It's widely accepted that while some stress in our lives can be beneficial, too much stress can have profound effects on your health – including weight gain, adrenal stress, anxiety, and fatigue. These effects can ultimately increase the risk of significant health issues. But probably the most immediate effect is feeling that you've not only lost control but have also lost the ability to fully enjoy life.  Improving your stress resilience is key to improving your health.

The number one best way to reduce stress in your life is to eliminate the source of it. Unfortunately, in many cases it can be impractical to do so – for example if the source of stress is a family member or your boss. In most cases, reducing stress actually means reducing the impact of stress by making yourself more 'stress resilient'. When you think of it, there are four main areas in our lives that give us the most satisfaction and happiness – relationships, career, spiritual foundation, and physical activity. You can increase your stress resilience by maintaining balance in these four areas.

The first step to increasing your stress resilience is to identify the cause of the stress or where the imbalances are. Using a guide such as the Circle of Life can be useful. The Circle of Life further subdivides the four main areas as shown in the diagram. Use the diagram to pinpoint your current level of (dis)satisfaction in each of the smaller areas – closer to the center indicates dissatisfaction, closer to the edge of the circle indicates that you are most satisfied or happy. The right side of the diagram is an example. Don't try to over think your response; usually your first reaction is the best estimation. Ideally, we would like to see a balanced set of joined dots along the outside of the circle. Realistically, that's seldom the case and it's probably better to think of it as a journey, rather than a destination or goal.

The Circle of Life: Stress Resilence

The Circle of Life

Eight Ways to Improve Your Stress Resilience

Once you have identified the imbalances, try to implement some (or all) of the listed strategies. Warning! These are not quick-fix – creating a happier, healthier, more stress resilient life takes a bit of effort.

The first three strategies fall under the category of time management. They won't necessarily increase your stress resilience but may provide some extra time or breathing room. The other strategies listed deal more with the other major cornerstones of our lives – relationships, physical activity, our spiritual life, and other aspects of our career. A major cause of losing stress resiliency is an imbalance among these aspects of our lives.

1. Prioritize

If your most common complaint is 'there just aren’t enough hours in the day!', then the issue isn't the number of hours but the number of activities that you're taking on. Your first step is to prioritise the day's tasks. This certainly isn't a new idea but it is often overlooked. One of my favorite ways of dividing up my day is to categorize tasks into 4 different quadrants (Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People):

  1. Important & Urgent Activities (crisis management, deadlines, etc)
  2. Important & Non-Urgent Activities (prevention, relationships, opportunities, planning, recreation)
  3. Unimportant & Urgent Activities (interruptions, some calls/meetings, immediate problems, popular activities)
  4. Unimportant & Non-Urgent Activities (trivia, busy work)

Managing your stress involves focussing on activities in quadrant 2 and minimising activities in quadrants 3 and 4. In fact, spending more effective and productive time in quadrant 2 will reduce the number of activities in quadrant 1 – the home of overwhelm and stress.

2. Delegate

If you still have too many activities in the day then give some of them to others to do for you! Decide which tasks that the other people in your life are capable of doing. Will it be done the same way that you would do it? Probably not. Could it be done to an acceptable level? Probably. The key to delegation is the willingness to relinquish control and recognize that perfection isn't necessary all of the time.

3. No Multi-tasking!

Multi-tasking is very last century, and with good reason – it doesn't really aid productivity and can contribute to increased stress. Usually when you're multi-tasking, you have an awareness of all of the other projects to be done – it's like carrying around a mental check list that you are constantly referring to. This can cause you to lose focus on the current task or activity. Additionally, research has suggested that it can take an extra 20% of your time to switch and re-engage in another task – this is called 'context-switching'. If you are working on several different tasks, you can easily waste most of your time engaged in context-switching instead of productive or engaged work. But, more importantly, multi-tasking prevents you from living in the moment or being mindful of your current activity. And in many cases, our sources of satisfaction and happiness are found 'in the moment'.

4. Re(Engage) with the Significant People in your Life

Usually our most significant moments of satisfaction and happiness come from our time with family and friends. In fact, stress can be amplified when we feel isolated. When was the last time that you had a meaningful conversation or shared something important with someone? Find opportunities to (re)engage with others – perhaps with a shared meal, with no electronic devices involved! It's not by accident that relationships are included in Important & Non-Urgent Activities in the time management strategy.

5. Eat Healthy

I define healthy eating as concentrating on eating real, whole food instead of processed food and/or fast food. Why? A healthier body is better able to handle stress. Therefore, we need more quality nutrition and a lot less bad fat, salt, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors. Additionally, home-cooked meals can also provide opportunities for spending quality time with family and friends.

6. Move Your Body

Research suggests that almost any kind of physical activity, when done consistently, has benefits. These include improving your cardiovascular system, enhancing and elevating mood, improving cognitive abilities, and reducing stress. And, as with relationships, it's no accident that time for recreation/physical activity is included in Important & Non-Urgent Activities quadrant of time management strategy. Finding the right activity for your personal circumstance is key – if you constantly postpone this activity, then it's not the one for you.

7. Get Good Sleep

Current research suggests that almost everyone needs 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night. My blog post discusses some methods for improving your sleep quality.

8. Meditate

Many people (and this includes me) have found mediation to be useful for relaxation and instilling internal calm prior to a hectic day. And no, you don't need to sit in a lotus position chanting 'OM'! There are many apps available to help. My personal favorite is 'Calm', available on iOS and android – it includes both guided and unguided meditations of varying lengths, some as short as 5 minutes. Other benefits to a consistent mediation practice can include improved focus and mindfulness.

I have only briefly touched on these strategies. Upcoming posts will provide more detail on some of these strategies.

Do you have a favorite way to reduce stress? I'd love to hear about it -- please add a comment.

Most of us can use a bit of help in making the changes which lead to long term results. If you would like personalized, one-on-one sessions to help you cope with stress, please contact me. And take advantage of the FREE 30-min coaching session on offer.

Want Some Help with Your Stress Resilience?

Most of us can use a bit of help in making the changes which lead to long term results. If you would like personalized, one-on-one sessions to help you cope with stress, please contact me. And take advantage of the FREE 30-min coaching session on offer.

Book a free 20-min consultation here:
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    About the Author Sharon Walt

    Dr Sharon is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who helps men and women with autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, regain their health and start living life to the utmost again.