Music that you love can flood your brain with feel-good chemicals like dopamine. When you know you have an especially long commute home, find your favorite tunes for an easy way to reduce anxiety levels. Extra points for throwing in some dance moves.
5. Put the phone down: Yep, our phones are stressing us out like never before. Placing our phone in the other room allows us to be more present with our significant others and/or our kids (human interaction can reduce cortisol levels). It also keeps us from checking email after hours, and limiting screen time after dark will help you fall asleep faster and have a more restful night of sleep (you guessed it, lowering those stress levels).
6. Finally, “treat yo’ self”: Do something JUST FOR YOU. Take a warm bath, read one chapter of a book, have a glass of wine, enjoy a piece of dark chocolate. Do all of them at once! Whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed. It will go a long, long way in improving your overall health and well-being.
The goal here is to find ways that both help you relax in the moment as well as take a proactive approach to managing stress. Think out what part(s) of your day cause you the most worry and then figure out one (healthy) tool, task, or action that can help minimize that stressor. If sitting in traffic to get to the gym after work makes you want to pull your hair out, try going in the morning when traffic is lighter. Whatever it might be, pick just one thing to start with and see how it goes. What ways have you found to help reduce stress? Share them with us!