It’s easy to make big, sweeping statements about what you’ll do this year (especially with a glass of bubbly in one hand). And while losing weight or eating less are likely high on your list, in order to make any difference in your habits or your body, you need to start with stress first. Why? Because when you’re stressed, even the best intentions and lifestyle practices fall by the wayside. Here are some strategies for making real change in the New Year.
Schedule your downtime.
Whether it’s a catch-up lunch with an old friend or drinks with a prospective client, if you don’t book it, it ain’t happening. The same goes for your stress relief. While a monthly massage is a great start, you need to plan for mini-stress breaks throughout the week, even throughout the day. That might mean blocking off 30 minutes before work to read a book for pleasure or do some writing, or booking treadmill time on your calendar, just like everything else that needs doing.
Forget your goals.
Sounds counterintuitive, but in fact getting locked onto a goal may not work in your favor, says health and wellness expert Eva Pelegrin, founder of Attune Holistic Fitness in Manhattan. “You can and should have a goal, but once you set it, forget it,” she says. “It’s not enough to say ‘I want to lose 10 pounds,’ or ‘I’m going to fit into my skinny jeans.’” Talking about it won’t cut it—in fact, it may just make you more stressed because you keep thinking, “I need to do this!” rather than actually doing it.
So rather than get caught up in what you want, get clear on what you’ll do, whether that’s get up a half hour earlier to exercise, pack a delicious homemade lunch, or take 10 quiet minutes to breathe deeply first thing in the morning.
Unplug during off hours (at least some of the time).
There are some heart-healthy benefits to shutting down work email, especially in the evenings and on weekends. In a study written up in the Huffington Post, researchers from University of California Irvine and the U.S. Army looked at the heart-rate variability (more varied=lower stress levels) of 13 study participants and found that those who were provided access to work email were more often on “high alert” with less heart-rate variability than those who were cut off from their accounts for five days. Maybe you can’t do five days—but you can do five hours.
Build in playtime.
Don’t underestimate what a little R&R can do for mind, body, and spirit. You may think of kicking back as a luxury, but it isn’t. Taking time to play, be creative, laugh, all sends a message to your body and mind that all is well, so it can ease off stress mode and you can engage with your life more fully.
That might look like one evening out a week with friends, or just joking around with colleagues. This is not only key to relieving stress, but also strengthens the very relationships that keep you afloat during tough times. Study after study has found that people with strong social networks are happier and healthier for longer than people without.
Discover your biggest stressors.
You can’t address what you don’t know. So if you haven’t taken your online assessment yet, now’s the time. Find out exactly where you fall on the spectrum of stress, and what issues plague you most—and address it. Let us help you start to change the very roots of that stress response—and shift your entire outlook in the process.
Terri Trespicio is a media personality, lifestyle expert, and coach. Visit her at territrespicio.com.