When diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, doctors always advise you to reduce stress. But wait a minute, we just received a new diagnosis, with new lifestyle changes, and an uncertain future… how are we supposed to reduce stress?! This post will walk you through what I do to keep stress at a minimum.
In my house, my partner and I are especially in tune with stress as we both have autoimmune diseases. Crohn's disease (my partner’s condition) can be triggered or worsened by stress, and I definitely notice my celiac symptoms are magnified when I’m experiencing stress. In addition, stress can trigger new autoimmune diseases -- we do not intend to collect any more than we already have!
And let’s also go ahead and remember that excessive stress is just generally poor for our health and unpleasant, to say the least.
Here are 5 strategies my partner and I take to minimize stressors in our lives. Each one focuses on a different facet -- stress in our environment, stressful situations, relationships, self-care, and mindset. I recommend starting with small changes and choosing just one strategy each week, until gradually you create new habits and environmental changes to improve your overall stress level.
We only notice improvement when we take action, so I created a printable workbook (it’s free) to walk you through each of these steps. I use this workbook myself whenever I feel the stress creeping in.
Now that we printed our workbooks and are ready to follow along, let’s get started.
How to Find Stress Relief:
1. Take a minimalist approach with possessions.
"Strive not to get more done, but to have less to do." - Francine Jay
When we have fewer things in our home, we have less laundry, less cleaning, less maintenance, and more time for self-care and relaxation. Minimalism means living with fewer possessions to decrease the overwhelm of day-to-day chores.
This is in no way intended to push rigid minimalism, and I don’t intend to live that lifestyle anytime soon myself. However, adopting aspects of this movement into our lives can allow us to significantly decrease our day-to-day stress. When adapted to your lifestyle, minimalism should feel liberating, not limiting.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Evaluate possessions by category and remove any items that no longer serve you.
This includes clearing out old sweaters, pants, or other items of clothing, music, computer files, a closet, junk drawer, etc. Any items you don't use on a regular basis should be donated or sold.
If I'm not sure about an item, I like to tuck it away for up to 6 months. If I don’t need it during that time, I know I can get rid of it for good.
2. Remove most items from surfaces.
My challenge to you is to go around your home and commit to keeping two surfaces clear all week (tuck any existing decorations away for the week). See if you notice a positive impact with a clearer coffee table, nightstand, kitchen counter, etc.
When I do this, I notice that dusting, cleaning, and settling down for a fun activity like a puzzle or game involves significantly less effort, set up, and stress. Multiply this by all the times in a day we pass by and use these surfaces - the stress relief adds up fast!
Take time to notice how each of these activities impacts the overall stress in your daily routine. Any notable improvements will motivate you to continue to minimize your possessions. Be sure to record the impact and your intention to continue the habit in your workbook.
I recommend starting with small goals and adjusting to favor areas that give you the most stress relief.
Examples from our workbook:
A blank chart is provided for you in the free printable workbook.
2. Identify and let go of unnecessary stressors.
Do you have a tendency to worry about situations that are out of your control? It can be easy for us to worry about a score on a test, pending medical results, or fears for the future that may never come to pass. As someone who struggles with anxiety, this is an area that needs consistent care and attention in my life.
Here is a method we can use for evaluating the stressors in our lives and taking action to eliminate them:
Simply bringing awareness to these stressors and improving them or recognizing that they are out of our control can reduce mental clutter and relieve us of their burden.
Another excellent tool for identifying unnecessary stressors is prioritizing your to-do list using the quadrant method. This allows you to focus on the most important tasks and find items on your to-do list that are unnecessary or can wait until later. This method is the single most valuable tool I use to decrease stress in my life because it offers a roadmap for how to best spend my time. You can find a detailed guide and fill-in-the-blank worksheet with examples in the free printable workbook. Type in your information below to get yours now:
3. Evaluate your relationships.
"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." - Jim Rohn
One of the most impactful ways we can find stress relief is by evaluating our most important relationships. Recognizing an unhealthy relationship and taking positive action is like lifting an emotional weight off our shoulders.
In this exercise, you’ll find that some people are energy giving, and others are energy draining. Before we move on, however, please read and re-read this next statement:
You deserve supportive, energy-giving relationships that encourage and nurture you to become your best self.
Recognizing a struggling relationship does not mean that anyone needs to be removed from your life, but it may indicate that it’s time to initiate serious conversations.
The Stress Relief Workbook includes a fill-in-the-blank chart and table, but here is a guide to get you started on this task:
- Focus on one individual.
- Ask yourself: How do I feel when spending time with this person? Do I leave them feeling happy and motivated, or do I leave them feeling stressed or unworthy?
- Consider your dialogue when you are together:
- Are you positively supporting each other’s dreams and goals, or are the conversations competitive?
- Remember that while a little competition or the occasional vent session can be cathartic, consistent conversations centered on negative topics can drain our energy, leaving us feeling worn out and unmotivated.
Your words have power, and so do the words of others. If you are being put down, participating in or listening to excessive gossip, or listing all the reasons you’re overwhelmed without looking for solutions, it might be a relationship that needs care and attention. Take the time to sit this person down and have a conversation. You may even want to consider decreasing your exposure to them.
4. Make time for guilt-free self-care practices.
Do you feel guilty when you take “me” time to do something fun? Many of us forgo self-care because we feel guilty or selfish when we prioritize ourselves. In reality, it is one of the best things we can do to support the people we care about.
"You can only give from a full cup." - The Author's Mom
We offer more to the world when we have calm, focused energy. A tired horse can only travel so far. By practicing regular self-care, you boost your ability to adapt to your circumstances and be a positive, supportive friend to others.
How many of us have shown up to a party when we were running on empty, only to find that we could offer little to the conversation and left feeling even more exhausted?
To get you started on the path to regular self-care, here are suggestions for quick, 1 and 5 minute self-care practices:
5. Give up your limiting beliefs and negative mindset.
"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!" ~ The Great Audrey Hepburn
We are all amazing people, capable of so many beautiful and amazing things! But if we spend our time telling ourselves otherwise, it will become true.
A negative mindset can drain us of energy and motivation. It can leave us feeling ‘stuck’ in bad situations. We expend so much energy thinking about how we are limited, that we prevent ourselves from living. For me, this is especially the case with the limitations I feel as someone diagnosed with celiac disease.
By switching to a more positive mindset, we permit ourselves to recognize our own strengths and ability to move through obstacles. It is through this mindset that my partner and I pursue limitless travel with Celiac and Crohn’s diseases and maintain vibrant, healthy lives.
Here are some strategies for bringing more awareness to your thoughts and increasing positivity:
Wear an elastic bracelet, hair tie, or rubber band around your wrist. Every time you notice yourself thinking or saying something negative (ex: “I know I did poorly on that test”), switch it to the other wrist. I consider myself to be a positive person but the number of times I switched the hair tie on my wrist on the first day made my jaw drop. Recognizing that there is a problem is the first step to fixing it.
Have a list of gratitudes on hand
I keep a notecard with things I’m grateful for in my wallet. When I feel something is unfair or I'm frustrated with a situation at work, I take out my list and recognize all the amazing circumstances and privileges in my life. It helps to see the bigger picture when we’re overwhelmed and not behaving like our best selves.
Notice the little things
I know my life is out of balance when I stop smelling the flowers, literally. I like to smell all the different types of flowers when going for a walk in summer. That little bit of mindfulness makes all the difference in relieving the overwhelm that leads to negativity.
Notice the flowers, the way the light plays on different objects, hug someone you care about. It’s about taking 10 seconds to notice the beauty in your surroundings.
Shifting toward a positive mindset is more like trimming a hedge than chopping down a tree. A few weeks after we make adjustments, the hedge grows back and we need to trim it back again. I revisit these stress relief strategies regularly to stay on track.
I’ll leave you with a final thought and a reminder to get the Free Printable Workbook to implement these strategies:
"Your attitude determines your altitude." - Zig Ziglar
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With love and gratitude,
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