Stress is par-for-the course for many of us these days. We live busy lives and trying to keep up with those lives can create tension and anxiety. Simply watching the news or turning on the computer can result in a rise in blood pressure. It’s not hard to recognize that the pace of life in 2017 is demanding and simply trying to keep that pace can create stress. What do we do about it?
While some amount of stress has been shown to be good for us, too much stress is unhealthy. An Ohio State University study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that dealing with persistent, long-term stress (like that from a toxic boss, caring for an elderly parent, or dealing with financial difficulties) can actually change your genes, leading to an increase in inflammation.
The following are a few ways to cope with daily stress when we feel the tension it causes. While these coping strategies will not alleviate the stressor necessarily, they can help us to deal with it and to obtain interior calm.
1. Get outside!
Just breathing in the fresh outdoor air for more than a few moments every day can change perspective. Not surprisingly, research has shown that vitamin D might play an important role in regulating mood and warding off depression. I know that when I start my day with a run or walk outside, my mood is often lifted and it can make a difference in the rest of my day. Even just sitting on a park bench watching people walk by can help to elevate mood simply by seeing others and getting outside of negative thoughts that can replay in my head. If we try, we can see God’s beauty in nature all around us. Right now I am in Maine, and the grandeur of God is visible all around me. Yet even on my everyday walk with the dog at home, I can see the beauty of God around me if I open my eyes to it.
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls. -St. Mother Teresa
2. Develop a routine.
Try going to bed at approximately the same time and waking up at the same time as well. Begin the day with prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way that many priests and religious make time for daily habitual prayer, and we as lay people can as use it as well. Say the rosary on the way to work or some time every day as a part of a spiritual routine. “Our bodies naturally crave routine, and by focusing on consistent rituals you increase your body’s ability to deal with the physical aspects of stress,” says Christy Matta, a dialectical behavior therapist and the author of The Stress Response. When stressful situations leave us feeling powerless, which is a large part of why we feel stress in the first place, following a routine allows us to take back control over part of our day and can help alleviate some of the anxiety and tension we feel.
“Say the Holy Rosary. Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” –St. Josemaria Escriva
3. Say thank-you!
Believe it or not, expressing gratitude can alleviate stress. Studies show that cultivating a sense of gratitude can help us to maintain a more positive mood in daily life and contribute to greater emotional well-being. Gratitude reduces a multitude of negative emotions, ranging from jealousy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher and author of The Little Book of Gratitude, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. Next time you are feeling negative about something like your job, or a particular person, try thinking of a few reasons you are grateful for them instead. It doesn’t take much time to redirect negative thoughts. Say a simple prayer for that person or for yourself and ask God to help you see the good instead of the bad. You might be surprised at the change in your sense of stress from a simple change of heart.
“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” -Henry Ward Beecher
What other stress-relieving tips would you add to this list?