Reduce Stress and Improve Health in 6 Easy Steps

Help is available for people suffering from depression. (Army Photo: Courtesy photo)

If you are like most people, your new year's resolution includes something about getting in shape. (I'm doing the Couch to 5k running program, myself.) What is it for you? Running? Weight training? Finally checking out that yoga studio in the neighborhood? While more exercise and eating better are certainly great goals for a new year, don't forget about your mental health. Good physical health relies on good mental health.

While no one likes stress, its physical effects range from weakening your immune system to forgetfulness. So, to improve your health, cutting down on stress is a great first step – and it doesn't even require a trip to the gym!

  1. Breathe. You've probably felt that feeling when you're really nervous about something and you forget to breathe. Focusing on breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing out slowly through your mouth can imitate the relaxed feeling your body gets when it's sleeping. Your phone can even help you. Take advantage of a free mobile app, Breathe2Relax that will help you practice deep breathing.
  2. Be mindful. In our world of multiple screens, beeping smart phones and the ever-present distraction of the Internet, it can be hard to focus on the moment. What is mindfulness? Here's a scenario: If you're swigging coffee while you're driving and chatting on the phone, you're not being mindful. Mindfulness is doing one thing at a time and focusing on it when you do it.
  3. Send out positive energy. Sending out "energy" may sound hokey, but think about something. When you're driving and someone rudely cuts you off, you scream at them and perhaps even give them an obscene gesture. How does your body feel when you do that? You likely have a racing heart and tense belly. On the other hand, how do you feel when you wave someone into traffic when they're waiting to pull out? You likely feel like you've done a good deed because you know what it's like to try to pull out into busy traffic. See? Not so hokey now. You get what you give.

    You can turn this around and "accept" positive energy, too. Try this: Assume positive intent. When someone says or does something to you that you don't like, don't assume they are doing it to hurt you. Instead, assume their intentions are good. This can be especially helpful in the workplace.

  4. Practice acceptance. Maybe your neighbor has more money, your brother's children outdo your children, and your best friend has a much more supportive family than you do. It can certainly be difficult to accept some things in our lives. But, it's valuable.  It's important to accept the things you can't change and move on.
  5. Enjoy nature. Make a commitment to get outside more often. Whether it's a walk with the dog, tossing the ball with your child, or taking a walk deep into the woods, research shows that even 5 minutes of outdoor time can help your mood.
  6. Remind yourself. If you want to take these suggestions to heart, but find it hard to do so, there are ways you can remind yourself.  One therapist I know suggests wearing a rubber band around your wrist and gently snapping it when you feel yourself veering into negative thought territory.

Visit to take a free and anonymous PTSD self-assessment.

Christine Leccese is the communications and marketing manager at Military Pathways.

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