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Stress management tips for a better life

Stress management can have a big impact on your overall happiness. If you feel frazzled, with no time to relax or enjoy your favorite activities, these self-care techniques may change your life. Consider this permission to take a breather.

The importance of self-care

"Self-care is simply the act of loving yourself by nourishing your mind, body, and spirit," says Robin Raflo Hurtado, LCSW, a geriatric outpatient care coordinator at Piedmont Sixty Plus Services. "It is important because our individual need for reflection and replenishment is often overlooked in this constantly connected world."

Hurtado likes to use a car racing analogy to describe self-care:

"The racecar has to make a pit stop every few laps in order to go the distance, maintain healthy functioning, and gain important feedback; otherwise, it can literally crash and burn," she explains. "Similarly, we need to take 'pit stops' in the form of self-care so we can refuel our own reserves of compassion, patience, and energy.  If we forgo self-care, we are at risk for feeling disconnected to ourselves and loved ones, becoming burnt out in caring roles (caregiver, parent, professional), and feeling increasingly scattered, overwhelmed, and reactive to daily life."

Self-care balances the nervous system

Practicing self-care helps balance the sympathetic nervous system (which governs fight-or-flight response, adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol) with the parasympathetic nervous system (which regulates our ability to slow down and replenish).

"In our fast-paced culture, the sympathetic nervous system is often in overdrive, causing reactive and charged responses to stressful situations," says Hurtado. "If we are in better balance, we can often learn to view stress objectively with more thorough responses."

4 self-care techniques for less stress

Simple techniques used regularly can create a better sense of balance. Hurtado recommends the following tips (bonus: they're all free and available to anyone).

  1. Enjoy quiet time. Take 10 to 20 minutes before bed or after waking up in the morning to have uninterrupted quiet time to focus on yourself, perhaps deep breathing, praying, visualizing your day or stretching. Resist the urge to have unnecessary distractions around during this time, like your phone, TV, or other gadgets. Taking this time helps decompress the day, releases stress, and communicates to your mind that you are a priority. This may feel strange or uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it can become a very beneficial ritual.

  2. Get active. Exercise is fundamental to a healthy lifestyle, physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Research has shown that whatever is good for your heart is good for your brain, thereby making exercise one of the most important interventions for maintaining brain health. Additionally, it allows you to clear your mind and get a surge of endorphins. Choose activities you enjoy (yoga, dancing, group exercise) versus something you dread. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.

  3. Jot down your thoughts. Journaling is an excellent self-care tool, as it helps you process various challenges, validates your feelings and boosts critical thinking skills.

  4. Spend time in nature. Getting out in nature can be very replenishing and therapeutic. Whether you're taking a hike in the woods, working in a garden, or sitting in the backyard, observing the natural elements around you can still the mind and promote calm.

"We have technology at our fingertips 24/7 and this can erode our ability to fully unplug, so self-care is absolutely necessary for introspective and calm evaluation of the world around us," says Hurtado.

See additional relaxation and stress-relief tips.

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