Talk of stress seems to be everywhere these days. But why?
After all, in many situations, stress is actually good. It can help motivate us to work harder, strive for more, and push through pain.
But it's important to note here that this is stress at its best — stress as the motivation to stay alive and thrive no matter what. Unfortunately, this is not how stress always manifests. Burning the candle at both ends — as many people do — turns out not to be the most productive way to live life and contributes to a cluttered and flustered state of mind.
Why Is It So Important to Manage Stress?
The negative effects of both acute and chronic stress are pervasive. They touch every aspect of our lives, and — worse — they build up over time. In a way, many of the most common health problems of today are directly linked to how much stress one experiences on a regular basis.
The Unexpected Effects of Stress
In the Workplace
If you manage a business, the health and wellness of your employees is something you consider on a regular basis. Naturally, you do this because you care about your workers, and you want them to be healthy and happy. Additionally, however, when you focus on lowering the stress levels of your employees and encouraging a healthier workplace, you’re also supporting your business.
This is because the eroding effects of stress can impact your business and bottom line just as much as they can impact employees individually. If the workplace is too stressful, tension-filled, and demanding, you can expect the following negative effects:
- Lowered productivity
- Lowered employee morale
- Higher absenteeism
- Higher employee turnover
- A lack of creativity and innovation
Aside from affecting your life in the workplace, stress can take its toll on your personal life as well. In fact, your entire well-being is at risk if you don't take the time to address pent-up stress and anxiety.
Simply in terms of your physical health, excess stress, built up over time, has been scientifically linked to the following conditions:
- Excessive weight gain
- Type II diabetes
- Decreased immune functioning
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Digestive conditions
- Cardiovascular disease
- Accelerated aging
- Chronic headaches and migraines
- Substance abuse and addiction
The Stress Response
Before we discuss how to manage stress, let’s touch briefly on something called the stress response.
The stress response is our body's natural reaction to encountering a threatening situation. Let's say, for example, that you were walking down the street when someone started to chase you for an unknown reason. Deep within each of us as human beings is what's called the fight or flight response. This response involves a surge of stress-related hormones that are ignited and course throughout our body in a situation like this one. These hormones put us on high alert and prepare our bodies physically and mentally to either flee or fight.
Of course, this is a very good response to have. You want to be prepared if you encounter someone chasing you down the street!
But let's face it: most people aren't chased down the street. This isn't a major source of stress for most of us in the modern age. What are the major sources of stress are things like being late for work, forgetting to do an important school assignment, overdrawing your checking account, or getting a bad employee review at work.
Sure, these are challenging situations. No one wants to pay an overdraft fee or forget an assignment. But the point is, they aren't life-threatening, and because of this, they don't necessitate the fight or flight stress response. Unfortunately, situations like these that are relatively minor do elicit the fight or flight stress response in many of us. Our nervous systems simply go on autopilot.
Now, you may be saying: what's the problem with that?
The problem is that this surge of hormones that occurs during fight or flight can have serious negative ramifications for your physical health. It pushes your heart to extreme limits, effectively harming your cardiovascular system every time it happens. It can also lead to digestive problems and other physical symptoms.
So what's the answer? It's all about reducing stress overall and learning how to control and ignite the relaxation response as a counter to fight or flight.
The Relaxation Response
The relaxation response is the answer to the stress response. According to Harvard Medical School, “The relaxation response may help people to counteract the toxic effects of chronic stress by slowing breathing rate, relaxing muscles, and reducing blood pressure.”
So, how do you awaken this elusive relaxation response? It’s all about learning how to manage stress correctly. This includes managing stress at home and at work. Concerning the latter, if you are an upper-level manager or business owner, learning how to control and activate the stress response through better stress management is important for you as well. By cultivating a workplace wellness program that aims to reduce stress within your workers, you’ll be looking at improved productivity, a more involved and creative staff, and happier and healthier employees overall.
So, let’s get started. Here are the best ways to manage stress at home and in the workplace.
Managing Stress at Home
1. Invest in In-Home Yoga
There are a multitude of reasons to begin a yoga practice. Not only does it help you live more in the present moment and cultivate mindfulness, it will also help you sleep better, deal with chronic pain, foster a sense of inner calm, and detoxify your body.
If time is tight and your schedule is packed, try Anahana’s in-home yoga services. We'll have one of our trained and experienced Anahana yoga instructors come to your home and perform individualized yoga instruction that is catered to your unique skill level and goals.
Stress and lack of sleep can create a vicious cycle within your life. If you don't get enough sleep, you'll get stressed the next day, and this can cause you to have trouble getting to sleep the following night. As you can imagine, this cycle can continue almost endlessly. In order to curb it, you’ll need to take measures to improve your sleep.
Start with the following tips:
- Invest in a white noise machine.
- Use chamomile or lavender essential oils in a mister or on your pillow at night
- Try doing yoga or another form of light exercise in the evening before bed
- Try the practice of yoga nidra for sleep
3. Cultivate a Mindful Diet
What you eat (or don’t eat) makes a huge difference in your stress levels, believe it or not. If your body is hungry for nourishment, it may not perform optimally — and neither will your mind. To take charge of your diet, learn the art of mindful eating and conscientious chewing. Also, take time to learn about the importance of healthy hydration.
4. Learn How to Meditate
Meditation can provide a silencing of the mind that is desperately needed by everyone in today’s day and age. From kids and seniors, to students and C-level executives, it’s one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. Not only does it cultivate deep breathing and focus on a regular basis, but it can also help you find clarity and centredness during especially difficult and stressful times.
Interested in starting a meditation practice? Anahana offers an array of instructive meditation services, all taught by highly-skilled and trained meditation instructors.
5. Try Forest Bathing
Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is a type of nature therapy that originated in Japan in the 1980s. It usually takes place in a forest as the name implies and under a canopy of trees. In true form, there may be a designated area for forest bathing to take place, where paths meander in and out of trees and the setting is decidedly peaceful and calming.
In such a place, you are meant to walk, breathe deeply, and enjoy your natural surroundings and atmosphere. It’s not about doing anything particular. It’s simply about spending time there. According to a plethora of research, the positive effects of forest bathing are unmistakable.
Managing Stress in the Workplace
1. Promote a Steady Work-Life Balance
Your employees all have personal lives that must tend to. It’s important that, as an employer, you understand this and encourage a strong work-life balance. This means not putting too many demands on the personal time of your workers, providing breaks and vacation time, and being understanding when personal issues arise.
2. Promote Workplace Wellness
These days, Gen Xers and Millennials are looking for employers who cultivate health and wellness as a core tenet of the workplace environment.
Implementing a workplace wellness program can move you closer to this goal. This may mean hosting yoga classes, encouraging outdoor time, and providing a mindfulness and meditation space within your office.
It's also important to get continual feedback from your workers. They are the ones who will dictate what a stress-free work environment should look like. As their employer, it's imperative that you listen to their ideas and hear their comments and criticisms in order to foster a more health-and-wellness-centric organization.
3. Foster Nature Therapy
Nature as therapy has been around for … well … as long as nature has been around! It has always been good for the soul to get outdoors — especially in beautiful locales such as parks, forests, and beaches. When it comes to the workplace, nature therapy simply means spending more time outside with your employees. You can do this by creating a restful walking space with benches and picnic tables outside your building. You might also encourage retreats and company events that take place outside in beautiful settings.
Another way to foster nature therapy is with walking meetings. Instead of holding your meetings in cramped and dimly-lit meeting rooms, go outside! Take your entire meeting outdoors and into nature. You can take a short walk around your building, walk downtown if you're close enough, or even drive everyone to a nearby park or nature preserve to hold your meeting there. These can be great times to bond with your employees, and studies even show that walking improves creativity.
Frequently Asked Questions About Stress Management Activities
What is nature therapy?
Nature therapy, or ecotherapy as it is sometimes called, includes a range of nature-based techniques meant to reduce stress, centre the mind, and calm the spirit. Nature therapy is conducted outdoors, usually in calm and relaxing forest settings or in gardens. There is no hard-and-fast set of rules for a nature therapy session. Rather, it is about relaxing with the environment, embracing the outdoors, and being one with the natural world.
What is forest bathing?
Forest bathing is the act of embracing the outdoors and spending time in nature — particularly, forests.
It is a practice that originated in Japan in the 1980s. There, it is called shinrin-yoku. There’s really no need to do anything specific when forest bathing. You will simply spend time in a natural forest setting (or sometimes, a garden). It’s good to find one that is calming and preferably quiet. You will walk slowly and take in the essence of what’s around you.
What are the best stress management activities for adults?
Adults struggling with stress can participate in yoga, start a meditation practice, cultivate mindfulness throughout the day, and do other helpful activities that foster a calm, clear mind. Regular physical fitness, outdoor time, participating in a hobby, and getting together with friends or family are all good ideas. It's also important to eat healthy, drink enough water, and get enough sleep.
What are the best stress management activities for students?
Students are often particularly sleep deprived, which can be a leading cause (and effect) of excess stress. For this reason, it's important to pay attention to the amount of sleep you get as a student and to invest in better sleep hygiene if you tend to have trouble sleeping on a regular basis. Other stress reduction ideas include limiting screen time, deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and Pilates.
What are the best stress management activities for seniors?
Meditation and mindfulness practice can be beneficial for seniors who struggle with stress, especially senior meditation services that are catered specifically to this group. In addition, it's important for seniors to get moving throughout the day. Light yoga meant specifically for seniors can be helpful here as well. Finally, take time to socialize and spend time outdoors. Often, senior citizens spend a lot of their time indoors, not socializing with others. Both of these things are extremely important for their health and wellness.
What are the best stress management activities for new moms?
New moms can reduce stress by first, asking for help. As a new mother, you are charged with a host of new responsibilities that you’ve never done before. That’s on top of taking care of your own body, which needs attention now too. The only way to handle this well is to ask your spouse or partner, parents, and relatives for help. In addition, when you do get a break, don’t work, do laundry, or clean. Instead, take time for yourself. Take a post-natal yoga class, have a bubble bath, read a book, meditate, or just sleep.
What if You Could Unwind Your Mind in Just 25 Minutes …
What you’ll notice right away about the stress reduction activities we’ve outlined above is that they often require quite a bit of time and energy. Unfortunately, we know that it isn’t always possible to find this time and energy within our busy lives.
True — part of reducing overall stress includes finding ways to lighten our responsibilities and locate more time to relax.
But less face it — finding more time in the day isn’t always possible.
That’s why something quick and easy, such as Anahana’s 25-minute Unwind Your Mind service, is so vital to staying stress-free. This simple 25-minute (or 50-minute) service is a “snack-size” session, meant to zap away stress and clear your mind. It can be done anytime, anywhere. You’ll simply be paired with an experienced yoga instructor, mediation guide, or breathing expert who can help you refocus your thoughts, dissipate tension, and recharge. The session is yours. It’s catered to you.
Sound good? Give it a try. No matter how difficult or stressful your day started out today, it doesn’t have to end that way. See what unwinding your mind can do for you.
Written by Clint Johnson
Clint teaches Yoga, Pilates, breathe, and mediation to students and teachers all over the world. Prior to joining the wellness world, CJ as his friends call him, started his career as a MBS derivative trader and portfolio manager on Wall St. Clint is the founder of Anahana, and holds an MBA from INSEAD.