Does it feel like you’re running on fumes, barely able to keep up?
Or maybe you feel fine, but months and years go by without accomplishing your biggest goals?
Deprogramming unhealthy habits can be hard, but if you want to live your best life, you’ll need to be proactive about self care.
Here are the top self-care practices to transform your life:
Controlling food cravings
Spending time in nature
Listen to music
You can let autopilot habits control your destiny, or you can level-up your life with better self care.
It’s your call!
Here’s how stress is destroying your life and how to take control.
What Is The Stress Response?
Also called the “fight-or-flight” response, the stress response is the nervous system’s knee-jerk reaction to a threat.
When your life may be at risk, it floods the body with glucose and stress hormones.
This can be beneficial during say, a tiger attack, but unhealthy in the long run.
When it continues for days and weeks on end, chronic stress can gradually erode your health.
How Stress Is Destroying Your Quality of Life
Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and lead to hormone imbalances.
Not only that, but it can also disrupt the microbiome and weaken the gut lining.
But the final straw is that inflammation can leak into the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.
Sadly, this may trigger a snowball effect that damages the joints, the brain, and literally every organ in the body. (1)
In fact, hormone imbalances and poor gut health are two of the biggest risk factors for obesity, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders…and they can all start with chronic stress.
Luckily, the right self-care practices can reduce stress and help you take control of your life.
9 Self-Care Practices for Less Stress and a Brighter Brain
Stress isn’t a healthy state, and it should never be long-term.
Luckily, balancing yourself can be as simple as playing more games and eating right.
Although these changes are easier said than done, here are the best self-care practices for a happier, more productive life.
Play is a basic human need and an essential part of early childhood development.
As adults, it can strengthen relationships, promote sleep, and improve overall well being.
Similar to sleep deprivation, play deprivation can manifest as patterns of negative behavior.
You might feel stuck, stiff, cranky, or victimized.
Luckily, the solution may be as simple as loosening up and playing more games.
Play can alter the sense of time and place and act as natural therapy for the brain.
Before you know it, hours have gone by in care-free bliss.
Here’s what Lynn Barnett, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has to say about play:
“At work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity, and increase job satisfaction; And at home, playing together, like going to a movie or a concert, can enhance bonding and communication.” (2)
Clowning around, as it turns out, has evolutionary advantages as well.
According to a survey conducted at Pennsylvania University, having a sense of humor and being fun-loving are some of the most important characteristics in a mate. (3)
Not the most playful person?
There’s still hope!
A 2017 study found that, “A less playful person can learn to be more playful, much like an introvert can learn to be a better speaker by observing the techniques extroverts use.” (4)
Besides, you may not be as “un-playful” as you think…
The same study found that play looks different for all adults.
For some, it might be legos…for others, a game of basketball.
You’re play preferences are as unique as you are.
Now, if you can blend play with exercise, you’ll really be on the fast track to better self care…
Want to live to 100?
Then you’ll need to get moving!
Studies show that exercise reduces stress and boosts longevity.
And by the way, it can be fun too.
According to a 2012 study, exercise doesn’t have to mean beating yourself up at the gym.
The Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Center of Quebec found that even mild-moderate exercise can improve cardiovascular health, reduce stress, and prevent cancer. (5)
In pockets of the world where people live the longest, exercise is a fun part of the day.
But do they spend all day punishing themselves at the gym?
Not at all…
Instead, they weave exercise into their daily lives by walking to the store and gardening with manual tools.
And when it’s time to get their heart rate up, they play sports with friends.
3. Breathing Exercises
Deep breathing exercises can activate the parasympathetic system and reduce stress.
At the same time, they can improve vagal tone by applying pressure to the vagus nerve and normalizing the stress response.
If you do them consistently, you might find it’s easier to calm down in stressful situations. (6)
Yoga is a form of exercise that’s centered around deep breathing.
It can improve circulation, drain the lymph nodes, and strengthen the muscles.
To top it all off, yoga can have a profound impact on mental health.
In fact, studies show that just 60 minutes of yoga can boost GABA by as much as 27% (GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is a natural chemical that’s essential to anxiety reduction). (7)
Mindfulness meditation is one of the most potent and long-lasting stress relievers there are.
Not only that, but studies show that meditation can improve productivity and boost workplace satisfaction.
For example, a 2018 study found that…
“Meditation was associated with greater reductions in burnout and perceived stress, improvements in mindfulness, well-being, and increases in team and organizational climate and personal performance.” (8)
Similarly, a 2015 study found that…
“Meditation practice may positively influence job performance, including job satisfaction, subjective job performance, and work engagement.” (9)
However, it’s meditation’s stress-reducing effects that are most impressive.
For example, researchers found that meditating twice-a-day for eight weeks improved sleep and reduced stress in people with Alzheimer’s. (10)
With that said, meditating can be hard for some people.
Luckily, there are plenty of incredible meditation apps, like Headspace, Calm, and Sam Harriss’s Waking Up app.
So far, all of the practices we’ve covered support the most critical self-care habit of all: sleep.
For starters, sleep regulates stress hormone production. (11)
On a similar note, sleep is when the brain removes cellular waste.
You see, the brain doesn’t have lymphatic vessels.
Instead, spinal fluid sweeps away toxins while you sleep (this is why naps are so good for you).
In fact, quality sleep can reduce rates of brain fog, anxiety, and depression.
At the same time, it can strengthen immunity and make you more productive.
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to get better sleep is by eating right…
6. Gut Health and Nutrition
Eating gut-healthy foods can reduce inflammation throughout the body and support mental health.
High-fiber (prebiotic) foods are a great place to start because they feed healthy gut bacteria, which play two essential roles in the body:
Reinforce the gut lining
Produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters
The gut lining is the bloodstream’s only protection against inflammatory agents in the digestive system.
If these compounds enter the bloodstream, they can cause brain fog, anxiety, and depression.
With that said, the gut lining is only a single cell thick, so it needs gut bacteria to help reinforce it.
By eating dense, fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes, you can fuel healthy gut bacteria and reduce inflammation.
At the same time, gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like serotonin.
In fact, over 80 percent of serotonin in the body is made by bacteria in the colon.
These compounds communicate with the brain via the gut-brain axis to further affect mental health. (12)
In addition to eating prebiotic foods, you should also eat more…
Wild-caught fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
Bone broth (collagen and glutamine)
Omega-3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatories, adaptogens reduce stress, and collagen repairs damaged cells.
Together, these nutrients can heal the gut and protect the brain.
7. Controlling Food Cravings
Do you get distracted by hunger on a regular basis?
If so, you might be addicted to sugar.
Unfortunately, sugar addiction can lead to a lot of negative health effects, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
As it turns out, people who live the longest, disease-free lives are in-tune with their true hunger signals.
For example, most people who live to 100+ never develop the habit of overeating. (13)
Instead, they spend their whole lives eating smaller portions of whole foods.
In Okinawa, a place nick-named, “the land of the immortals,” people eat three-to-four times the amount of vegetables as the average American. (14)
At the same time, their diets are low in sugar, additives, pesticides, and processed foods.
As a result, they sleep better, have fewer food cravings, and don’t get sick as often.
8. Spending Time in Nature
People who live a long time also tend to spend a lot of time in nature.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the chaos of cities can be stressful.
Nature, on the other hand, is a natural stress reducer.
For example, a 2014 report by the University of Verona in Italy found that natural environments can enhance positive emotions and “…recover the decrease of cognitive performance associated with stress, especially reflected in attention tasks.” (15)
In other words, nature not only reduces stress, but it can also improve brain performance.
“Shin-rin yoku,” or forest bathing, has been heavily studied in Japan since 2005.
Researchers believe that the smells and sounds of forests can reduce stress hormone production and calm the nervous system. (16)
9. Listen to Music
Listening to music can activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
In other words, it calms the fight-or-flight response and reduces stress.
Research also indicates that listening to music may improve recovery, support hormonal balance, and boosts brain function. (17)
According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of Veterans Affairs, music therapy may help patients recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (18)
And believe it or not, several studies indicate that music may improve memory in patients with Alzheimer’s. (19)
Here are a few more of the potential benefits of music therapy:
Make you run faster
Ease road rage
In fact, a 2018 study found that attending live concerts may even help you live longer! (20)
But how can you tell if you need a self-care makeover?
5 Signs That Stress Is Wearing You Down
Here are a few of the warning signs that chronic stress might be dominating your life:
1. Brain Fog: are you experiencing forgetfulness, headaches, irritability, mild depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, insomnia, lack of motivation, or anxiety?
2. Chronic Inflammation: do you have signs of chronic inflammation, like acne, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, mood swings, food sensitivities, arthritis, or joint pain?
3. Weight Gain: there’s nothing abnormal about gaining a pound or two a year as you age, but rapid weight gain and obesity are bad signs.
4. Poor Sleep: sleep is a cornerstone of good health. If you’re sleeping poorly, it can disrupt hormone production and increase stress.
5. Digestive Issues: your gut lining can be strongly affected by stress. If new gut health problems suddenly spring up, you might need to work on your self care.
Do any of these signs sound like you?
If so, feel free to contact us at Complete Care Health Centers for more advice about how to develop sound self-care practices.
We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about stress management.