12 Research-Backed Practices for Enjoying Life Regardless of How Much You're Stressed at Work
Research shows most of us are feeling more overwhelmed and stressed out than ever before. Stress affects us not only psychologically but also physically. Feeling stressed evokes our fight-or-flight response, causing our heart rate to quicken, blood pressure to soar, blood-sugar levels to rise and digestion to slow.
This all takes a toll on our bodies, and studies show that between 60 and 80 percent of visits to primary-care physicians have a stress-related component. Not only that, but stress and anxiety leave many people facing burnout at their jobs, zapping their creativity and resilience.
However, there are ways to reclaim your peace and happiness when the pressures of life begin building up. The next time stress leaves you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, try these 12 research-backed ways to get right-side up again.
1. Get your body moving.
It turns out a little sweat can go a long way toward making you feel better. Getting up and going for a walk or engaging in exercise, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety, and tap into a natural high.
According to research conducted through Princeton University, getting your body moving helps reorganize the brain so it has a reduced response to stress and is better able to regulate feelings of anxiety. Those who are regularly active are better able to control feelings of distress and panic when put into stressful situations. The study also found that the brains of those who are sedentary behave differently under stress and aren’t able to function as well.
2. Avoid processed sugars.
That candy bar you’re stuffing in your face when you’re under pressure may actually be stripping you of the ability to think clearly and process information. UCLA researchers found that what you eat affects how you think. Eating a diet high in fructose alters the brain’s ability to learn and remember information over the long term.
However, adding omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to your meals can help minimize the damage by protecting the synapses -- the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning to take place.
The researchers said they were less concerned about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants. The bigger concern is manufactured and processed foods, which use sweeteners as preservatives.
3. Give your email notifications a break.
The constant stream of notifications that ding your phone or buzz your wrist through your smartwatch is putting undue pressure on you. Studies show that being constantly tethered to your email creates a “toxic source of stress” for many people.
Continuously checking and reading emails increases signs of tension and worry in people and reduces feelings of well-being. Push notifications have a way of making you feel that you must always be available for work. By turning it off for periods when you don’t want to be interrupted, you can seize control of your email rather being ruled by it.
4. Learn to exhale.
Filling your lungs with air and breathing deeply can bring instant calm your mind and body. Rhythmic breathing exercises are simple and easy to do anywhere. Start by setting a timer for three minutes. Then bring your focus to your breath.
Take deep breaths through your nose while you count to five. Hold your breath for five counts and then exhale for five counts. Repeat this for the remainder of your time and you will notice that your breath becomes deeper and slower, and your mind becomes clearer and more refreshed.
You can also do these breathing exercises while you walk, providing a stress-relieving dose of exercise as you deliver nourishing oxygen to your brain.
5. Superpower your brain with superfoods.
Your mind and body are like any engine: they need quality fuel to keep running smoothly. Eating the right foods gives you the nutrients and energy you require, but it also superpowers your brain and helps your body manage the effects of stress. Research has found that those who eat nuts, especially walnuts, perform better on cognitive tasks.
Meanwhile, blueberries and other kinds of berries have been found to protect the brain and may improve memory or even reverse memory loss. Scientists also believe that probiotics (such as those found in yogurt) may improve brain function.
Finally, those who follow a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans and grains retain more of their brain volume over a three-year period than those who do not.
6. Catch your Z’s.
Sleep is a necessary human function that allows our bodies and minds to recharge and rest. A poor night’s sleep may contribute to health problems and feelings of listlessness. Sleep problems also contribute to job burnout. Those who experience lack of sleep have higher levels of stress and more psychological strain.
The problem is, lack of sleep creates a vicious cycle of exhaustion and stress, where you can’t sleep because you feel stressed. You can break this by creating healthy sleep habits.
If you are experiencing insomnia and are tossing and turning all night, start by setting your sleep schedule for the amount of time you’re actually sleeping. Then gradually increase the time for sleep by 15 minutes a night. Make sure to give yourself time to wind down before bed and allow yourself to awaken gradually.
7. Chew your stress away.
Go ahead and chomp on a piece of gum. It ma reduce anxiety, improve your mood and relieve stress. One study showed that those who chewed gum while performing multitasking jobs were more alert, had less stress and the quality of their work was significantly better.
It’s not clear why gum chewing has such superpowers, but researchers believe the key has to do with chewing flavored gum (versus unflavored gum), which increases arousal in the brain and stimulates the senses of smell, taste and touch. This heightened sensory stimulation increases alertness and improves one’s mood.
8. Yoga, the mind–body connection.
Those deep stretches and difficult poses of yoga do more than work your muscles and help you gain flexibility. Studies show that regularly practicing yoga has multiple health benefits, such as improved fitness and lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, it’s a great way to relax and manage stress and anxiety.
Yoga combines physical poses and controlled breathing to induce a meditative state that can leave you feeling relaxed and at peace. Yoga has also been found to be an effective treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and may help your mind and body build resilience.
9. Music soothes the soul.
Music is a powerful stress-management tool that relaxes the mind and body. Listening to music can aid in mediation. It can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps decrease levels of stress hormones.
The type of music you listen to has an impact on how well it works, with slower classical music having the most soothing and relaxing effect. One study showed that people who listen to relaxing music before going into a stressful situation had increased coping abilities and that feelings of stress had less influence on their cognitive processes.
10. Meditate and practice mindfulness.
There is growing evidence that adding a little Zen to your life will quell symptoms of anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
Mediation is also effective in helping people who deal with chronic anxiety, a condition that leads to distracting thoughts and worries. These unproductive worries can be nagging to the point of disabling. Practicing mindfulness and meditating regularly can help you recognize these negative thoughts and accept that they are part of how you’re feeling without letting them control you.
Like yoga, meditation and mindfulness involve focusing on deep breathing and calming your body and mind.
11. Engage your sense of smell.
Your olfactory sense has a powerful connection to your emotions. Smells may evoke a feeling of happiness: the smell of freshly cut grass may remind you of summer or the smell of pine trees may remind you of Christmas. Researchers have found that certain smells induce feelings of relaxation and decreased anxiety.
12. Find your funny bone.
It turns out that watching a hilarious YouTube channel or looking up funny memes on social media may actually be good for your health. Research shows that a good laugh has an instant effect on your mental state and helps your body release tension and relieve feelings of stress. Laughter has also been shown to be a natural pain reliever.
A good chuckle releases endorphins and helps your body cool down its stress response while stimulating circulation, improving your mood and leaving you feeling happy and relaxed.
Find a few movies or websites that you find funny and keep them as handy stress-relievers for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s also helpful to try to find the humor in a stressful situation -- being able to laugh at yourself will do your mind and body good.