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Man at yoga iStock/Moyo Studio

New Year’s resolutions: Stop the stress

Less stress is healthy for body and mind. With some new routines and a few tricks, we will show you how to make more time for the nicer things in life at the end of the day.

Step 1: Prevent stress

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is undoubtedly to take more time for yourself and reduce stress.  But how do you find the time? 

The magic word here is time management. Whether in your professional or private life, it is important to prioritise tasks. A clearly ordered list of important and pressing tasks helps you to keep an overview of everything. Don’t shy away from drawing up such to-do lists. They help you to keep track of things at all times, while preventing tasks from ‘lurking’ in the back of your mind and keeping the workload manageable. And who doesn’t enjoy ticking off completed tasks and striking them off the list? 

This approach will enable you to take control of matters and it will be easier for you to recognise and stay within your limits.  The aim is to get away from this supposed feeling of ‘helplessness’ (when more and more external tasks accumulate) and move towards a more self-determined form of organisation. The ability to say ‘no’ is also an important part of this approach. It will be easier for you to decline tasks or assign a lower priority level to them if you have your sights set on impending tasks and know your limits. This will also enable you to give others a clearer reason why you have to say ‘no’. 

Finally, you should divide your (working) time into blocks. Remember, for example, your school days: there was always a five-minute break between lessons and a longer break every few hours. Your breaks can of course be individually organised and adapted depending on your personal to-do lists and needs.  A short tea break with a little exercise can be helpful, for example, after one or two hours of concentrated work. This will give you a short breather and the exercise will help to relieve tension and prevent lapses in concentration.

Talking of concentration: you should identify distractions within the blocks and eliminate them where appropriate. Depending on the task in hand, these may include the telephone as well as email and social media notifications. If possible, you should mute such notifications during a concentration block and plan designated blocks for telephone calls and emails rather than allowing yourself to get distracted. Multitasking is sometimes necessary, but wherever it is avoidable, you shouldn’t have to resort to it in the first place. 

And just like your daily rhythm needs order, it is also good for your sleep pattern: depending on the individual biorhythm, between seven and eight hours are optimal so that our bodies can regenerate. Here, too, the body should ideally settle at a stress-free level if you go to bed at set times. You should also avoid sources of disturbance here: televisions and street light should be banished from the bedroom. The body reacts to lights with physical processes that keep you awake and prevent you from relaxing.

For all the time management, self-flagellation and desperate attempts to avoid stress are nonetheless misguided. It is absolutely OK for us and our bodies to have stressful days every now and then. However, more order and routine will automatically reduce the stress level over the course of time and enable you to deal better with stressful episodes both physically and mentally in the long term.

Step 2: Relieve stress

Realistically speaking, since we are able to reduce stress, but not avoid it completely, it is also important to know the right methods for relieving stress:

Exercise is a key factor here. Many concentration tasks are performed while sitting nowadays. What’s more, tension and excess energy build up during stressful phases. This is due to the fact that stress was originally a natural reaction to danger. In the Stone Age, of course, the danger tended to be of a physical nature and also called for an equally physical fight or flight reaction. These days, however, our challenges are seldom of a physical nature. Instead, they require more complex and often theoretical solutions. Nonetheless, they continue to evoke the same physical reactions in the body. That is why long walks, sport or dancing can help to release the pent-up energy, give the body a workout and stimulate the circulation. This in turn reduces the stress hormone level in the body and ultimately leads to relaxation.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or tai chi can also help to relieve physical stress. The associated breathing techniques and the conscious act of concentrating especially help the body to block out external stress factors and focus more on yourself and your own needs. 

One unconventional method for relieving stress is laughing. Activating the laughing muscles releases the happiness hormone serotonin and suppresses the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Studies have shown that it even works when the laughing is contrived or forced. A funny chat with a close friend or relative, a comedy series or a funny animal video on the Internet can therefore actively contribute to stress relief!

Woman relaxing in bed iStock/g-stockstudio

Tip: Food can beat stress

In order to counteract overstimulation during stressful phases, it also helps to start being consciously aware of sensory input again and specifically enjoying things. And even though stress frequently increases our appetite for fat and sugar and chocolate undoubtedly triggers short-term feelings of happiness, it tends to put a strain on the body in the long term.  High blood pressure, for example, can be exacerbated by a diet that is too fatty or sugary.

In the long term, the body is better equipped to combat stress with food that supplies it with energy while going easy on the metabolism and reducing blood pressure. Potassium, magnesium and B vitamins are especially important for the body. You can primarily find these in wholemeal products, pulses, fresh fruit and vegetables, such as bananas and broccoli, as well as in dried fruit, nuts and eggs.

Cooking or baking is another perfect activity for relieving stress. It keeps the body and mind occupied without overwhelming them. Activities such as cutting vegetables, for example, also have a calming effect, almost like meditation.

Making tea and taking the time to consciously enjoy it can be equally calming. In many countries, from the Orient to the UK, prolonged tea ceremonies are part of the tradition. They can slow the pace down and promote relaxation. Lemon balm, hop and lavender tea blends are especially helpful here. In addition, it can generally be said that regular and sufficient drinking can keep the body in balance and make it less prone to stress.

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