For many, including myself, fall feels like the beginning of the year – a time for fresh starts and new goals. It can also be a small pocket of time, before the holiday season hits, when you can focus on laying down some new habits.
We all know stress is bad, and it can be hard to figure out what to do about it, or how to reduce it. There are, however, some simple things you can do to address it. Let’s focus on how you start and end your day. These two times have such a huge impact on your body, your life, and how you feel. If you do nothing else but improve these times, you will be well on your way to reducing stress and increasing your health.
First, waking up at the same time every morning helps to establish your circadian rhythms and trains your body to be more alert when you wake. This is not only good for energy levels, but also for time management. Set your alarm for the same time every day (even on weekends) and your body will start to adapt, making mornings less painful.
Second, ease the transition into your day with something creative and/or relaxing. This is something I have tried recently and cannot believe the results. Even if it is just 10 minutes, it can make a difference. Whether it is a short walk, enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, or doing a mindfulness activity, you will feel a difference. But beware of looking at your phone, emails or the news as these things can trigger a stress reaction. Instead, a creative, calming activity can create a little space between you and the stresses of the day.
Although often overlooked, sleep plays a huge role in our health. These are important hours when your body is working to maintain physical health as well as supporting healthy brain function. In children and teens, sleep actually supports growth and development. Most people think they can survive on six hours of sleep, but the truth is they can’t. In fact, if you are sleep deficient you may have trouble problem solving, making decisions, and even controlling behaviors, like eating. Furthermore, if you have a history of anxiety or depression, proper sleep is vital for your mental health. So, make sleep a priority. Practice good sleep hygiene by starting your bedtime routine at the same time every night, with the same series of rituals (i.e. washing your face, brushing your teeth). Be sure to give yourself enough time to allow your body and brain to wind down.
Second, avoid alcohol before bed. Even though alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, it interferes with the most restorative part of sleep, known as REM sleep.
Third, reduce contact with stimulating devices so you can disconnect and fall asleep more easily. Electronics are distracting, and give off light, which promotes wakefulness.
Finally, if you can, get to bed just before 10pm. This ensures you are maximizing the most important hours for sleep, allowing for a wakeful morning.