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(p. 132) 10 Tips for Well-Being 

(p. 132) 10 Tips for Well-Being
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date: 16 January 2021

Guidelines for Taking Good Care of Yourself

Stressful life experiences are sometimes unavoidable. Negative stress feeds on worry, fear, and anxiety, creating a vicious cycle that can lead to health problems. Managing stress is about taking charge of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, environment (home and work), and your coping skills. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, exercise, and fun. Common signs of stress include trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, poor concentration, uncharacteristic mistakes or errors, missed deadlines, anger or outbursts, and increased alcohol or drug abuse. Luckily, there are simple ways to help control your stress! In this handout, we will discuss ways you can reduce stress and make your life more enjoyable.

Tip 1: Get a Good Night’s Rest

Most people need around 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to feel rested. Not getting a sufficient amount of sleep will increase your stress and may cause you to think irrationally. It can also affect your immune system (you get sick more often when under high stress) and your judgment. People are more likely to snap over minor irritations when under a lot of stress. Here are some tips to help improve your sleep:

  • Go to bed as soon as you feel tired. Sleep cycles cause people to feel tired approximately every 90 minutes, and if you ignore the cues you may have to wait for another 90 minutes.

  • Set an alarm so that you wake you at the same time each morning, even on weekends and holidays. This helps your body to get into a regular sleep–wake routine.

  • Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. Refrain from reading, watching TV, or eating in bed.

  • Get out of bed if you cannot sleep after trying for 30 minutes and go back to bed as soon as you feel tired. Do something enjoyable when you get up (e.g., watching TV or reading a book). Make sure that it is a quiet and relaxing activity, not one that will stimulate your brain too much.

  • Do not watch the clock. Doing so results in worrying that you are not sleeping, which keeps your mind active and prevents you from falling asleep.

  • (p. 133) Make a list of your problems on a piece of paper before going to bed, then throw the paper out or put it aside to address in the morning. Say to yourself, “There’s nothing I can do about this tonight.”

  • Avoid consuming caffeine (tea, coffee, sodas, chocolate) after mid-afternoon.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs. Although alcohol or other drugs can induce sleep, it causes rebound insomnia several hours later and interferes with the restorative quality of sleep.

  • Practice breathing retraining or other relaxation before going to bed. This helps to calm your body and mind and promotes entry into sleep.

  • Sleep with a minimum of coverings so that you do not overheat. Turn off heaters, electric blankets, and keep a window open. Overheating causes restlessness and a lack of deep sleep.

Tip 2: Eat a Healthy Diet

Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so it is important to be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day. Eating well can help prevent or control high blood pressure, heart disease, indigestion, constipation, diabetes, and obesity. Fueling yourself with nutrient-dense foods can boost your immune system, helping you maintain a healthy weight. Carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals are all important for energy, mental concentration, and emotional stability. A balanced diet will help you stay focused, alert, energetic, and healthy during times of stress. In contrast, if you live on fast food or frequently skip meals, you are more likely to perform poorly or get sick during times of stress. Healthy eating plays a crucial role in your ability to deal with stress.

A healthy diet consists of the following:

  • fruits and vegetables a day

  • 5–6 servings of grain daily

  • Protein 2–3 times a day

  • Some fat at each meal (5–10 grams minimum)

  • 6–8 cups fluids

  • General outline:

    • Breakfast—grain, fruit, dairy

    • Lunch—2 grain, protein, veggies, dairy, fruit

    • (p. 134) Dinner—2–3 grains, protein, veggies, fruit

    • Snacks—fruit/dairy, grain/dairy, grain/fruit, veggies

  • Dining out—half-portion size

  • Fast foods—avoid supersizing

Tip 3: Avoid Caffeine

The temporary “high” that caffeine provides often ends with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of caffeine in your diet, you will feel more relaxed and sleep better. Many people use caffeine to keep going when they need rest. Too much caffeine will contribute to poor sleep and will add to the negative effects of stress on your body.

Caffeine is a drug that makes you more mentally alert; however, being in a constant state of alertness is not necessarily healthy for you. Negative consequences of too much caffeine include gastrointestinal problems, stomach pain, inability to sleep, irritability, restlessness, and trouble concentrating. If you find it impossible to eliminate caffeine altogether, try switching to decaf coffee or try drinking fewer cups of coffee, soda or tea each day.

Tip 4: Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce and prevent stress! Nothing beats aerobic exercise (running, jogging, spin class, cycling) for releasing pent-up stress and tension. Physical activity promotes overall fitness, and it helps manage emotional stress. Exercise can benefit your sleep patterns and make it easier to fall and stay asleep. People who exercise on a regular basis reap several important benefits, including weight loss, increased stamina, fewer health risks, stronger cardiovascular system, enhanced mood, and a longer life. Exercise activates your immune system, which means you will be less susceptible to viral illnesses, such as colds and flu.

Don’t do anything too strenuous at first. Take a walk, or use the stairs instead of the escalator; even these small steps can make a big difference over time. When you are ready, start engaging in regular physical exercise 3–5 times per week for 30 minutes, like jogging, walking, swimming, biking, dancing, yoga, etc. These frequent workouts are great stress relievers because they will release mood-enhancing chemicals, like endorphins, the mind-body’s natural painkiller and mood calmer. When everything is up in the air, exercise helps us feel grounded. If possible, try to find an exercise buddy who will help motivate you to stay on track in your exercise regimen. Vary your routine. You may be less likely to get bored or injured if you change your routine. Make sure to drink plenty of water when exercising to avoid dehydration.

(p. 135) Tip 5: Avoid Alcohol or Drug Use

Alcohol and other drugs are sometimes thought to reduce stress. However, the reality is that alcohol and drugs merely create more stress. Trying to cope with stress by smoking, drinking, or using pills or drugs may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run. How? Alcohol and other drugs can cause physical health impairment and legal problems that can create a more stressful reality. Using alcohol or drugs can lead to poor decision-making, impaired thinking, injury, legal problems, fights or arguments with others, and trouble sleeping. Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it affects neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals in the brain) and the long-term effect is depressing, not uplifting. Problems caused by alcohol include headaches, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, high blood pressure, cancer, liver disease, hepatitis, cirrhosis and cancer of the liver, alcohol poisoning, brain atrophy (shrinkage) and heart or respiratory failure. Alcohol also depresses your immune system, which means you are more likely to contract viral illnesses such as flu and infections. Finally, alcohol can make mental problems (such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD) significantly worse over time.

Other long-term effects of heavy alcohol use include loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach ailments, sexual impotence, central nervous system damage, and memory loss. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy, short term escape from stress, but the escape is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.

Tip 6: Spend Time with Friends

Great conversation and laughter with friends is an excellent way to reduce stress. Try to plan a couple of activities with friends each week. The activities don’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. Take a 20-minute walk at lunch with a friend, work out or run with a partner, invite a few friends to lunch or dinner, or attend an AA or NA meeting together. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family, coworkers, or spiritual leaders.

Talk to others about your problems; do not hold them in. When under extreme stress, it is very natural to withdraw from the world and focus your energies exclusively on solving the problem at hand. However, this may not be ideal. Many stressful situations cannot be resolved without the help of other people. Work to expand and develop your network of friends so that there are at least 1–2 people you feel comfortable calling in times of need. Alternatively, consider joining a local support group (e.g., AA/NA, at your church or place of worship, VA or other local hospital groups).

(p. 136) Tip 7: Meditate

Meditation helps quiet the mind and relax our thoughts. Next time you feel stressed, try this meditative exercise:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Sit quietly and comfortably and close your eyes.

  • Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body, relaxing each muscle group.

  • Focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out; this will help you focus and avoid distraction. If it helps, concentrate on a calming word, such as, PEACE, CALM, or RELAX.

  • When you find thoughts popping into your mind, do not worry. This is completely normal. Try not to dwell on the thoughts or push them away. Just observe them and notice them.

  • Do this for 10 minutes. Gradually, you will feel more and more calm and relaxed.

Tip 8: Engage in Prayer or Other Spiritual Activities

Research shows that prayer can help lower stress and improve mood. Prayer may not be for everyone, but for many, it helps create a sense of belonging and connection with a higher power. If you have a faith system or believe in a higher power, using prayer can help you relax and free your mind from negative thoughts. Daily prayer can help create a feeling of centeredness and inner strength. You can start your day with a prayer, or when problems are piling up and you cannot solve them, sit down and pray for a few minutes. For some people, attending a place of worship can provide support and be fun.

Tip 9: Relax Your Mind and Body

Include some time to rest and relax in your daily schedule. Do not allow other obligations, meetings or commitments to encroach upon this “protected” time. Use the time to recharge your batteries. Simple ways to relax are:

  • Turn off all technology (e.g.., cell phone, TV computer, radio).

  • Get a massage.

    • Getting a massage provides deep relaxation, and as the muscles in your body relax so does your mind.

  • (p. 137) Call a good friend.

  • Take a nap.

  • Spend time in nature (e.g., go to a park, beach).

  • Play with a pet.

  • Take a warm bath.

  • Take a yoga class.

    • Yoga is an excellent stress-relief technique. It involves a series of moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. The physical and mental benefits of yoga are numerous.

Some people prefer to relax right before bed time. Others prefer to relax first thing in the morning to start the day refreshed and revitalized. Consider if there are times in the day when your stress level is high or when your energy is low. These can be ideal times to schedule in a relaxation activity.

Tip 10: Take Time for Yourself

Nurture yourself. Be a good friend to yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you will be in a much better place to handle life stressors when they occur. Take some “me time.” Pick a day, an hour of a day, whatever works for you. That time is yours to do with as you please. Find an activity that makes you feel good. It may be dancing, listening to music, reading a book, hiking in the mountains, working in the garden, taking photographs, going to the movies, golfing, swimming. Make a list of activities that give you joy and schedule them in each week.