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3 Daily Habits to Help Reduce Stress

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Hansa Bhargava, MD
January 15, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

It’s been a tough few weeks. Our hospitals have become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and deaths rates are rising. Vaccine distribution has been slower than we had hoped. And then there was the chaotic, disturbing event at the Capitol. On top of all of that, there are the daily questions: How can I stay safe? When will I be able to see my family and friends?  How long till we get back to normal?

Any of the issues, alone, would stress us out -- but right now, everything seems to be happening at once.

The question is, how do we stay sane and grounded at this time? And how do we help our families do the same?

I rely on three simple daily rituals to help myself stay calm during challenging times.

Set my intention. The first thing I do every morning, before I even get my coffee, is to think about my intention for the day. What will be my "main theme" of the day? Aiming my focus like this not only helps me prioritize, but it also puts me at the steering wheel. Often it can feel like life is dragging us around, but setting an intention like this can help us have control over what we want to do with the day that is given to us. Your intention might be to focus on your job and make a dent in a project, or perhaps it's self-care and making calls for doctors' appointments. Recently, my intentions have been to make progress on a project at work and to be present for my kids. Having a focus or intention helps me have a North Star for the day so I don’t get stuck mentally.

Move my body. My second daily task is to find 15-30 minutes for physical activity, preferably outdoors. This is because exercise is not only good for our physical health, but it can help our mental and emotional well-being too. If you can do it outside and be in the sun, that is definitely a bonus -- sunshine is thought to release serotonin, a hormone that helps mood and focus. Taking a break from your work for even a 15-minute walk can leave you more energized, ultimately helping your mood and productivity. I often go on my stationary bike just for 15 minutes with my fave play list, and I can feel a boost from it.

Practice gratitude. My third ritual is at the end of the day. And this is to take a moment and just list 1-2 things that I am truly grateful for. I try to be as specific as possible -- this takes more thought, and I find that the extra effort pays off. Think about what it is and why you are grateful for it. For example, yesterday, I was very grateful for my room. That sounds trivial, but it isn’t -- my room feels like a sanctuary to me, a space where I can think and be creative. Feeling grateful for your home, family, health, or a friend helps us shift from stressed out and negative to a more positive perspective. And this can help our emotional stress levels, especially during this pandemic.

If you’ve tried habits like these but your stress level still seems really high, it is important to reach out for help. It could be your family or a friend, but sometimes you might need professional help, so consider seeing a therapist. Many are conducting therapy via tele-appointments. There are also a variety of apps, teletherapy, and even SMS texting such as Talkspace, Woebot, and Crisis Text Line that are literally at your fingertips. Make sure you use these tools, and reach out to your doctor if you need to.

Things will get better. As author Thomas Fuller wrote, it is always darkest just before the dawn. We will get through this. But in the meantime, daily habits like these can help us feel a bit more stable as we wait for daybreak.



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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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