Work, financial uncertainty, relationships – these are the most obvious sources of stress for most of us. To some degree, we’ve all dealt with these three, but there could be other less obvious ones that can build over time that you’re not quite noticing. Even small annoyances can be a significant source of stress and, since many of these disturbances persist indefinitely, it can add up before you know it.
Even if you’ve taken for granted these seemingly benign stressors as part of every day life, you might not be aware of how you’re reacting to them. They might be getting to you more than you think, so for that we advocate awareness and some simple skills to release them. Once you recognize these stressors, you can implement strategies to manage them.
Hidden Stressor #1: Driving
Especially if you live in or drive through a busy city, driving can be a huge source of daily stress. Between dealing with the “quirks” (to put it nicely) of other drivers on the road, maneuvering through congestion, finding a place to park, rushing to be on time and talkative carpool buddies, it’s no wonder that road rage and physical tension can result from long or complicated commutes.
If this describes you, there are things you can do to alleviate road stress and frustration.
- Try deep-breathing/relaxation exercises to keep yourself feeling mellow. Rather than getting angry when another driver cuts you off, take slow, deep breaths and remind yourself that the driver’s actions will have no impact on the rest of your day. Things like this only have as much power as you decide to give them.
- If you constantly worry about being late, anticipate traffic every day – plan for it and leave 20 or 30 minutes early to get to your destination. (You might even consider putting the start time of your event a bit earlier in your calendar to trick yourself.) Taking the “rush” out of your rush-hour commute will make it easier for you to stay relaxed in the car.
- If you’re a parent and often feel stressed from keeping your kids entertained while simultaneously keeping them safe, make sure to always be prepared with entertainment and/or food before you get behind the wheel. Bring games, movies, snacks, or individual music devices to ensure you always have a happy crew.
Your body wasn’t built to sit at a desk, staring at a computer screen all day. It’s hard on your posture, eyes and wrists, and could cause chronic physical stress or injury. And, depending on your job, computer work can also be isolating.
Just sitting down to work at your computer has been shown to cause you to unintentionally tighten your arms and shoulders. It also causes your respiration rate to rise by 30 percent and your blinking rate to drop significantly.
To alleviate computer-related stress:
- Focus on relaxing your arms, shoulders and neck as much as possible. Every 30 minutes or so, relax your arms down by your side and roll your shoulders back a few times. Perhaps move your neck from side to side slowly feel a stretch in your neck and shoulders.
- Set a timer or alarm to go off once or twice an hour to prompt you to get up and move around.
- Take mini-breaks for your eyes. Find something far away to focus on, and then look at something up close. The distance from your eye to your computer rarely changes, so it’s important to exercise your eyes as well.
Junk food, sugar, and caffeine are the most obvious culprits for foods that cause stress — or maybe they’re the foods we reach for when we’re stressed out. Both scenarios are pretty problematic, because they’re part of an unhealthy cycle that breeds physical and emotional stress. Spikes in blood sugar, insulin crashes, and cortisol overload lead to an erratic mood, insatiable cravings, and weight gain (especially in the midsection) – not to mention increased disease risk.
If your lifestyle is sabotaging your emotional wellbeing, it’s time to make a change. The first place we’ll recommend you look is inside your Big Gulp cup. The two ingredients inside that cup – caffeine and sugar – can both trigger stress.
We know that asking you to cut out caffeine is a bit harsh, so consider replacing soda for green tea. It’s a far more desirable (and sugar-free) method for caffeine delivery, and it boasts health benefits all its own.
Research has shown that the polyphenols in green tea can relieve stress and anxiety. As an added bonus, green tea extracts have been shown to improve cardiovascular health and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and some kinds of cancer. If you miss the fizz, try getting a Soda Stream and add some bubbles back into your life. And if you miss the sweet, try a small pinch of stevia. Chances are, whatever you make at home will have far less sugar in it than the energy drink or soda you’re replacing.
*Food is a profoundly sensitive topic for most of us. It’s a lot more than just fuel – it’s culture, it’s connection, it’s an experience. Unfortunately, for many of us it’s also a placeholder for proper coping (ever heard the term “eating your feelings”?). That’s where a feedback loop for stress can really take hold. If you “stress-eat,” chances are you’re not gorging on a bowl of broccoli. Then you’re exhausted from the carb/sugar crash. Then you eat to feel better. It’s a cycle worth examining.
Clearing out your pantry of all the junk food might sound like a simple task, but it’s a lot easier said than done if you don’t have a plan or support system in place. And to come up with that plan, you have to be ready to make a change. Talk to your Livzo Health Expert to find out what plan is right for you. Maybe your first step is learning a few simple meals at home that can replace your frozen dinners, or finding some healthier snack options to replace your nightly bag of chips. We all start somewhere, it just matters that we start. You might be surprised at the emotional changes that take place with an improved approach to food.
According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of adults who use the internet use social networking sites (as of January 2014). Part of this is due to the easy access we all have in our pockets. Another part of it is “FOMO,” or fear of missing out – we all feel that way from time to time. Our desire to stay “in the loop” keeps us coming back for more, even when it creates unnecessary stress.
Social media can cause stress in multiple ways. It can make your personal relationships more complicated, it can create jealously or inferiority complexes when you see others with lives that seem “more fun” than yours, and it has been known to cause a relationship fight or two.
You don’t have to delete your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, or Pinterest profiles (do we really use that many platforms!?) to avoid the stress that comes with social media overkill, but there are some things you can do to make it less of a burden:
- Create lists and filters of your favorite followers so you can check in on them without spending an hour scrolling each social media feed.
- Unfollow and unfriend casual acquaintances you don’t genuinely want to keep up with. You’ve never met your cousin’s best friend? Then why do you need to know that her dog ran away for four hours this morning? A good way to do this is to look at who’s birthday it is that day on Facebook. If you don’t have their number in your phone, or haven’t spoken to them in over 5 years, chances are they’re adding nothing to your social feed.
- Leave your accounts closed while you’re doing other things on the computer. Having your facebook feed open in your browser all day makes it too easy to compulsively check. You might even consider having a specific window of “social media time” as you do with other appointments on your calendar and only check in during the scheduled time.
- BONUS TIP: Turn off the mobile notifications for all of your social apps on your phone. Set it up so that YOU decide when to look at your phone, rather than it telling you every time something new happens. No one needs to be on-call for their social media community. And while you’re at it, consider turning those notifications off for your email too.
Own Your Actions and Your Time
Ultimately, there will always be aspects of our lives that we can’t control. We encourage you to focus on those that you can control, because that’s where you can make the biggest impact on how you interface with potential stressors in your life.
We can’t control traffic, but we can control what happens inside our car. We can’t control the fact that we have to work for a living, but we can decide to take breaks throughout the day. We can work to reprogram our relationship with certain foods, even if we can’t control the origin of those associations. And lastly, we can control how we use our free time. Don’t let pings and little red numbers on your phone take over your free time. As Ferris Beuller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”