How you respond to stress may be a greater determinant of your future health than even your nutrition or exercise habits. With long work hours and multiple running lists of chores, errands, and other obligations, we live a harried lifestyle in which personal fulfillment comes last and stress runs rampant. Without mental rest and personal replenishment, this type of unrelenting stress, will take a serious toll on our health — unless we choose otherwise.
To demonstrate just how serious the stress and health connection is, this study looked at the measure of cortisol in the hair and determined it was a clear predictor for cardiovascular risk and type 2 diabetes. In fact, the researchers found the stress levels to be as predictive of heart disease as other more conventional risk factors! Another recent study showed that the top 20% most stressed employees had a 79% increased risk of heart disease. While relational stress can take its toll, work-related stress is often the most common source of non-physical stress we encounter. Job stress isn't always a bad thing, if work was too easy, it would leave people bored and keep them from growing, which is important for job satisfaction. It’s when pressure becomes too great, hours too long, or breaks too infrequent that work negatively influences health.
As crucial as nutrition and exercise are to our basic health, clearly reigning in stress plays a vital role as well. We often hear about the importance of “managing” stress for relieving the immediate effects on our health. However, there’s another take on stress, that’s less about alleviating or managing symptoms, but instead diffusing the power of the stressors themselves. Some of the best ways to blunt the impact of stress aren’t just about keeping stress at bay but about filling our lives with enough positive experiences and inputs to counter stressful experiences as a whole. It’s what I’ll call the “long view” on stress–and it’s about living less frazzled and more fulfilled.
6 Tips to Living Life Less Frazzled and More Fulfilled
1. Use your vacation time.
In 2012, Americans took an average of 12 days of vacation, less than half of what most Europeans take. When you break that down, it’s only one vacation day per month. What’s more, nearly 60% of us deliberately forgo the vacation days allotted to us in our jobs. This isn’t a good way to let the body and mind recover throughout the year. While it’s difficult to say that vacation time will directly improve health, research linking stress to serious physical and mental health issues, as well as job burnout, continues to grow.
2. Schedule unplugged personal time.
If you have a tendency to bring work home and get caught for several hours on the weekend, be sure to schedule yourself some personal down time. Work has a way of filling every minute if it’s allowed to. Make most, if not all, of those personal hours unplugged time. Turn off your phone. Don’t check email or social networking sites. Put the technology aside and relish the real, non-virtual moment with your family and friends.
3. Get outside everyday.
Sure, not every day can include a leisurely hike in a remote forest. Nonetheless, we can take advantage of small moments in the day by drinking our morning coffee on the front porch, eating dinner outdoors, or going for a walk over our lunch hour. We can turn off the television at night and sit outside to talk or read. On weekends or days off, we can prioritize “green” time by getting some outdoor exercise in, biking or walking, or spending time in a favorite local park.
4. Treat sleep as sacred.
I can’t stress enough how much this will change your life. We’re naturally diligent about setting our alarms to get up in the morning to be on time for work, school, or other obligations. How about setting an alarm to go to bed at night? Consider it an obligation to yourself. You’ll be healthier, happier, more energetic, and more productive if you allow yourself the chance for adequate rest. An added bonus — you won’t need to bombard yourself with caffeine the next day.
Act in sync with your circadian rhythms by powering down a couple hours before bed if you can. When you need to use blue screens shortly before bed (e.g. phones, laptops, etc.), wear yellow-tinted glasses to counter the blue light, which interferes with melatonin production. The sooner you can put the power equipment away, however, the better. Leave your inbox or Facebook for the morning. You’ll relax more with a good book or a quiet chat and fall asleep more easily.
5. Do one thing every week for pure pleasure.
You may love painting, wood working or discussing the latest bestselling novel in a book club. Alternatively, you enjoy rock climbing or hitting the golf range. What about a movie (minus the carb coma of popcorn, soda and candy)? We all have things we like that don’t necessarily make us more productive, intelligent or better at our jobs. As long as it isn’t actually hurting your health (like a weekend bender) do it! These passions and pastimes are an integral part of who we are and how we enjoy life. In prioritizing them, we “exercise” the dimensions of ourselves that can languish and leave us feeling unfulfilled and more prone to the effects of everyday stress.
6. Do one thing everyday for relaxation.
While developing genuine mindfulness practices can offer enormous stress-relieving and health-enhancing benefits, simply incorporating a casual relaxation routine each day can make a definitive difference in our personal contentment. It can be a focused and formal activity like yoga or Tai Chi, or something as basic as a quiet evening walk to reduce cortisol or something more thoughtful like writing in a gratitude journal. Whatever relaxes your mind and lets you live pleasantly in the moment will offer you benefit.
These are just a few ideas among many for infusing your life with more fulfillment to counteract the frenzy of everyday stress.
Click +1 below, then share your favorite ways to live life less frazzled and more fulfilled.