How to Reduce Stress and Live a Healthier Life

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Depression and anxiety affect more than 40 million Americans.

Mental health is no joke. In fact, stressed-out folks are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, insomnia, and diabetes.

Our finances and family are some of the things we may spend our days worrying over. Yet stress may be affecting our health and self-esteem, leading to even more concerns.

However, simple lifestyle changes can help you combat stress and develop a healthier outlook. They will give you the clear mind you need to tackle your problems head-on and live a more fulfilling life.

1. Healthy Eating

A healthier diet is a great way to start reducing your stress. You can start with something as simple as eating slightly smaller portions or substituting your nighttime snack with a healthier choice.

Avoid deceptively sugary foods like fruit juice, jarred sauces, condiments, and iced tea. While sugar itself does not cause weight gain, an excess of calories does. Your body will store excess calories as fat, and you may find yourself putting on weight more quickly.

You may be tempted to reach for pasta or a cheesy dish when you are down, but refined white flour has very few vitamins or minerals to nourish your body. It may also cause spikes in your insulin level, which can cause you to overeat.

Comfort foods may help you feel better when you are stressed, but you don't need a lot of calories to enjoy your food. Healthy foods like lean proteins or fruits can easily be made sweet and satisfying with a little honey or soy sauce. And you will have the nutrients you need to keep you energetic and happy.

2. Exercise

Exercise contributes to your overall sense of well-being. It also boosts neurotransmitters called endorphins, which make you feel good.

When you get your heart rate up and are concentrating on the movements of your body, you stimulate the parts of your brain that may distract you from negative thoughts.

It is important not to overdo it if you haven't exercised in a while. You don't want to burn out or cause an injury.

Start with something simple, like a few minutes on the elliptical trainer or a walk around the block. Gradually increase your speed and endurance. You may find that there is an athlete inside you after all!

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3. Get Enough Sleep

An occasional night without sleep can make you tired and irritable the next day. A habit of not sleeping, however, can be harmful to your health.

In fact, those who don't sleep may be at a greater risk for insomnia, heart disease, and diabetes. It can lower your immunity and put you at risk for anxiety and depression.

To make sure you get enough sleep, avoid caffeine after 3 pm. An increase in sunlight during the day can keep your circadian rhythms healthy and improve your nighttime sleep quality and duration.

It also helps to go to sleep and wake up at consistent times. Have a relaxing evening routine, such as reading a book or taking a hot bath. Avoid screen time or thinking about your problems while you are in bed so that you can relax.

4. Know What Topics Stress You Out And Avoid Them

Do your in-laws drive you crazy? Can you not stand talking about politics with your uncle?

There are certain situations, temperaments, and arguments that increase our stress, and thinking about them won't make your life easier. In fact, you are wasting precious time and energy worrying about something that you probably cannot change.

If you find yourself starting to get agitated, try changing the channel in your brain to one that doesn't bother you. Find something positive in your day, or listen to music you enjoy.

Try to think about the "big picture." Will you really care about what someone said about you by this time next year? Probably not and chances are, you may even end up laughing about it.

5. Connect With Someone

If you are really overwhelmed with panic, call up a friend who cheers you up and go out for lunch. Feelings of safety, trust, and comfort can lower your stress levels and help you think more clearly. We all need heroes and folks we can mentor along the way.

If you don't have a close circle of friends, consider joining a small group at your local house of worship, or taking a class. You may be surprised at how a common interest will spark friendships that you will come to depend on.

Combat Stress With Better Habits

Healthier lifestyle choices, such as sleeping and eating better, will go a long way toward helping you combat stress. Human connections, exercise, and healthy mindsets are all great ways to keep the stress monster at bay.