10 ways to curb chronic stress

I recently visited The United Way of Greater Rochester to talk about BURNOUT PREVENTION, and we had a fantastic discussion about these 10 chronic stress-busters. I wanted to share these ideas with you.

Some may see super obvious…but if you find yourself thinking “yeah, yeah…I know that already” and yet you have not successfully been able to implement the suggestion, you might want to ask yourself what that’s about.

Which one resonates with you the most? What gets in the way of taking action on certain ones?

  1. Be honest with yourself about what recharges you.

If you’re an extrovert, it’s probably social time with friends; if you’re an introvert, it’s probably alone time. Or maybe you’d like a mix of both. The key here is to find ways to include more restorative time in each and EVERY week, and ideally each and every day, without getting bogged down with guilt. Time to recharge is not a luxury item, it’s a necessity.

  1. Take care of your body with exercise.

Notice how this is phrased: exercise should feel rejuvenating and restorative, not like a punishment. If you love Beachbody workout videos, that’s awesome! But intense workouts are not the only way. Walking is more than acceptable, and if you wear the right clothing, you can even walk in winter. Try adding music or a podcast or audiobook to your routine to make it more appealing. Or find some yoga workouts on YouTube. Or get a jump rope and head out to your driveway or garage. Be creative!

  1. Feed yourself delicious, healthy food that you like to eat.

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied. If you tend to snack or stress-eat, or see food as a primary source of pleasure or entertainment, you may want to take a closer look at this pattern. Sometimes food seems like the ultimate treat/reward after a long day, but over time turning to food in this way can create weight issues and exacerbate feelings of guilt and powerlessness.

  1. Set better boundaries with technology.

You don’t have to be at the mercy of every text, email and push notification that comes your way. Figure out who the people are that you absolutely have to respond to in real time (your kids, your boss) and manage your phone so that you do not get other alerts. Put limits on social media use. Carve out time when your phone is off or on silent so you can put your full attention on other activities.

  1. Find ways to nourish yourself that truly are nourishing.

There may be nothing wrong with the occasional Netflix binge or margarita, but these aren’t sustainable ways to take care of yourself and can have pretty negative consequences when done too often or too much. One way to get to the bottom of what truly lights you up is to ask yourself what you loved to do as a child that you lost sight of as you became an adult. Coloring? Reading fiction? Playing board games?

  1. Get enough sleep.

What gets in the way of your ability to get a full night’s sleep? Maybe you have a child who doesn’t sleep through the night or maybe you get caught in a worry cycle; maybe you go into perfectionistic mode with work responsibilities or find yourself going down a Facebook rabbit hole every night. Being sleep deprived is like walking around with stress-tinged glasses on all day. Your patience will be low, you’ll be more prone to overreacting or taking out your frustration on the people you love. It’s worth troubleshooting this as much as you possible can so that you are giving yourself the best chance possible of recharging each night.

  1. Pay attention to your dreams and wishes.

This includes acknowledging your deepest desires, no matter how ridiculous or impossible they may seem — a happier marriage, a better relationship with your teen, a healthier body, more rewarding friendships, more money. As adults, we sometimes get used to pushing aside what we want, focusing instead on pleasing others. Your dream may not seem attainable right this second, but even taking small steps toward it each day can feel empowering and energizing. You may even find it helpful to do some journaling: imagine how you’ll feel and what you will think if you get what you want. Can you start acting as though these dreams have already come true? What kinds of think would you think about, feel and do if you were already where you want to be?

  1. Cultivate self-compassion.

Have you ever listened in on the monologue that goes on in your head all day? You may be surprised to realize that you’re not all that nice to yourself, particularly when you make mistakes. But the truth is, if you’re striving for improvement or change in some area of your life, you’re not going to get it perfect — and beating yourself up along the way will not help you get where you’re going any faster. In fact, it will almost definitely stall your progress. Change starts with accepting yourself exactly as you are right now and imagining what you want for yourself, believing you are deserving of good things, and creating the thoughts and feelings you want to have in the here and now. Meditation can really help with this, particularly loving-kindness meditations.

  1. Cut down on decision fatigue.

We make hundreds of decisions every day, and this can really add onto our overall stress levels. You may not think that choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast is a big deal, and in and of itself, it’s not… but research shows that we really can use up our mental energy when we bombard ourselves with decisions all day. One way to cut down on decision fatigue is to create routines or protocols for certain things. You may decide to eat the same exact thing for breakfast every day for a week, or have a rotating “schedule” for your outfits. You might not check e-mail until after 10:00 a.m. to give yourself an hour to work on longer-term projects before getting caught in the response-mill. Find ways to make decisions for yourself ahead of time and see how this affects your overall energy level.

  1. Get high-quality therapy.

OK, I’m biased here. But I think therapy is so worth the investment in time and money. Especially if you need another perspective as you sort out some of the above suggestions! The cornerstone to a fulfilling life is mental wellness — i.e. the ability to recognize and regulate your emotions, ask for what you want and need, create healthy and happy relationships. Therapy is so much more than just talking or venting. It’s about exploring the blocks and barriers specific to you and your life, getting your relationships in order, understanding more about why you do the things you do, feeling happier and more in control… the possibilities are endless.

Let me know which ones you’ve tried — which work for you, which have bombed, and which ones you’re going to try to integrate into your life.

Also, quick reminder that my new co-ed process group, Relationships Group, starts on Tuesday 3/6! This is for anyone who could stand to do better with communication, arguing fairly, identifying and expressing emotions…it’s going to be awesome.

I also have a women’s DBT skills group starting on Monday 2/26.

Limited spots remain in both groups. If you’re interested in either, fill out an interest form here.