We’ve been talking about how stress can derail your health. It can lead to inflammation, chronically raised cortisol levels, and is linked to cancer and heart disease. Plus, high stress levels can give you a dangerous type of belly fat!
But sometimes we focus only on healthy eating, and don’t consider how stress is affecting our health. Perhaps that’s because it just seems easier to deal with eating a good diet than dealing with stress, which can be a more complicated process. In fact, ironically, many end up making food choices a stressful decision, only adding to daily stress.
These past few years, I’ve seen how badly stress affects people’s lives in my extended community. I’ve learned to acknowledge the fact that I can’t wait for my life to be perfect to have a calm outlook on life and a calmed nervous system, but that I must learn the necessary tools to de-stress in a stressful world. I’ve heard from many of you as well, acknowledging the factor stress has played in your life.
The fact is, even if you aren’t experiencing any current health issue from stress, stress that controls you is simply not fun, and not a good way to live a life. So stress control is so important for not only health, but also for quality of life.
With that in mind, I am going to take the time to introduce some different techniques and thoughts for dealing with stress – not as someone who has mastered them, or is an expert in them (I am just learning about some of these things myself, and still researching them). My hope is that some of these tools or thoughts will help you. And I think it’s important that we have more than one tool in our tool belt for dealing with stress, but that we have a wide variety.
It’s also important to note at the start that some of these stress relievers are not uncommon knowledge, but they do take practice and commitment to use. So often it’s not that we don’t know certain things that could help use stay less stressed – it’s a matter of developing the discipline to follow through with certain habits.
I have very specific ideas and thoughts to share, but today let’s look at the broad picture, because certain lifestyle choices are the foundational decisions that affect your life and your stress levels.
One aspect of stress-control that many of you have mentioned is lifestyle choices. Some of you have decided to live with lower incomes so that you can be a stay-at-home mother/father because the stress on yourself and the family of two parents working was not conducive to a peaceful lifestyle for you. Others have chosen to be in professions that allow them to have a better-balanced life.
Some of you mentioned certain small choices; Stay-at-home parents making time away from the kids, working parents staying organized and on top of meal planning, singles taking time to relax with friends. Others have mentioned really big decisions playing a factor in having less stressful lives, such as downsizing houses so as to not live under so much debt.
What type of lifestyle decisions you make, big or small can help you have a better balanced, less stressful life. While we certainly need to know how to deal with stress – because stress has a way of working itself into our lives no matter what choices we make – I think it’s also important to realize that certain decisions are either asking for more stress, or diminishing our stress levels.
So when making decisions on how to run our regular, everyday lives, I think seeing how those decisions affect stress levels is an important consideration.
What does this look like personally?
Learning to say no
For me that has meant finding a balance between taking new opportunities (such as writing cookbooks), which add a certain level of stress no matter how much I love the process of writing, and learning to say no to other opportunities, events, or over-commitments. It’s hard sometimes to make that balance, and that balance looks differently for everyone, but it’s an important balance to find.
Limiting the hats I wear
Also, not having to wear too many “hats” is important for keeping a peaceful lifestyle. When I was writing for a variety of online formats, plus keeping up the house, plus teaching my oldest at home, plus taking care of an infant, plus teaching piano, I felt that while the hours of outside the home work weren’t too large, the fact that I was having to keep track of so many things was stressful itself. So I decided to drop something, which was the music teaching. As sad as that was for me, it was definitely the right decision as it made my life much less stressful. And let me tell you that is worth a lot!
Finding a balance between staying well organized, but not a perfectionist
Because I have a lot of home and work-at-home responsibilities, plus I deal with ongoing fatigue that goes up and down, keeping up the housework with two littles in the house is a challenge. So I am attempting to find the balance between not stressing out when the house is a bit messy and disorganized, and not being a perfectionist and “letting go” of certain unrealistic expectations, but also putting the time and energy into keeping the house tidy as an organized and clean house helps me feel calm and peaceful automatically. It’s just one of the simple, everyday balancing acts that can play a part in keeping everyday stress down.
Finding the time to have good “self-care”
As a mother and wife, I have seen the beauty in self-sacrifice. It’s not simply that others get the benefit from my sacrifice, but I find fulfillment and joy in giving. It has taken me more time to realize that there is also a beauty in what is sometimes called “self-care”. This is where you make sure that your inherent needs are met. I think that some, though not all, mothers have a hard time making that happen because mothering requires such a large level of self-sacrifice (and this is true for many fathers as well). Dying to self in the form of sleep deprivation during childhood illness and the newborn stage, dying to self when you sacrifice certain dreams and habits for your child’s sake, dying to self to put others before yourself is a beautiful, holy, sacred thing. My motherhood years have shown me in a much more personal way the beauty of sacrifice and how to find joy in that. I have found so much true joy in sacrifice, as hard and difficult as it has been.
But one unhealthy habit that can form when you are so used to giving is forgetting to make sure that you have what you need for the long haul. Once you sacrifice certain needed, vital things such as sleep for your child, you can get so used to sacrificing that you forget that certain things can be sacrificed just a season, but are unsustainable long-term. While I know that there are many, many selfish parents and people in the world that need someone to knock them upside the head figuratively for their selfish practices and habits, some of us need to acknowledge our humanness, and be a good parent by making sure that we take care of ourselves too.
It can seem “selfish” to ask for help, to acknowledge our needs, and it takes humility to admit we can’t always be a “super mom”, but I think it is important for our health that we know that we aren’t demi-gods, but we are flesh and blood, and we need fellowship, rest, and restoration at times too.
So before we get to certain stress relieving techniques, I think that looking at the big picture of your life is important too. Learning to say no, to take care of yourself, to not overbook, or overcommit, are some of the ways we can help ensure a calmer life with less stress.
But I know I am not the only one who notices how certain lifestyle choices and decisions affect my stress and health. What is your experience?