An ER Doctor's 4 Nonnegotiables To Manage Stress (Even On The Busiest Days)
We know that managing stress is key to optimizing overall well-being, but let's be honest: It's much easier said than done. Sure, you may have the best intentions to keep stress levels in check, but identifying when and how to incorporate calming practices into your daily routines can feel...murky. The good news? Sometimes the smallest lifestyle interventions can make a difference—ones you can rely on without overburdening your schedule.
Take it from Eudene Harry, M.D., a board-certified emergency and integrative medicine physician: On the mindbodygreen podcast, she shares her nonnegotiables for managing stress, even on her busiest days. Read on for her top practices:
1. Set the tone for the day.
First and foremost, Harry prioritizes starting her day with a calm mindset. As soon as she wakes up, she practices some form of mindfulness: "Sometimes it's short—sometimes it might be five minutes because my day's already gotten ahead of me," she explains. "I like to do meditative things. Sometimes, that's actually meditating; other times, it's a form of yoga that I do to help me get centered."
After these practices, Harry then leans on gratitude, which sets the tone for the rest of her day: "When you start the day off in a really bad mood, it tends to roll downhill from there, and your responses are usually not what you want them to be. So [centering myself] is a nonnegotiable for me."
After a grounding morning routine, Harry identifies breathwork as her best in-the-moment stress-relieving practice: "What always initially steadies me is my breath," she explains. If possible, she temporarily removes herself from the situation and focuses on her breathing. "When I finally recognize that things are overwhelming me, my chest is so tight and I'm barely breathing," she adds. "[I'm] in that tense, fight-or-flight response. So, ultimately, I do things to try to break that cycle, and my immediate [go-to] is some breathing exercise."
These exercises don't have to take very long—in fact, research shows you can reap the mental and physical benefits in just a few minutes. In one study, 20 participants with hypertension practiced just five minutes of spontaneous breathing, followed by four total minutes of controlled breathing. The results showed that slow breathing (six cycles per minute, in particular) helped reduce the hypertensive patients' blood pressure.
For some breathwork ideas to melt away anxiety, this article details some great options.
3. Find micro-moments.
In addition to breathwork, Harry lauds the benefits of incorporating "micro-moments" into your day. These short periods of mindfulness can actually have a huge impact on managing stress (and the best part? They take no time at all). Examples include finding a space to meditate for 10 minutes, mindfully enjoying a cup of green tea with lemon (Harry's beverage of choice), or listening to calming music.
"Put it in your schedule and say, 'At 12:30, I will be taking 10 minutes to relax,'" Harry adds. "If that means going in [your] car and eating [your] sandwich there, or listening to some meditative music—whatever it means, it needs to be scheduled in your day." If a more physical practice is available to you, five minutes of yoga or strength training, or simply opting for stairs over the elevator are also great options.
The key is that these micro-moments are intentional: "Ultimately you want to develop a consistent time," she says. "[Understand] that in order for you to be healthy, time to de-stress is not optional."
Leaning on social connections.
Harry's final practice for stress management? Cultivate meaningful relationships. "It helps us manage our stress more," she says (and research backs it up, too!). "It helps us feel that it's being shared. It helps us to feel loved. All of those things make a significant difference in our quality and quantity of life." On the subject of longevity, research shows social integration—having a romantic partner, having friends, or being connected to your community—can lower your mortality risk.
Importantly, Harry notes that the quantity of friendships you have is not what counts: "I'm often asked how many friends is enough, and it's not really about how many—it's the quality of the relationships with your significant other, with your friends, with your children." That said, try to boost your relationships with the loved ones around you and make quality connections, if you can.
If you are looking to expand your stress management techniques, Harry's recommendations may offer a helpful starting point. As she emphasizes: When things get hectic, "one of the first things we tend to get rid of is what [actually] helps us stay centered and feel better." Perhaps these practices will support your ability to remain grounded when your atmosphere feels anything but.
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