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This guide for coping with stress will help you clear your mind and channel your inner zen so that you can conquer any task and lead a happier, more carefree life.   

In the middle of the winter, we often feel down and stressed out because of the gloomy weather and the enormous amount of work that seems to pervade our lives on a daily basisWe’re sure you’ve heard it many times before, but we’ll say it again: being in a constant state of feeling stressed out is dangerous, not only for your mind, but also for your body. If left unchecked, it can have detrimental long-term effects on your overall health and quality of life and can lead to fatigue, anxiety, irritability, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Chronic stress elevates your levels of cortisol, which can impair your cognitive performance, and it also affects your thyroid function, immune system, and digestive/reproductive systems. It is imperative, therefore, that you learn to cope with and lessen your stress to avoid these serious mental and physical symptoms. We’ve compiled some easy ways that you can face stress head-on and stop its control over your mind and body.  

Map out your day. When you get hyper-focused on the number of tasks your friends, family, boss, and coworkers demand of you, it takes a toll on your motivation and the quality of work you produce. How can you effectively manage your daily tasks, without letting the stress that comes from thinking about how much you have to do take over your whole life?  

Start by making a plan that you can use as a map for your entire day. One of the main reasons we get stressed is because we see every task we have to do as one and, when we think about it this way, completing them all starts to seem impossible. Looking at the forest instead of the individual trees will make you feel overwhelmed and helpless, which in turn will amplify your experience of stress. A productivity journal or a detailed planner will allow you to set aside time for every task (just make sure you actually follow it!). Set aside an hour or two each day to focus on the small stuff like emails, grocery lists, phone calls, etc.and plan for meetings, your commute, and some down time at the end of the day when you can turn on Netflix and relax. Doing this will help ease your stress because you’ll know that you have made time for everything that needs to be done.  

Treat your body right. No matter how much you have going on, sleep is arguably the most important thing you can do to help your body alleviate stress. It can be a vicious cycle, though, because many people find it difficult to fall asleep because they are stressed, and they cannot manage their stress partly because they are sleep deprived. 

At night, your cortisol levels should fall as your body prepares for sleep, but if you are constantly stressed out, then your cortisol will remain elevated and block your release of melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep cycles. If you find yourself lying in bed for hours thinking about all the things that need to be finished at work, having anxiety about money or your relationship, or focusing on something other than resting, this can seriously affect your productivity, focus, health, and mind the next day. To help you fall asleep and turn your mind off, schedule some down-time before bed to read a book, do some yoga, or cuddle on the couch with your significant other. Taking a melatonin supplement, or eating foods like cherries, corn, rice, walnuts, or sunflower seeds, will also help you fall asleep as soon as you hit the pillow. Aim for 7-8 hours so that you rest your mind and body to take on the tasks of the next day.  

It’s also vital to fuel your body properly. Working for hours on end and forgetting to eat, or eating the wrong things simply because they are convenient, will not help you in the long-term. There are many foods you can eat to lower your cortisol levels, such as dark chocolate, bananas, green tea, foods rich in omega-3s (like salmon), and foods with a lot of vitamin C (like oranges and bell peppers). Choosing the proper food will help you fight stress on a physiological level, which in turn will make your ability to combat it on a psychological level much easier.  

Finally, try to exercise as much as you can. Often times, the gym is the last thing you think you have time for, but physical activity will improve your hormone responses and release dopamine and serotonin, which will help mitigate stress. Although exercising releases cortisol, over time the more you exercise, the less cortisol will be released, which in turn helps your body deal with psychological and physical stress throughout the day. If you don’t have time for the gym, try to be active in other ways, like walking to work, going for a short walk on your lunch break, or taking the stairs rather than the elevator. This will have a tremendous impact on your ability to physically and psychologically battle everyday stressors.  

Set Aside Some Time For Yourself. When the weekend comes, use Saturday to get yourself ready for the week ahead. This includes all your chores, errands, meal prep, and anything else you know you won’t have time to do later. This will eliminate extra tasks that can contribute to your stress when Monday rolls around. At the end of every week, it is also important to make sure you take some time out for yourself. After all, they don’t call it Sunday Funday for nothing, right? Make Sunday your free day to do anything you want. Lie on the couch for hours, see a movie, explore a place in your city, or go to a vineyard for a wine tasting. The options are endless. Having a day when you can turn your mind off and relax will set you straight for Monday and prepare you for the week ahead. Everyone needs a little bit of downtime and, with enough sleep, the right food, and a flawless plan, you’ll be able to take on anything.