7 Ways to Manage Stress and Improve Your Mental Health

(World Mental Health Day is October 10. Check out these simple tips to help YOUR mental health, and follow the hashtag #WorldMentalHealthDay)

There are 7.8 billion people in the world, each of us with our very own imprint. Based on our genetics and environment, we are uniquely wired. We have close to 60K thoughts a day, and if our thoughts and emotions go unchecked, we can miss out on being our very best selves. Unmet emotional needs interfere with our productivity, motivation, relationships, sleep, indeed every aspect of our lives. In our culture, we are inundated with information. We live in a hamster wheel of productivity and achievement. This pace causes all sorts of stress. From small stuff like driving in traffic to the bigger stressors like the looming date of an important deadline, stress can cause us to retreat into our primal brain and become overrun with feelings of fear and anxiety. When this happens, our higher brain, the frontal cortex, is off-line and we get stuck in emotional reactivity. Everything goes dark and we miss seeing all the good around us.


Here are some strategies to manage your daily stress and live a better life:


1. Name it, label it, and identify what is causing the stress. Research shows that when you can identify your feelings, you can more easily let the experience move through you. Another helpful method is to reframe your language around stress and de-identify with it—the stress is not you. Stress is an experience. We often say, “I am stressed,” identifying ourselves with the experience we are having, rather than describing the circumstance that is causing the experience of stress. Instead, try saying “Stress is like this” or “I am experiencing stress.”


2. Breathe. When we feel anxious, we don’t breathe properly. Take three deep breaths to re-center your nervous system. This allows you to activate the rest and digest mode of your parasympathetic nervous system. When this happens, you release positive neurochemicals into your bloodstream, signaling your mind and body that you are safe and increasing your sense of calm.


3. Mindful meditation has known benefits to rewire your mind and help manage stress. Mindful meditation practices increase your awareness, focus, and compassion. Mindfulness balances your emotions. If you are pressed for time, give yourself a two-minute pause. While sitting at your desk, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. As you do this, center your attention on your feet as they ground you to the floor. Continue to breathe and allow thoughts to come and go without any attachment. As you take a mindful pause, see if you come back refreshed and more at ease.


4. Exercise. If you are stuck at your desk and stressed, take a short walk outside. By moving your body, you work through the stress and release any built-up tension. Plus, you give yourself a breath of fresh air. This is a good way to reset your nervous system. Also, when you intensely exercise, as with cardio, you release natural endorphins and rid your body of toxins from stress. Even better, you increase your immunity. Make it a point to bring 20 minutes of cardio into your daily life.


5. Get a good night’s sleep. Your mood, brain functioning, and sleep are directly related. Sleep allows your brain to renew and clear out toxins while your subconscious works through problems and concerns. You wake up restored.


6. Journal. Writing your feelings helps you manage them and identify what triggers your stress. Putting your worries on paper therapeutically releases them and allows you to process your emotions. There are numerous studies that show the benefits of expressive writing.


7. Talk with someone, anyone, about your experience with anxiety. Getting help is the good sign you are on track to becoming aware that you are suffering from stress. If you need professional help, talk to a therapist. Depending on your financial situation, some therapists may even offer discount rates. You can find a match to a therapist at www.betterhelp.com.


You have the power to be stress free. You can guide your experiences and manage your life to where you see the good. This week, take time to see what works to manage your stress. Practice daily—this trains your brain for new positive patterns to work through stress. As you build your mind muscle, you can live a more stress-free life. And remember without a dark night sky you cannot see the brilliance of the stars.