Self-Care for the New Year: Keeping Stress in Check

By Anna Corbi, Family Empowerment Program Team Leader

The New Year is a great time to reflect on the positive changes we hope to make. One important question is: How often do we make our self-care a priority?  Whether you choose to implement a new exercise routine or read more of your favorite book series, the New Year allows an opportunity to take positive steps and create a path to self-care. And, for many of us, the day-to-day challenges of juggling a busy lifestyle can be stressful. Without proper self-care, it’s difficult to keep unwanted stress at bay.

Stress is a condition that is often characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension. It can play a significant role in physical health-related problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, and arthritis. Stress can also impact our cognitive and emotional well-being, and may cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, irritability, relationship issues and/or isolation. If we do not find healthy ways to handle our stressors, they may end up taking a toll on both our physical and mental health.

The best way to manage stress and prioritize self-care is to learn healthy coping strategies. To begin, try to recognize the areas of your life that cause you to feel overwhelmed. Is it time for that annual project at work? Is your tax bill due? Are you struggling to keep up with your kids? Once you identify what is triggering your stress, you can begin to develop coping skills—methods you can use to deal with stressful situations in a healthy way. And once you identify your best coping strategies, you can start practicing them right away. As you use these skills on a regular basis, they become the tools you will turn to when you feel the symptoms of stress beginning.

Here are some tips that will help to combat the symptoms of stress:

Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

Choosing healthy foods when you are stressed can positively impact your emotional well-being, helping to relieve tension and stabilize blood sugar. Dark leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which helps to regulate your mood.

Exercise on a regular basis.

Exercise does more to reduce stress than any other activity. Take a brisk walk on your lunch break, hit the gym after work or go for a bike ride. Exercise helps to jumpstart the production of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters!

Try relaxation techniques.

Relaxation techniques are a perfect way to target daily stress. You may want to consider trying a new yoga class. Meditation and breathing activities are also a great way to reduce symptoms. In just a short time, meditation can clear your mind while restoring feelings of calm and inner peace.

Get plenty of sleep.

Restful sleep is the key to staying healthy. A well-rested body is better prepared to fight unwanted stress, reduce cortisol, and increase overall well-being.

Give yourself a break when you need one.

When the stress is building up, take a break. A break will refresh your mind and reduce the symptoms of stress and exhaustion. Whether you’re at work or at home, it’s okay to step away.

Make time for new or old interests and hobbies.

Find joy in activities that settle your mind. Plant a garden, listen to calming music, read a book, paint a picture. There are so many daily activities that are simple elements of reducing stress.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol.

Drugs and alcohol may seem to help with stress, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already experiencing.

If you have tried using some of the suggested coping skills and you are still having difficulties dealing with stress, it is important to recognize that you may need more help. Consider talking to someone such as your doctor, a family member, pastor or therapist in order to obtain the help needed to start living a more peaceful and stress free life. Remember to take time for yourself and make self-care a priority in the New Year and always!