If you have emotional baggage, there are ways to help unpack that toxic load and keep it from building up again, says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., author of Change Your Mind, Change Your Body. The following steps will provide your entire self–back included–with some much-needed stress relief:
1 Get plenty of rest. When you skimp on sleep, your ability to handle stressful emotions decreases. Small problems can send you over the edge more quickly.
2 Prioritize the demands on your time. By overcommitting, you have fewer inner resources to cope with challenges. Figure out what activities are really essential and concentrate on those.
3 Know yourself. Things in the past (an unfaithful spouse, a miscarriage) color your reactions to current events. “It’s like wearing emotional sunglasses,” says Kearney-Cooke. Knowing your prejudices can help you recognize inappropriate responses.
4 Acknowledge your anger. That doesn’t mean yelling obscenities. Instead, explore your feelings in a journal. Recognizing negative emotions can help you dispel them.
5 Distract yourself from stress. Call a good friend, head out for a walk, or rent a funny movie.
6 Don’t sweat the small stuff. It can be tempting to react angrily when someone cuts you off on the highway or snubs you at a party. But stewing over minor insults will only impede your happiness.
7 Limit your frustration. If you’ve suffered a blow like getting passed over for a job, allow yourself to feel hurt and angry. “But put a limit on it,” says Kearney-Cooke. “When the time expires, get on with your life.”
8 Develop an inner applause meter. Your spouse, kids, and boss won’t always appreciate you, so call their attention to major efforts. But sometimes the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward.
9 Get plenty of exercise. A brisk half-hour on the treadmill boosts feel-good brain chemicals. “It won’t solve your problems, but it will help release your anger,” says Kearney-Cooke.
10 Eat healthy. Comfort foods high in fat and sugar may reduce stress hormones in the short run. But in the long-term, a well-balanced diet contributes to better brain chemistry and emotional stability.