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4 Ways to Combat Chronic Stress

Everyone feels stress now and then. It’s a normal response to difficult situations, like working through a tough problem or pushing grandma out of the way of traffic. However, feeling stressed is only effective in short-term situations. If you’re feeling stressed on a regular basis, you’re likely compromising your long-term health. Here are four ways you can combat chronic stress so you can live a better and more enjoyable life.

1. Get Support

One of the most challenging aspects of combating chronic stress is its social ubiquity. These days, it seems like nearly everyone is stressed. In fact, many see stress as a sign of accomplishment and wear theirs as a badge of honor. But, as Jiddu Krishnamurti notes, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Ask yourself: are the people you’re trying to impress worthy of your time and energy?

Stop flaunting your stress as a point of pride and start making meaningful changes in your life. Now, you’ve likely been inundated with stress for so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it. That’s why it’s important to rely on friends, family, and other lifelines for support. Consider mental health rehab if you feel like your stress has you feeling powerless and out of control. You don’t have to do everything by yourself, and reaching out is a powerful first step toward reclaiming your health.

2. Sleep Well

The person who has the “most stressed in the room” badge usually also has the one for “least well-rested.” That’s because Western society tends to see sleep as little more than an impediment to progress, a nuisance. Sleep is that thing that gets in the way of doing everything you actually want to do. Yet, it can also be an effective way to reduce your cortisol levels. Simply put, the more you deny yourself good sleep, the more stressed you’re going to be.

Getting better sleep is all about committing to becoming someone who values good sleep above all else. That means adjusting your schedule around it so that you rarely, if ever, miss your bedtime. That may mean eating dinner earlier, socializing less at night, or drinking less alcohol. The good news is that improving your sleep can be relatively straightforward. Commit to going to bed and waking up at the same time each night, and you’ll see improvements in as little as a week.

3. Be Present

For most of human history, stress has been a helpful adaptation to succeed in dangerous environments. High levels of cortisol and adrenaline are great in short bursts to help you outrun a predator. But these days your stress probably comes from worrying about the future. How often is your mind occupied with anxiety-producing what-ifs? “What if I fail this class?” or “What if I’m not good enough to get the job and pay my bills?”

To combat the what-ifs, you need a reliable method to ground yourself in the present moment. You may have already heard about one of the best out there that’s been helping people for millennia: meditation. Even just meditating for five minutes a day can have profound effects on lowering your stress level. If meditation isn’t your cup of tea, find something that brings you into your senses like going for a walk. Or, find something that truly gets you into the flow, like a hobby you love.

4. Play Around!

While you probably felt stress from time to time as a kid, chances are it wasn’t chronic. And, unless you were very sick, you probably played nearly every day. Long-neglected and virtually absent in adult life, play is like a natural balm for stress. Like meditation, play grounds you in the present moment so that you’re engrossed in whatever is in front of you. Even better, it can flood your nervous system with dopamine and serotonin to counter cortisol.

To reintroduce play in your life, you’re going to have to do something that seems almost counter-intuitive. You’re going to have to do something — get this — just for the fun of it. Not for clout, not for pay, not for the potential of maybe advancing your career sometime in the future. Find something that you want to do every day, or every week at least, just for the hell of it. Whether it’s a sport or playing laser tag, find something you love to do and make it a regular part of your life.

Focus Your Efforts

One of the difficulties with addressing chronic stress is that there’s likely no one cause of it. In turn, addressing your stress will likely involve a multi-faceted approach. You may need to reset your sleep schedule and incorporate more play into your life, for example.

To get the most out of your efforts, focus on changing only one thing at a time. That way you’ll have a better metric to determine what’s working and what’s not. Try to stick to a change, like meditating, for at least two to four weeks. The more diligently you stick to a new habit or routine, the more informed your decisions will be. With patience, over time, you’ll slowly start to unravel your chronic stress and more fully enjoy your life.