Stress relief using environmental and lifestyle changes-picture of trees in a green field

Stress relief using environmental and lifestyle changes

If you’re struggling to reduce stress levels in your life, perhaps some subtle changes to your environment and day-to-day activities can help
May 17, 2019

The trickle-down effects of stress can make you sick, give you a nosebleed and even stop your period. Often, people may have trouble recognizing and preventing stress, which can ultimately further increase their stress levels. Bradley Bogdan, LCSW-S, clinical social work supervisor at the Department of Psychiatry in the Texas A&M College of Medicine, explains some simple ways you can position yourself using your day-to-day routine and environment to reduce your stress levels.

Nature: Surround yourself with nature to help stress relief

A growing number of studies show visiting green spaces and being exposed to natural environments can reduce stress. “Natural-looking spaces have a big effect on minimizing stress and improving your overall health,” Bogdan said. “Simply viewing representations of nature helps reduce stress. Many hospitals often put a fake skylight above beds to create calming environments.”

For example, a new partnership between Houston Methodist Hospital, the Texas A&M University and Texas by Nature founded the Center for Health and Nature. The new center works to incorporate nature into healing environments.

If you are feeling chronically stressed, try to incorporate more nature-themed elements into your work and living space. Whether pictures, aquariums or greenery, elements of nature are proven to reduce stress levels.

Exercise: Find reliable, healthy ways to relieve stress

“Many people struggle to find healthy ways to discharge their stress,” Bogdan said. “Finding a reliable way to discharge stress is critical. You will never get rid of all stress. It will always be a factor, and people need to know how to control it day-to-day.”

Exercise is a great tool to regulate stress. “To help stress, you do not need much exercise. What matters the most is that you do it regularly, more so than strenuously,” Bogdan said.

Social connection: Utilize all members your social circle to encourage stress relief

“A regular amount of positive social interaction is important,” Bogdan said. “Different from those with whom you share a deep connection, a broad level of low-stake relationships is important to maintaining healthy stress levels.”

For example, you may speak your mail carrier every day for a few minutes, but you may not necessarily invite him or her to dinner. This regular, small positive interaction with someone does wonders for reducing stress. Bogdan says engaging in regular social interaction has great implications on relieving stress.

Professional help: Can therapy help me feel less stressed?

“A lot of the common modalities of therapy is focused on working with people to think a different way,” Bogdan said. “Not necessarily changing the facts, but reframing how they think about the facts.”

Many times, financial stress can make people feel stuck in a stressful situation. People may struggle to make ends meet, and they often struggle with that stress monthly. Therapy can help these people re-evaluate their financial priorities. Perhaps, they do not need that specific car. Or perhaps, they easily succumb to peer pressure and eat out too often for their budget.

Similarly, therapy can also help relationship stress. “People may feel entrenched in a push and pull within a relationship,” Bogdan said. “Certain relationships can cause an incredible amount of stress.” A common example is the amount of stress caregivers feel when taking care of others. Therapy can help the caregiver understand that the entire burden does not have to be placed upon them.

Other ways to manage stress

“Ultimately, to better manage your stress, you need to find stress coping mechanisms that work for you,” Bogdan said. “One of the biggest problems people face is they rely on poor coping mechanisms.” While stress eating or binge drinking alcohol may temporarily provide some stress relief, they do not solve the underlying issue. Likewise, they end up causing more stress in the long term.

Bogdan also recommends getting a healthy amount of sleep and practicing daily mindfulness and meditation. Both sleep and meditation can improve your concentration and regulate your mood, which will make you better able to cope with stress.

Am I stressed?

“The first step to reducing your stress is recognizing you are stressed,” Bogdan said. “Stress is hard to recognize. Many people need a health care professional to tell them their back pain or chronic headaches are a result of stress, not another issue.”

If you are unsure how much stress is too much stress, or are having trouble managing your stress, then speak with your health care provider. Most primary care providers may be able to help you manage stress through lifestyle changes. They can also refer you to a therapist, like a licensed social worker, for more specialized help.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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