At the YMCA of Greater Toronto, we respect and admire the expert advice provided by our partner health charities. That’s why we’re excited to bring you even more great reading material from the team at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (Heart and Stroke). In this article, you get practical advice on how to manage your stress from Dr. Scott Lear.

Stress. It’s a part of everyone’s life. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, at work or retired, we all experience it.

While we typically have a negative notion about stress, it’s not all bad. Stress pushes us to perform, whether physically or mentally. Exercise is a form of physical stress, working your body to make it stronger. And without the stress of deadlines, it can be hard to get things done.

While a little bit of stress can boost your performance, too much can impair it. For some types of stress such as work deadlines, the stress is temporary and usually disappears once you’ve met your deadlines. But continual or chronic stress can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even early death.

Fight or flight

Your body responds to stress by revving up. It reacts with a boost of adrenaline that pumps your heart faster and makes you breathe quicker. In days of old, this physical response was helpful when often, the best response to stress was either fight or flight.

Nowadays, you can’t really run away from stress in your daily life, and physically fighting your way through daily stress isn’t healthy.  So, you’re left to wait out your stressors without a release. It’s this lack of release that creates the kind of stress that can negatively affect your health. But there are many things you can do to reduce stress and prevent the negative impacts on your health.

How to manage your stress

Get a good night’s sleep

Ever wake up after a restless sleep? It seems like nothing can go right that day. But a good night’s sleep can make you feel invincible. When tired, your adrenaline increases and makes you more susceptible to stress. Getting enough sleep is important to your performance and will make common stressors more manageable.

Exercise

Physical activity delivers a host of benefits for your mental well-being. When it comes to stress, exercise helps make use of the adrenaline that circulates through your body. In addition, the release of serotonin and endorphins that occurs with exercise can make you feel even better. Doing an activity that boosts your heart rate is great, but even a low-intensity activity like a leisurely walk can help relieve stress.

Meditate

Meditation’s popularity has increased over the years as people look to it to not only reduce stress but to improve focus and performance too. Meditation trains you to clear your mind of thoughts from the past and worries of the future –­­­ it encourages you to focus on the present. This may include focusing on your breathing. Meditation can bring clarity to your thinking and reduce stress. Join us for a mindfulness meditation class every week, and start working toward achieving inner peace.

Take control

Stress often comes from a sense of a lack of control and a feeling of helplessness. Trying to find a way to exert some control over a particular situation can be helpful, but it’s not always possible. You may not have control over the most recent stressors associated with COVID-19, for instance. In such cases, you may look to other aspects in your life that you can control. Doing so can give you confidence that you are able to manage life’s challenges and keep a positive outlook.

Smile and laugh

Laughing feels good because it releases endorphins, just like exercise does. Laughter has also been shown to reduce anxiety. Smiling can help too. Even a forced smile can result in more positive feelings when completing a stressful task compared to not smiling.

Socialize (virtually for now)

Spending time connecting with others and sharing mutual experiences brings a sense of comfort to help you cope when things go wrong. Spending time with people (even virtually) can make you happier and even hearing a familiar voice can lead to releases of oxytocin (the feel-good “love” hormone). Choose from a variety of online ways to connect to new people through the Bright Spot activities page.

Start a journal

For some, a journal is a “worry book”; a place to write about all of the things that concern you. Many take time to journal before bed, dumping worries from their minds onto the page and setting up for a better night’s sleep. You may find that writing out your concerns can make them seem less significant. And it’s better than bottling up negative feelings inside.

On the other hand, writing about a few things that you enjoyed or are thankful for today can be helpful too. A daily gratitude practice keep you focusing on the positive aspects of your life. No matter how bad a day seems, you’ll likely find that you can find some good in it.

All these stress hacks have something in common: They remove you from your stressors and your thoughts of stress. Bringing all, or just some, of these stress-relieving practices into your daily life can help prevent stress buildup and make life’s challenges seem less difficult to overcome.