The world can feel overwhelming all too easily these days. With information overload always just a click away, countless things on our to-do lists, and a never-ending influx of stressful news, it’s no wonder so many people feel anxious, vulnerable, and downright exhausted.
While we may feel somewhat powerless amidst it all, we can still take steps to make our environment and daily routine as grounding and healthy as possible. In many cases, that might mean adding certain self-care practices into our day—but, often, there are specific foods, habits, and other lifestyle factors we might also want to limit in order to create some balance.
Now, no one’s telling you to quit your favorite foods cold turkey or throw your cell phone in a lake. However, taking a mindful look at the parts of your day and lifestyle that might be exacerbating feelings like anxiety can help you better understand what does and doesn’t serve you.
“In times of stress, most of us are overstimulated,” says licensed clinical psychologist Yasmine Saad, Ph. D. So, limiting added stimulation in all its forms can help turn down some of the noise and help you find a greater sense of quiet and calm.
For many of us, mindfully pumping the brakes on the following five things can help minimize the overwhelm so that we can carry on in crazy times without throwing our wellbeing out the window.
1. Social Media
It’s no surprise that social media is one thing that so many experts identify as something to limit when the going gets tough, is it? After all, there’s a reason that digital detoxes have become so commonplace.
If you find yourself stressed or burnt out, try uninstalling your social media apps from your phone for a day or two until you feel more replenished, suggests holistic psychologist, Erica Tait, L.C.S.W., L.C.A.D.C. This way, “instead of habitually grabbing our phone and scrolling, maybe we take a moment to go outside and take a few deep breaths or mindfully drink some water or tea,” she says. (Not sure what to do instead of grabbing your phone? Try one of these nine acts of self-care, all of which take five minutes or less.)
Even though social media in many ways connects us (or, at least it can if we use it intentionally), it often creates a sense of heightened isolation and loneliness as a result of the FOMO and comparison we get stuck in when using it. In fact, research directly links this “persistent contact and pervasive awareness” with stress, especially in women.
No, you don’t have to swear off Instagram forever—but taking a little break so that you can recharge often works wonders.
As much as being stressed drives us toward the comfort of eating ice cream right out of the carton, the instant gratification is short-lived and ultimately depletes us. In fact, the blood sugar rollercoaster caused by refined sugars can influence our mood and anxiety levels, says The Vitamin Shoppe dietitian Brittany Michels, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N.
Not to mention, we often use sugar as a quick fix when we really just want to distract ourselves from stress or numb our stress response instead of doing something to regulate it, adds Tait.
In these high-intensity times, try to limit processed, sugary foods as much as possible, the experts recommend. If you can, reach for something naturally sweet, like a banana with peanut butter or one of these nutritionist go-to’s for healthy sweetness.
Additionally, if you’ve experienced disordered eating or food restriction that have impacted your wellbeing, working with a therapist can help you identify and cultivate other methods that’ll help you cope with stress in a more balanced way.
Some days that morning cup of coffee seems like just what you need—but when your body is already supercharged with anxiety and stress, you might be better off sipping on something else.
“Coffee can feel like a go-to for a burst of energy when we are stressed; however, high levels of caffeine elevate cortisol levels, which are linked to increased stress,” says Tait. Research suggests people with anxiety, in particular, often experience worsened symptoms after consuming caffeine.
Read More: 5 Signs You Need A Break From Caffeine
Though deciding to go caffeine-free for life may feel just as stressful as whatever stress you’re dealing with, taking a break—or at least cutting your consumption down—can help your body manage stress more easily. Try swapping your java for matcha, tea, or one of the many adaptogen-boosted coffee alternatives out there these days (such as Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Cacao with Reishi), recommends Michels. Of course, if you don’t want to part with your latte, there’s always decaf!
4. News Consumption
Having to process events happening across the globe day-in and day-out is hard on our well-being. This chronic exposure to stress occurring all over the world adds to our own personal stress levels, says Tait.
When your here-and-now feels overwhelming on its own, consider it an invitation to turn off the TV or your Twitter notifications. You don’t have to completely hide under a rock, but even setting aside 15 minutes a day to check the news and committing to disconnecting for the rest of the day can create a healthy boundary that allows you to stay informed without exhausting yourself. After all, it’s hard to be an engaged, compassionate global citizen when you’re too stressed or rundown to take any action.
Self-criticism is probably something we could all stand to limit all the time—and though it’s all too easy to get stuck in negative self-talk during crazy times, that’s exactly when it’s most important to give that voice the boot.
“When we are stressed, we tend to be more critical and hard on ourselves,” Tait says. “It is important that we remind ourselves that we are human and that it is okay to not be okay or perfect all the time.” While we may not be able to control all of the external stressors weighing on us, practicing self-compassion allows us to balance out our inner experience. Research even suggests that practicing self-compassion is a better predictor of psychological health than practicing meditation (and that’s really saying something).
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One way to practice this: Ask yourself honestly what you really need in order to feel better, Ysaad suggests. Do you need some time alone or to connect with loved ones? Shifting the inner dialogue away from whatever you think you’re doing “wrong” to how you can show yourself some love is the ticket to giving yourself whatever you need to better manage the stress you are experiencing.