Though Time magazine labeled us the “Me Me Me” generation, I’d be more inclined to refer to us as Generation Stress. Having come of age during a recession that crippled our economy, nullified the degrees we went into debt to earn, and made it nearly impossible for us to find work, we’ve been fighting to find a place in this world since day one. Despite both this and the fact that we’re living paycheck to paycheck, out of touch publications still berate us for not buying cars and homes.
Furthermore, stress is built into the fabric of our lifestyle. Living in a state of constant uncertainty, being chronically busy, the very way we shape our lives is hanging the albatross of stress around our necks. In fact, Americans are experiencing stress levels are nearly two times higher than what’s considered safe for the human body.
Since stress negatively affects every system of the body, it’s important that we consciously take time every day to do whatever is in our power to reduce the stress we’re under. This includes:
Mindfulness–which has roots in Buddhism–is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. Despite the simplicity of the practice, mindfulness is incredibly therapeutic. In fact, scientists have found mindfulness to be a key element in reducing stress, ruminative thinking, and trait anxiety–as well as increasing empathy and self-compassion.
Engaging in mindfulness allows you to appreciate the joys in life as they occur, fully immerse yourself in activities, form deeper connections with others, and cope with crises (whether minor or major) better than ever before. This is because focusing your attention on the present doesn’t give you time to obsess over worries, regrets, and perceived successes or failures.
The best thing about mindfulness is how uncomplicated it is. It’s simply paying close attention to what is happening around you. Observe and acknowledge each part of your body, starting at your head and ending at your toes. Run through the basic senses–what can you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? Let thoughts enter and leave your mind and accept them without judgement. Take just five minutes each day to be mindful, and you’ll find the resulting drop in your stress levels to be well worth it. Here are seven more ways to practice mindfulness in everyday life.
Taking a Break From Social Media
As much fun as social media can be, it can also create a lot of stress. We often find ourselves comparing our lives to the idealized versions our family, friends, and coworkers depict online. When you only see happy photos, details of amazing vacations, and boastings of having the perfect partner/children, it’s easy to feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick.
Of course, we too want to portray our ideal selves for everyone to see. We emphasize the positive aspects of our lives and personalities, prompting our friends to do the same, and the vicious cycle continues. This constant need to cultivate a social media persona based on an alternate, utopian version of our lives is not only incredibly stressful, it also leads to us finding less joy in our world as it is.
To reduce stress, limit the amount of time you spend on social media sites each week. Put the camera down when spending time with your loved ones, and stop viewing your life as others might see it through an Instagram filter. Be present and accept the beauty of your existence — faults and all.
Engaging in Your Hobby
Hobbies are easily one of the most enjoyable parts of life. They let you throw off the shackles of work and responsibility and spend time focusing on something that you truly love. For those who loathe downtime, hobbies serve as a break with a purpose–you’re not just “sitting around,” you’re doing something productive!
Hobbies have been proven lead to a reduction in stress and an increased sense of well-being. Much like mindfulness, they are the perfect way to relax and enjoy the moment. A good hobby as the ability to put you in a near-meditative state (often referred to as “flow”), where you lose track of time and feel removed from the pressures of life.
A recent study found that people who engaged in leisure activities–i.e. hobbies–were 34 percent less stressed and 18 percent less sad during the activities. They reported increased happiness and lower heart rates. The calming effects of these leisure activities lasted for hours after they were completed.
Seeing a Therapist
Since severe stress can lead to drug abuse, chronic pain, and an absence of pleasure in life, seeing a mental health professional and working through the root issues can be a very effective mode of treatment. Therapy can also help to ease stress by changing the negative thought patterns that develop as a result of stress and promoting new ways of thinking about stressful events.
Unfortunately, an American University survey found that nearly half of millennials didn’t know where to go for mental health care. Maureen Rubin, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno, explains, “After 18 years of age, kids are on their own…and they are the ones who fall through the cracks because they don’t have access to services.”
You don’t have to be one of those to fall through the cracks. If you’re not sure where to go, a cursory search of Google can help you find mental health care providers in your area–including those who work on a sliding scale to offer low-cost options. Ask your doctor for a list of therapists they endorse. If you’re comfortable doing so, it’s also helpful to ask your family, friends, and coworkers for recommendations (that’s how I found my amazing psychiatrist!)
If you’ve found yourself drowning in stress, it’s time to make a change. Practicing mindfulness, engaging in your hobbies, taking a break from social media, and talking to a therapist are all fantastic ways to take a little weight off of your shoulders. Remember, you are not alone in the world — any time you need help, all you have to do is reach out. Someone will be waiting.
What methods do you swear by for managing stress?
Also by Liz: 15 Genius Home Hacks that Save Water and $$$
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