Whether you're spearheading a big project at work or managing a busy household, most days are a delicate balance of trying to achieve as much as possible with a limited amount of energy, but without becoming frazzled and burnt out.
If you often find yourself sighing, "If only there were more hours in the day," while coping with the increasing demands of your daily life, you can benefit from new techniques that will help to alleviate stress and give you the bursts of energy you need to tackle life's biggest tasks head-on. Read on for tried-and-true tips for a healthier and happier you.
For an easy and cost-effective way to lower your stress throughout the day, try breathing exercises.
They are recommended by doctors to combat stress response – the "fight or flight" reaction produced by the body not only during risky situations, but in anxiety-producing circumstances like meetings at work and traffic congestion.
Research shows that mindful breathing releases more oxygen into the brain, which makes you feel less stressed and more awake.
Try the "4-7-8" method to feel instantly calmer: Inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven, and then exhale slowly for eight seconds. Some people complement their breathing exercises with relaxing ambient noise (try searching for ocean sounds or massage music on YouTube), while visualising something that makes them feel relaxed, like a quiet day at the beach.
To help you shake off drowsiness, try the Kapalabhati yogic technique: Inhale fully at your natural speed, and then exhale quickly and forcefully from the diaphragm. This method will clear your mind, leaving you with a blank mental canvas for creative or focused thinking.
For the perpetually-busy and gym-phobic, constantly reading about how we're not exercising enough can produce anxiety and guilt, but light exercise doesn't have to require significant time or commitment. Simply find two 15-minute segments in your day where you feel stressed out (e.g. mid-morning) or lethargic (e.g. post-lunch) and fill that time with some casual and unstructured physical activity. This can include meandering around the office to see how your favourite colleagues' days are going, taking a quick stroll to the corner store to restock something, or even pacing around while chatting with your mom on the telephone.
If you have a stairwell or other private space in which to exercise, do about ten squats or lunges – even a few repetitions is enough to help you break out of an unpleasant mood. Doctors have long extolled the immediate benefits of daily exercise, which include lowering your blood pressure so you feel more relaxed and boosting your brain's alertness and memory functions.
Is stress eating causing your moods and productivity to spike and fall throughout the day?
Impulse snack buys at the cashier counter often include sugary or processed snacks that will give you the boost that you need – but only for an hour or so, after which you end up feeling even more fatigued than before.
Mastering the so-called "food-mood" connection requires preventing blood sugar spikes by consuming foods that are digested slowly and provide sustained energy throughout the day.
Savoury snackers can enjoy crispy whole-wheat crackers and cheese or vegetables and a dip like hummus or pureed avocado. Need a sweet treat? A simple glass of layered berries and yogurt looks and tastes like a dessert from a high-end restaurant, but only takes a few seconds to put together, and is packed with calcium and Vitamin C to boost mental agility.
Wake up slowly
Imagine for a moment how it feels when you accidentally hit the snooze button a few too many times and end up in a mad scramble to pull on clothes and bolt out the door. Starting your day in chaos not only causes your stress to spike first thing in the morning, but leaves you yawning and feeling groggy later in the day.
Start your day off right by ensuring that you have time to wake up slowly and welcome the day ahead of you. Start small by setting your alarm just 10 minutes earlier than you usually do. Before you stumble off to brush your teeth, open the curtains and let the sunshine in. Letting the light wash over your face and body stops the production of melatonin, which causes sleep, and activates your body's circadian rhythms so you feel refreshed and alert. While you bask in the warmth of the sun, do some light stretches in your pajamas – it will release endorphins to make you feel relaxed and ready to take on the day.