According to the Stress in AmericaTM 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, conducted by The Harris Poll, nearly 20 percent of people said their stress rose in 2020. Eight in 10 adults report that the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 60 percent say the number of issues America faces is overwhelming to them. With such incredible stress and anxiety as an issue for many in the new year, how can we stress less in 2021?
Stressful events aren’t likely to magically go away in the new year, but we can implement strategies to help us cope and react better. Here are our five favorite ways to reduce stress in 2021.
1. Commit to Gut Health
What we eat can greatly impact our moods and our stress level. Science has proven a connection between the brain and the gut so ensuring that you’re eating for gut health, helps to also ensure you’re eating for brain and mood health. To eat better for your gut means picking foods that nourish healthy gut flora like yogurt, legumes, nuts and fermented foods like kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut.
“Fermented foods can give our bodies a dose of healthy probiotics, which are live microorganisms crucial to healthy digestion. Good bacteria create acidic fermentation byproducts that lower our intestine’s pH, decreasing the chance that bad bacteria can survive,” said Ryan Downs, president of GLK Foods. “The good bacteria found in sauerkraut are responsible for the production of the vitamins our bodies need – namely B complex and K. These vitamins found in sauerkraut, along with isothiocyanates and flavonoids, help fight cancer growth, reduce the risk of heart disease, and may help improve memory.”
2. Stop Doomscrolling
Obsessively looking at news sites or scrolling through social media for the bad news of the day triggers your body to release stress hormones causing a rush of negative physical and mental effects to be unleashed in your body. Our overreliance on our devices makes it hard to reign in our digital bad habit, but if you want to stress less in 2021 it’s a must.
To help break the pattern you need to set some boundaries. Avoid social media or news sites altogether or implement a time limit on how much of your day you’re devoting to consuming news and narrow down how many resources you get information from. Set an alarm on your phone or use a screen-limiting app like Moment or Freedom to help you stay on course.
3. Leverage the Power of the Pen
Diaries are seen as the domain of angst-ridden teenage girls, but journaling is a powerful tool adults can use to release stress, anxiety and anger. Putting your feelings onto paper can help not only analyze them more clearly and see patterns, but also release powerful emotions.
A 2013 study found that writing about distressing events and feelings helped the writer better understand the upsetting event and reduced the stress and anxiety around it. The best part is that it only takes 15-20 minutes a day, three-five times per week for four months to start to see the benefits of expressive writing.
In addition to writing out your worries, research also shows that writing out what you’re grateful for has tremendous impact. Simply spending five minutes per day gratitude journaling is shown to raise long-term happiness by more than 10 percent.
4. Sweat it Out
While exercise can be physically stressful, it’s mentally relaxing. Exercise releases the happy chemicals in our brains that help fight stress, anxiety and depression. It also directly reduces stress hormones like cortisol.
All types of exercise have a positive effect on stress so you simply need to find a form you enjoy whether that’s yoga, running or kickboxing.
Get your exercise on outdoors to maintain social distancing and reap the added stress-reducing benefits of being out in Mother Nature.
5. Channel Your Spiritual Side
Research shows meditation has a wide range of benefits including reducing stress, anxiety and depression while increasing peace of mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rank beginner or a guru, the benefits of meditation are felt by all.
For many people starting a meditation practice can be intimidating. They wonder how it’s possible to not have random thoughts (it’s not) or how to sit quietly for 20 or 30 minutes. Beginners find it’s often helpful to participate in a group meditation class or use apps like Calm or Headspace to guide them through the practice. Walking meditations are also great for people who don’t think they’re the meditating type.
Meditation is designed for you to recognize your thoughts as if you’re an outsider watching a movie. You can recognize that you’re having a thought, but it simply floats on by not allowing you the time to ruminate and worry on it.
2021 is starting out as stressful as 2020, but with these tips to better manage your reactions to stressful events you’ll have the tools needed to improve your well-being in the new year.