The health-destroying impacts excess stress can have are widely recognized: It’s linked to disrupted immunity, blood sugar issues, chronic disease, poor cardiovascular health, digestive concerns, and hormone imbalances, to name a few. High levels of stress can also negatively affect our relationships, as well as our overall resilience and outlook on life.
Yet, stress is something nearly every single one of us struggles with. And while we can’t entirely remove it from our lives, it is something we can manage to avoid its damaging impacts.
I find that for those who are busy — which is just about all of us — stress management tends to end up at the bottom of our to-do list. Despite being understandably beneficial, the thought of implementing traditional strategies such as regular yoga practice, daily journaling, or morning meditation may initially sound like an impossible add to an already too long task list.
However, every day spent ignoring stress is inevitably a day spent on borrowed time for our well-being — and can leave us on a path toward burnout and adrenal dysfunction, as well as any number of the effects I mentioned above.
But what are we to do when we’re in fixed stressful circumstances? Most of us do not want to (or are unable to) make quick changes to often stressful areas of our life, including our careers, family demands, or personal relationships, in an effort to reduce stress levels.
I always say to my clients:
You can’t always change your circumstances, but you can boost your resilience to them.
For those who I work with who have packed schedules, these are the seven strategies I often recommend they try. Consider prioritizing some of the tips into your routine to take some initial steps toward your own purposeful stress management journey. Some are different than your average stress-relief recommendations, and some require as little as 10 minutes of your day.
1. Take a social media break — seriously.
It’s amazing how much social media platforms have changed our world: We’re hyper-connected, trending topics spread like wildfire, and we’re able to view the highlight reel of everyone we follows’ lives.
While there are upsides to this connectivity, the downsides are also important to consider. Namely that negative news or opinion sharing can be loud and fairly constant, as well as that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hard to unplug. Many of us also only share our best moments on social media, allowing those highlight reels to often lead us into a trap of comparison and feelings of inadequacy.
I’ve never worked with a client who felt energized after a newsfeed scroll or reading a social media comment thread. Consider regularly taking a full day or weekend-long break from social media, or at the very least, limit your daily exposure to it.
One easy way to do this is to set a 10-minute timer when you open up any social media app and close the app as soon as the timer goes off. I’d also encourage you to try to avoid using those apps right when you wake up or directly before you go to sleep.
2. Add electronic-free time blocks to your day.
Electronics themselves also have their pros and cons. While designed to make our lives more convenient — or entertaining — it’s also easy to let them drain our time and numb our minds.
Some of the busiest, stressed, and time-starved people usually still have a go-to TV series. Many professionals have jobs that require all-day computer use or connection through email and other digital platforms to complete projects and collaborate with their peers. And for most, cell phones act as today’s connectivity lifeline.
Constant electronic usage exposes us to more electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency EMFs as “possibly carcinogenic.” National Toxicology Program studies have even linked cell phone use to heart, brain, and adrenal tumors in animals. All of this — the EMFs and their link to metabolic issues — has the potential to add undue stress to the system.
While there are some scenarios, like at work, where you don’t necessarily have control over your electronic use, you can take a few baby steps at other times to help reduce constant exposure. I’d suggest considering blocking out certain times of the day to fully unplug.
For some, this might mean shifting their cell phone into airplane mode after 8 p.m. For others, it could be keeping phones and TVs out of the bedroom. Or, it could be as simple as making sure your TV and cell phones are off when your family sits down to dinner.
Decide what works best for you, even if it’s a modest start, and go from there.
3. Dial-in a doable morning and evening routine.
The bookends of our day hold so much value and weight. The morning can set the tone for each of your days: Does it start off organized, prioritized, and focused? Or do your feet hit the ground to floor out of bed into a constant influx of chaos with it always seeming as if you’re running behind? In the evening, do you wind down and allow yourself to find calm and peace before sleeping? Or are you crawling into bed exhausted and still thinking of your unfinished to-do list?
Yes, carving out a routine takes some time, but it might not have to be much. And the mental clarity and calm it brings — and support for our stress response and productivity — makes it well worth the effort. In the morning, consider not turning on your cell phone immediately (as mentioned above), and instead, write down the top three things that must get done for the day. Tie this ritual to a cup of coffee you drink (sitting down), or to a couple of deep breaths on your porch in the sunshine.
Find a set pattern to close out your day in the evening as well — it may even help to set a reminder alarm so your wind down begins at the same time nightly. This could include dimming overhead lights and dropping your bedroom temperature to support more restful sleep, taking some chelated magnesium, packing your lunch for the next day, laying out your clothes for your morning workout, and changing into actual pajamas.
It might sound simplistic, but a consistent nightly routine sends a signal to your brain and body that it’s time to relax and recharge.
4. Consider paid appointments for accountability.
For those who are busy to the point of overwhelm, I’ve seen that more formal commitments can be the best way to make sure stress management goes from ideation to implementation.
When there’s an appointment on the calendar that’s paid for, it almost always leads to more consistent follow through, as a lot of people are more likely to cancel an appointment they’ve made just with themselves. But once someone else — and a financial commitment — are involved, there’s more at stake if you miss it.
Examples of effective appointments you could make include a Pilates class, massage, facial, or acupuncture. These are activities and times you can use to unwind and find restoration that may otherwise be challenging to implement in your on-the-go lifestyle. Make appointments that help you focus on the now and provide self-care on a cadence that is reasonable to you, but still regular enough to be effective.
Of course, with finances being a common source of stress, this particular suggestion should be taken in the context of what’s realistic for you. Be sure whatever strategy you pick is worked into your budget so that your stress management doesn’t end up actually triggering more stress.
5. Switch to a morning exercise routine.
When exhausted and overbooked, getting up early to exercise might sound like a terrible idea — at first. But we’ve all had it happen where we’ve had great intentions to get our workout in later on a given day that was derailed by last-minute schedule changes. Or, sometimes our excuses and rationale not to get our sweat on can more easily intensify and strengthen as we combat the stresses of the morning and midday.
When it comes to managing stress effectively, there’s a delicate balance to optimizing your sleep schedule, exercise consistency, and exercise intensity. Short-changing adequate sleep to get crushed in an intense workout is likely to move your adrenal system (in charge of your body’s hormonal response to stress) in the wrong direction, whereas getting in a regular routine of starting your day with balanced, moderate exercise is likely to strengthen it.
If you’re new to working out, aim for a 20-minute session, and start with going for a walk outside along with a few body-weight or at-home Pilates exercises. Regular exercise is key to your circadian rhythm, energy levels, and ability to have a stronger resolve — and getting in some movement is always better than not getting any in at all.
6. Commit to just 10 minutes.
Our daily grind can make hours and hours easily pass as we’re rushing from one must-do to the next. Surprisingly, taking a break to stop, reset our minds, and actively manage our stressors can actually net a better and more balanced response to the events of the day.
I’ve found that even triple-booked, Tetris-stack-looking calendars can allow for a 10-minute stress management break. This quick reset could be as simple as stepping away from email, sipping a coffee away from your desk (without your phone), taking some deep breaths, or going for a quick lap outside to get some fresh air and movement.
Without a doubt, you’re likely to return to your responsibilities with a clearer head and a fresher mind.
7. Consider supportive supplements.
There’s no such thing as stress management in a pill, and no supplement will replace the impact of quality lifestyle, exercise, and nutrition choices.
That being said, chronic stress and adrenal challenges can do a number on our system — including drain important nutrients such as B-vitamins and magnesium. Using supplementation to support baseline nutrient sufficiency can provide our metabolism the raw materials it needs to function optimally. I’ve had clients report seeing positive impacts after starting with Life Time’s core Foundational Five supplement regimen, which includes a high-quality multivitamin, omega-3 fish oil, vitamin D with vitamin K, magnesium, and digestive enzymes.
This regimen is mindfully designed: The capsule-based multivitamins provide absorbable and activated B-vitamins. The omega-3 fatty acids found in our fish oil are critical for supporting healthy inflammatory pathways, which can go awry in an unbalanced stress response. Since optimal vitamin D levels are critical for immunity, and immunity is negatively impacted by stress, it can be essential for us to increase our intake through supplementation. Repleting magnesium — a restorative mineral that is a common deficiency in stressful situations — can be beneficial as well. And since stress can disrupt digestive function, providing some gut TLC with broad-spectrum digestive enzymes is also prudent.
You may also want to consider a category of supplements called adaptogens, which are reported to support a balanced, adapted response to stress. Common adaptogens include ashwagandha, Relora, GABA, ginseng, licorice root, and more. They are commonly available in blends such as Thorne’s Phytisone and Cortrex. Some have also found amino acids such as L-theanine to be helpful as well.
As always, be sure to work with your healthcare team and practitioner to help develop the best supplement protocol for your needs.
For most, the concept of managing stress can feel intangible and subjective. And it’s often common to wonder how to know if what you’re doing is working, or if it’s really worth your time.
Like most behavior patterns, the benefits can start initially, but have stronger impacts when mounting over time. In other words, your stress management efforts are likely making a difference even if you can’t tell just yet — and they’re certainly worthy of your time.
Begin with one small change and incorporate it until it’s a genuine habit that doesn’t require purposeful thought anymore. Build from there, and trust that even a small step is still a step in the right direction.