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From dealing with the rush-hour commute to taking on way too much, stress is something most of us experience often—sometimes way too often: According to Statistics Canada, over 20 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 64 perceive themselves as having high stress on a daily basis. Ignoring the root of our stress might seem like the easiest way out, but if left unmanaged, stress can impair your attention span, long-term memory and even your emotions.
Stress can take a toll on your gut health, too. This comes from the evolutionary flight or fight response: “Digestion is not adaptive to dealing with this response, so it shuts down,” says Alexandra Fiocco, associate professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Psychology and researcher at Ryerson’s Institute for Stress and Wellbeing Research.
While the root of your stress can sometimes be out of your control, it is possible to keep stress in check. What works for each person varies, but here are five expert-recommended tips that can help.
1. Recognize the root cause of your stress
Feel like throwing your laptop out the window after being confronted with a difficult task? Take a moment to realize what exactly is getting to you. Fiocco says that we often go through our day on autopilot, so we have to be mindful in order to realize the root cause of our stress. “There are actual ingredients to a stressor,” Fiocco says. When you are stressed, it’s typically because of one or more of the following factors: feeling as though you’re being evaluated, feeling as though you have no control, dealing with an unpredictable situation or undergoing an experience for the first time. Identifying the specific factor behind your stress can help you figure out how to manage it, she says. For example, if you realize that you’re stressed at work because it feels as though you have no control over your workload, ask your supervisor to help you with a delegation plan.
2. Exercise 30 minutes a day
Physical activity is recommended to stressed-out patients as often as a prescription, says Paul Kelly, a psychologist and clinical director of The Mindfulness Clinic in Toronto, which uses modern psychotherapy–such as cognitive behaviour therapy along with mindfulness techniques–to help patients.
Incorporating physical activity into your daily life doesn’t have to be a huge production, says Fiocco–it can be as simple as a brisk 30-minute walk. Strengthening our cardiovascular system through exercise helps us recover from a stressor more easily, she says, because the feel-good endorphins help quell your negative vibes.
3. Step away from your desk
Ruminating on whether or not your boss liked the assignment you just handed in isn’t going to make it a success. “You need to do something with that energy rather than letting it sit in the body,” Fiocco says. Kelly often tells people with demanding office jobs to go for a quick walk around the building when a stressful situation arises. “People who get up from their desk for five minutes every hour have less stress and feel more energetic and happier,” he says.
4. Take a few deep breaths
Deep breathing can help decrease your stress response by slowing down the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the physiological changes that occur during the flight or fight response (like when your heart starts pounding and your muscles tense). Fiocco says that meditating for as little as 12 minutes a day can make it easier to get into a mindful, stress-abating state when you need to. Try sitting down on a chair with both feet planted on the floor. Focus on your breathing and when your mind wanders, be kind to yourself, relax and gently try to refocus on the moment.
5. Focus on the positive
According to research, appreciating what you have can increase happiness, says Luisa Cameli, a psychologist and clinical director of Montreal’s CBT Clinic, which In turn, she says, “happiness will make you more resilient and you’ll face stress better.” When you are generally happy with your daily life–and can find pleasure in things like family, friends and work–you’re more likely to deal with stress better when it arises. Have trouble looking on the bright side? Cameli suggests keeping an appreciation journal and writing down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day.