Your Recipe for Wellbeing: Six Science-based Ingredients for Reducing Stress
- You are not your big toe.Much the same way you may notice pressure on your big toe and your toe may feel uncomfortable, you may notice distressing or uncomfortable thoughts, but that does not mean that you are distressed.It may seem like strange advice, but do not believe everything you think. Thoughts impact how you feel, and, in turn, feelings impact your behavior. But, ultimately thoughts cannot make you do anything and do not define who you are. The better you can become at being aware of your thoughts and simply labeling them (“I’m having the thought…”), the better you can recognize them for what they are—just thoughts.
- The right relationships can heal.Supportive relationships are powerful things and can help heal us both emotionally and physically. One study demonstrated the power of supportive relationships by measuring the time it took for patients’ cuts to heal. The participants in supportive relationship settings healed significantly quicker than those in non-supportive conditions.
- Live by the Magic Ratio.Remember the Magic Ratio, developed by Dr. John Gottman, if you want to keep your relationships healthy or repair a strained one. The Magic Ratio is complimenting, positively approving or engaging with someone five times for every complaint, reprimand, negative comment or argument. The Magic Ratio–five positive actions for every negative one—has been shown to radically improve the supportive quality of relationships.
- Enjoy the great outdoors.From an evolutionary perspective, we were never intended to spend lots of time indoors under artificial light. Yet, most people live and work in these spaces, which is why prioritizing time outdoors is vital to health and happiness. Spending time in nature has been shown to serve as an antidote to stress and helps inspire a sense of awe for life. Time outdoors also increases vitamin D levels, quickens healing and recovery, elevates mood, improves concentration and physical health, and decreases stress levels.Recently, there was an interesting study conducted in a hospital that involved measuring the recovery time of patients who were placed in rooms with a view of a green space or rooms without a view of green space. The patients with a view of the green space reported feeling more optimistic about their recovery, and, in fact, recovered significantly quicker than those patients without a view of green space.
- Schedule time to relax.It’s been shown time and time again that we humans need rest and relaxation–-and lots of it–-to be at our best, cognitively, emotionally, and physically. We start to destroy cells and important muscle tissues as soon as we cross the line from “working optimally” to “being a little fatigued,” and it’s all downhill from there.Pursue relaxation intentionally and recognize the difference between relaxation and recreation. Recreation requires energy, but neurologically the brain is aroused rather than restored. Instead, find a totally relaxing activity – a massage, a warm bath, reading, listening to music, meditating, or doing a comfort activity, like cooking, gardening, or knitting, and make sure to find time for relaxation in your schedule.
- Keep electronics out of the bedroom.Embrace the importance of sleep by creating a nighttime routine that lets your body be restful. People who don’t get enough sleep often feel cranky and sluggish, don’t communicate well, have difficulty concentrating and struggle to learn. In fact, studies have demonstrated that sleep deprived people perform much like drunk people on a variety of mental and physical measures. Since sleep is critical to feeling energized and performing optimally, make sure your bedroom is a rejuvenating environment, reserved for rest, and avoid doing activities that signal being awake, like watching TV, exercising, or answering emails.
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Dr. Clay Cook is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington. He is a former educator and a licensed psychologist.