Most of us have accepted stress as a normal part of our daily lives, but it's anything but normal.
Studies show Americans feel 40 percent more stressed than they did just five years ago.
High stress levels increase your risk of heart attack by 25 percent, and your risk of a stroke by a whopping 50 percent. Does that bring it a little closer to home?
If you're feeling stressed in your everyday life, taking steps to alleviate stress is the best and easiest way to improve your overall quality of life.
Here are the 10 most effective ways to reduce stress:
1. Hit The Gym
One of the best tools for combating stress is already produced by your body.
Endorphins are your brain's happy pills, encouraging feelings of well being and euphoria after physical exertion.
By exercising regularly, not only are you building good habits and working to improve your physical health, but you're also taking steps to reduce your stress, boost your self esteem and improve the quality of your sleep.
2. Ditch The Fast Food
Everyone knows fast food is bad for you and stress often contributes to stress eating, or emotional eating, which is an easy way to gain weight.
It's problematic, considering stress can actually make it impossible to lose those stress-eating pounds.
When you're stressed, your body hordes a hormone called cortisol, which makes your body hold onto all of the extra fat you've been collecting with your daily fast food lunches.
By ditching the junk food and focusing on healthy foods, you'll improve your overall health and reduce your stress levels.
3. Sleep Well
When was the last time you had a good night's sleep?
We're not talking about the nights you get black-out drunk, or the nights you spend hours counting your ceiling tiles because an anxious mind won't let you drop off to sleep.
No, when was the last time you had an honest-to-goodness full night of restful sleep?
Sleep and stress often find themselves in a vicious cycle; you don't sleep well because you're stressed out, and then you get more stressed because of your lack of sleep.
Try working on your sleep schedule a little bit at a time.
Go to bed 10 minutes earlier than normal for a week, then another 10 minutes earlier the next. Skip caffeine before bed and even in the afternoon, and if you really have trouble try taking melatonin.
4. Know Your Limits
We all have that one spot, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back, the point where once we pass it we can no longer function.
If you feel yourself heading toward that back-breaking straw, it's definitely adding to your stress level.
To reduce your stress, take some time to learn your limits. Once you know what they are, stick to them like super glue.
5. Don't Bottle It Up
For women in business, showing any emotion is a sign of weakness. So, we tend to bottle everything up and hide behind a head-bitch-in-charge façade.
Bottling up all of those emotions is bad for you.
The Harvard School of Public Health found bottling up your emotions leads to stress, can cut years off your life and can raise your chance of being diagnosed with cancer.
Instead of bottling up your emotions, find an outlet for them.
It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you take the time to vent those emotions in a healthy way.
6. Try Meditation
Meditation, even if you only spend a few minutes quieting your mind and refocusing on the tasks at hand, can be a great way to reduce your stress levels.
Once you've gotten the hang of it, it's something you can periodically do throughout the day.
People who meditate for a few minutes a day report reduced stress and an overall sense of wellbeing and calmness they carry with them throughout their daily tasks.
7. Get A Hobby
It might sound silly, but getting a hobby you truly enjoy can be a great way to reduce your overall stress levels.
There have been studies done to determine which hobbies are the best at helping you reduce stress, but they don't appeal to everyone.
Hobbies like swimming, gardening, photography and cooking are the best for stress relief, but if those don't sound like fun, find something else to keep your hands and mind busy.
Chances are, you're reading this on your smartphone.
That little brick of silicon and glass in your hands is one of the most common causes of stress.
People are constantly connected to work and social obligations via the electronic leash, making it hard to disconnect and center yourself.
If you can't shut off the phone and walk away from social media for a week, try doing it for a few hours.
When you finish your work day, shut off your phone and don't think about it until you walk back into the office.
9. Get Outside
Getting outside and enjoying the beauty of nature might sound like a hippy plot, but it's a great way to reduce your stress.
Studies have proven it helps to improve physical health by reducing tension and can even lower blood pressure.
You don't have to go primitive camping to get the benefits of nature as a stress reducer. Just taking a walk in the woods (or through your local park) is a great solution.
10. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness, or taking the time to be in the moment rather than thinking ahead or behind, is a new practice that's becoming more popular as a means of stress relief.
By being more aware of your body and your surroundings, you can attach yourself to the present moment.
It's a branch of meditation often used in conjunction with the practice, but is also a practice all its own.
In essence, it prevents you from getting stressed because instead of worrying about a mistake you made in the past or something due in the future, you focus on the present moment – your breathing, heartbeat, how the breeze moves past you, etc.
In the fast paced, high productivity world we live in, stress will almost always be a part of our daily lives.
While we can't avoid it, we can change how we let it affect us.