reduce stress

My doctor once told me that it didn’t matter what I ate as long as I didn’t handle my stress levels I could eat anything I wanted and still not make any health improvements.  He wasn’t implying that food doesn’t matter but rather that stress is just as important if not more important sometimes!  When I finally took him seriously I started experiencing even more health improvements than I did by simply adopting a paleo diet.

Acute stress is a normal function of the human body and can even be a beneficial kick in the butt to get stuff done or get the heck out of dodge.  It’s that “fight or flight” response we often hear about.  However, this stress is not meant to be chronic.   In other words, the stress of a deadline which pushes us to complete and turn in a task (hello, college students) can be a good thing and for some of us (ahem) it might be what we need in order to get things done.  But experiencing this stress day in and day out from the moment you wake up till the moment you go to sleep with no end in sight is not helpful and is detrimental to our health

Some of the common effects of stress on the body:

Common effects of stress
            On your body          On your mood             On your behavior
  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal


So what can we do to to reduce stress?


8 Ways to Let Stress Go

1- Exercise

You’ve probably heard this one a million times but are you actually doing it?  Now I’m not talking crossfit or training for marathons.  Depending on where you are in your journey those types of exercise can actually be more of a stressor than a stress reliever but as Julie De Lagarde of Real Fit Mama mentions often in her book, movement is crucial to our health and wellbeing.  (You can read my review of her book here).  For me in times of insane work hours I rely on my treadmill desk and fitbit to get my butt off a chair.  Is it as amazing as a hike in the woods? Not at all but for me its about identifying the obstacle (read: excuse) and problem solving.

2 – Meditation

This is another somewhat obvious way to address stress. When I first started meditating I found that I couldn’t go more than 30 seconds before mundane thoughts like grocery lists would make it into my head. Practice makes perfect and I am far from perfect but I’ve come a long way in my practice.  Even if you have to start with sitting for 1 minute at a time that’s a start! Try it as often as you can.  I find it especially helpful before bed and before lunch.  I recently started using this app and the sensor.   I’m a bit of a gadget junkie and I find that making a game out of things often helps me keep it up. (If you have an iPhone 5 or newer note that you will need this attachment as well).

3 – Don’t sweat the small stuff

And isn’t most of it small stuff?  There are plenty of things that come up in life that are worth worrying about but do we really need to get our panties in a twist if a jerk cuts us off in traffic?  I live in Los Angeles so believe me I have plenty of opportunities to practice my patience on this topic.  It’s not fair but it’s also not worth stressing about.   Save arguments for things that really matter.  Minor inconveniences are not worth your time, and brain real estate.

4 – Surround yourself with people that share your goals and lifestyle

Have you noticed how your mood and disposition changes (for better or worse) after spending significant time with someone.  For instance if your boss or coworkers are negative and/or stressed out people you’re usually not skipping and singing all the way home after work.  Similarly if your friends, family, spouse or kids are happy, motivated, upbeat people you usually go to bed with a smile on your face after a day full of laughter, friendship and collaboration.  Now I know that work is work and play is play and I know choosing your boss or coworkers is seldom easy but I think a lot of us have a lot more of a say in our environment than we give ourselves credit for.  If your job makes you miserable you can start to make a plan to change that.  If your friends are constantly complaining about everything (I’m not talking having a bad day and needing to vent like we all do but the ones that are constantly negative and/or stressed out) then get new friends! I’m serious! You don’t need to “break up” with them if you don’t want to but you also don’t need to subject yourself to a weekly dose of the blues.  I joke that my friend “intake form” is much more rigorous now than it used to be and quality over quantity is where it’s at.

5 – Schedule some stress management

Now I’m not saying this to stress you out! 🙂 That would be silly. As a wife and mother of 3 I realize that if I don’t schedule time for myself and simply rely on time “leftovers” for myself it just won’t happen! So every other week I go see my awesome acupuncturist and friend Emily (you may know her as Holistic Squid) who in addition to recharging my batteries with pins and needles also gives me a healthy dose of her contagious smile and laughter and a reality check as needed.  Ok that’s easy, just make the appointment and show up.  But what about the daily meditating and getting your ass to bed on time?  Well if the scheduling works so well for the acupuncture why not schedule the meditation and sleep? That’s right. I make appointments with myself. And doggone it I keep ’em.  I make it a habit to meditate on my lunch break right before eating which is super helpful for digestion and I have an alarm on my phone for 9pm when its time to stop messing around (or blogging as it were) on the computer and start getting ready for bed with the goal of being asleep at 10pm.  At first it might be tricky to make this a routine but as you get used to it it becomes like teeth brushing- a habit you’d have trouble skipping. Don’t believe me? Check out this book “The Power of Habit“.

6 – Get stuff OFF your plate

If you’re the typical American stuck in the rat race, trying to be the perfect mom or dad or if you’re a single parent like I was for many years you’re trying to be both while also juggling a hectic career and making sure the dog gets fed, you can’t NOT get help.  I don’t mean hiring an entourage, (although if that’s in the budget heck yeah that’s what I mean!) but stop trying to be superwoman/man.   Try to outsource and automate what you can so you don’t have to do it all.  That can be anything from hiring help to joining a CSA so you’re produce shows up at your doorstep or using Amazon Prime  (you can get a free trial here) and Subscribe and Save so you’re not spending 2 hours at the store trying to save $10.  For me I had a “duh” moment this year when I finally decided to spend a few dollars on a meal plan subscription. Life changing.  (I use Holistic Squid’s Paleo Meal Plans which I reviewed here).

7 – Say NO

Yes I’m talking about most of the volunteer positions at your kid’s school, church etc.  This is part of the superwoman/man thing I mentioned in #6 above.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

Granted, he was referring to business, not stress management but I think it can apply here as well! The bottom line (pun intended) is that if it comes at the cost of your health or your family’s well being, it’s not worth it.

8 – Get stuff OFF your mind!

My godfather used to tell me this as a teen (I was one wound up teen that was over scheduled and overcommitted to a lot of things).  He told me to write things down in a notebook so they’re not taking up space in my head.  It took me a few times of hearing it to stop rolling my eyes and actually try it.  It seems so simple, so basic and yet it works!  One of my mentors, Marie Forleo, calls it “creating mental white space”.  I’ll take it.  If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about all the things you have to do the next day, keep a notebook by your bed and write them down.  You’ll be much more likely to go back to sleep without trying to remember it all night and the bonus is it might actually get done!  This in combination with taking a few moments to write things down before bedtime to get ready for the next day, will be sure to take your heart rate down a few notches.  If you have trouble getting to sleep I’d recommend a teaspoon of magnesium before bed (this is the one I take and like).


What are your best tips for dealing with stress?  Please share them below!


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Sylvie McCracken is a former celebrity assistant in Hollywood turned full time entrepreneur currently living in Ashland, Oregon with her kids. She writes about treating and preventing health conditions with real food and natural remedies, as well as anything else she feels like writing about because she's a rebel like that. 😉 he also mentors health professionals turned entrepreneurs on her other site,