How Gardening Can Fight Stress And Improve Your Life

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It’s National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to evaluate how you’ve been fueling your body. If one of the changes you’ve decided to make involves eating more fruits and vegetables, you might want to consider starting your own garden. Not only could this decision be beneficial to your waistline, it could also improve your mental health.

The Research

We’re fascinated by nature and this curiosity can help us better cope with life’s challenges. In fact, one study showed that engaging with a garden distracts us from our worries and stops us from obsessing about our problems. Over 12 weeks, participants saw an improvement in the severity of their depression during and immediately after the gardening study, and three months later, they still reported significant improvements!

Cortisol is a hormone released by the body when we’re experiencing stress. When the levels remain elevated in our bodies, it can increase our risk of depression, mental illness, impaired immune function, weight gain, heart disease and so much more. Incredibly, spending time in nature can help keep things under control.

Japanese researchers discovered that spending 30 minutes in the woods could not only lower cortisol levels, but could also improve heart rates and blood pressure. Similarly, another study showed that after 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their moods were boosted by the activity.

The takeaway? Spending just half an hour with your hands in the soil, surrounded by vegetation, can provide serious benefits for your body, mind and overall health. Interested? Here are some tips to help you get started.

Keep it Simple

If you’ve never gardened before, you might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of starting a new hobby. The key is to start small and keep it simple. You don’t have to tear up your whole backyard and plant a farm — be realistic about the time and effort you’re willing to put into it. The last thing you want is to be stressed out about your stress-relieving garden!

While it’s great to listen to suggestions and advice from experienced “green thumbs,” this garden is all about you. No, you don’t need a specific type of shoes or apron to do this. Yes, starting with a few potted plants on your porch counts. Gardening is an escape and a hobby, so as soon as it starts feeling like a chore, simplify!

Unplug and Dig In

When you step out to your garden, leave the world behind. Thirty minutes from now, everything will be right where you left it. You’ll devote more than enough hours to texting, emails and social media throughout the rest of your day. When it’s time to weed, plant and till, allow yourself to slow down and disconnect.

Interestingly, studies have shown that multitasking decreases efficiency and that excessive mobile phone use can disrupt sleep and actually increase feelings of stress and depression.  Besides, you don’t want to get soil and grime in the grooves of your smartphone, right? Easy solution — leave it inside!

Stress-Reducing Designs

Ready to take your gardening efforts to the next level? There’s nothing wrong with keeping things small, but this is an opportunity to get creative. Use your imagination when choosing plants and a color palette and let it be a reflection of what you love to see.

For those seeking a little guidance, Dr. Leonard P. Perry at the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science described some of the traits associated with gardens designed for serenity. As he explained, stress-reducing gardens “are often similar to any other woodland or flower garden, only emphasizing certain design principles and colors.”

Live in the Moment

There’s so much to see and do in a garden. Rather than dwelling on the challenges you’re facing or the lengthy to-do list waiting for you, give yourself permission to live in the moment. Notice the birds chirping, the gentle breeze and aromatic scent of soil and vegetation.

Practice mindfulness, a stress-relieving technique, by becoming fully captivated with what’s happening in your garden. Notice the ants scurrying to find shelter, note the color of the blossoms and contemplate the texture of the earth on your fingers. Be fascinated by all of the life that’s happening right before your eyes. It’s life-changing.

Get Down and Dirty!

This spring, for both your mental and physical health, consider planting a garden. As an added benefit, if you grow fruits and vegetables, you’ll have fresh produce to enjoy! No salad will taste better than the one grown by your own hands.

Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, give it a try and see what happens. Set aside 30 minutes, start small and see what happens. You might be surprised by how much you enjoy it!

Jeanne is a social sciences professor and writer.

This Is The Type Of Stress That’s Actually Good For You

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I stress, you stress, we all stress for eustress! What on earth is eustress? You may have heard this mental health buzzword bandied around lately and wondered how exactly it differs from regular old life-is-making-me-crazy stress. But believe it or not, eustress is a kind of stress that’s actually good for us. (Yep, that’s a thing.) We spoke to licensed professional counselor Amanda Ruiz, MS of Pennsylvania’s The Counseling Collective about how to identify the eustresses in life — and get the most out of them.


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Definition

With all we hear about stress raising blood pressure, disturbing sleep, and even bringing on early death (yikes), it may be hard to believe there’s a kind of stress that actually boosts our mental and physical health. So to understand eustress, you may have to dismantle some preconceived notion. Simply put, eustress is any kind of pressure in our lives that actually brings positive results.

“Eustress is the normal amount of stress that you feel when doing a positive challenge, something you feel relatively capable in completing,” explains Ruiz. Happy, exhilarating events in life, like having a baby or starting a new relationship even though they feel good, create their own kind of stress on the body and brain. After all, some of the same hormones — like adrenalin and cortisol — involved in fear are also present in times of excitement. Therefore, experiencing something thrilling or challenging, such as riding a roller coaster, completing a tough project at work, or buying a new home, brings a certain kind of pressure.

The benefits of eustress

This pressure, though it may technically qualify as “stress,” is surprisingly good for us. When we undertake something difficult, it’s an opportunity for personal growth, whether we succeed or fail. And change, a common source of stress, adds a bit of spice to life. “Eustress keeps life exciting,” says Ruiz. “Without it, you might become bored, complacent, and lack motivation.”

Plenty of research has looked at the dramatic effects of positive versus negative stress. The right balance of stress has been shown to increase alertness and cognitive performance, as well as keep us more adaptable. A 2015 study found that people with high levels of good stress had less fatigue in the morning and throughout the day than those who experienced distress (AKA negative stress). And another, conducted on college students, found a connection between the level of eustress and overall life satisfaction.

When is it eustress and when is it destress?

So when is it distress and when is it eustress? Typically, distress makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed. Eustress, on the other hand, brings a feeling of excitement, accomplishment, or a challenge accepted. (The “eu” comes from a Greek word meaning “good, well, pleasant, or true,” as in “euphoria.”) Making cuts to your budget, for example, could be a distress if it’s a struggle to make ends meet — or could be a positive if it’s to save for your spring break trip to Italy. “If you feel competent to cope with the stressful event, then you are most likely experiencing eustress,” says Ruiz. “If you doubt your ability to cope with it, and instead if feels unpleasant, then it’s probably distress.”

Turning distress into eustress

Feel like most of the stressors in your life are the kind that bring you down? There’s hope! Your mindset could go a long way toward actually transforming circumstances you perceive as distress into eustress. A 2013 study found that subjects’ thoughts about their own stress had a major impact on their physical experience of it. In one module of the study, subjects were interviewed about whether they found life stressors to be “enhancing” or “debilitating.” In another, they were shown videos that framed the concept of stress as either one of these two descriptors. All told, people who were able to think of their stress as having potential benefits had less negative physical responses to it.

To get the most out of any stressful situation, try to keep an open mind to how pressures might lead to personal growth. And, regardless of the circumstances, finding a self-care practice that works for you can keep stress at manageable levels. “Learning good stress management techniques can be helpful so you are adequately equipped to cope while going through any stressor,” says Ruiz.

This article originally appeared on Brit + Co. 

Here’s Why Your Job Is Causing You Stress And What You Can Do

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Americans are collectively dissatisfied with their professions.According to a recent Gallup study, 51% of US workers don’t feel any kind of meaningful connection to their careers – with 16% outing their dejection as the author of their poor performances.

Because we devote so much time to the thing that pays our bills (92,120 hours over the course of a lifetime to be exact)  our sense of self-worth has become beclouded. Of course, a delusion of purpose operates with a great many other components.

Let’s dissect.

Aimless and undervalued

A general crisis of professional identity has been brewing for some time. Ladders has previously reported about how “a lack of recognition” is one of the primary factors that seduce many young workers into a perpetual state of career readjustment:

“The 2017 Mind the Workplace report, released by the nonprofit group Mental Health America (MHA) and The Faas Foundation, surveyed more than 17,000 U.S. workers in 19 industries and found that 71% were either “actively looking for new job opportunities” or had the topic on their minds “always, often or sometimes” at work.”

On balance, Millennials believe their wages to be a poor representation of the work they put in–this poses a huge problem. Validation rivals most monetary incentives from where I sit, especially to those of us being compensating for doing the things we’re passionate about. A failure on the employers part to satisfy pangs of ego (not that they ought to) seems to be resulting in workers miserably submitting to mediocrity in the fields they’re falling out of love with.

recently wrote about the effect the college myth has had on our evaluation of meaningful careers. The erroneous equivocation of degrees and wages, caused many people to lose sight of what it was they needed to feel satisfied at work – when education becomes a means to economic stability, identity tends to get lost in the exchange.

There is a wealth of reasons to be miserable at work outside of the existential ones, of course. Factors like the commute, stagnation, your coworkers, your boss, long-hours,  also play crucial roles over time.

Performative workaholism and pervasive career malaise have melded, giving way to the most depressed labor ecosystem in decades. In a recent study, 63% of Americans said that their job caused them to engage in unhealthy behavior, like crying and or drinking. Work-related stress also rivals diabetes as a heart disease risk factor.

Care about your job, Be passionate about yourself

According to and 

The book mentions 7 key authors of our daily work anxiety, Fosslien and Mollie call them the “7 deadly stresses:” obsessing about email on vacation, the scope creep (continuous arbitrary growth in a project’s scope), unpredictable schedules, the information firehouse, sleep deprivation, unrealistic deadlines, and social isolation.

On the subject, they state: “Letting your job consume you is unhelpful and unhealthy. It makes small problems seem exceptional and places too much emphasis on casual conversations and interactions.”

They believe that caring less is not only personally relieving, it also makes you less likely to produce panicky incompetent work. The same impulse that will see you turn off your phone so that you can be more engaged in your life outside of work, will dually foster a clear and level headed mind ready to be productive the following morning. They emphasize that being “less passionate” about work doesn’t mean not caring; you should simply care about yourself more.

When you leave work, they suggest you ensure you truly “leave” by adhering to these helpful stipulations: only touch email once, allow one day a week to be completely dedicated to catching up (don’t take on any new task), make room for mini-breaks, and establish an after-work ritual, like bike riding home – something that can serve both mental and physical stimulation.

4 Ways To Stay Calm In The Face Of Daily Stress

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By LARAE QUY

I had to overcome several obstacles while in the FBI Academy as I trained to become an FBI agent. I needed to learn how to stay calm in the face of daily stress because I found it difficult to pass the physical fitness requirements.

Among the many lessons I learned along the way about how to stay calm is this: it’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them. I found a natural ally in the Stoic philosophy.

The dictionary describes a stoic like this: Being Stoic is being calm and almost without any emotion. When you’re Stoic, you don’t show what you’re feeling and you also accept whatever is happening. The noun Stoic is a person who’s not very emotional. The adjective stoic describes any person, action, or thing that seems emotionless and almost blank.

This is misleading because Stoics are very aware of their emotions and go to great lengths to understand them. There’s none of that stiff upper lip nonsense with them; Mr. Spock was not a Stoic.

They feel every emotion as acutely as anyone else. They acknowledge, experience, and then domesticate them in order to achieve inner calm. In other words, they keep control of their emotions so they can stay calm in the face of daily stress. They developed mental toughness to get through hard times.

Stoic philosophy asks us to differentiate between what we can change and what we can’t. We can’t control the weather, stock market, our genetic makeup, or the rudeness of a stranger. We can yell and shout but it won’t make a difference. We can wish and hope but no matter how hard we try, there are many things we can’t change or control.

Since we can’t control external events, we need to focus on the things we can control—ourselves and our response to external events. It’s a philosophy that reminds us that the world can be unpredictable; we need to strive to be steadfast and develop a strong mind so we can be in control of ourselves.

In other words, we need to grow up, stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and take responsibility for our own actions.

The Stoics believed that fulfillment should be based on behavior rather than words, on the things we can control and not those we can’t. They were not idle philosophers who sat on a porch and pontificated; they were people of action who solved their problems on a battlefield, not in a classroom.

Leaders like Marcus Aurelius found a stoic attitude prepared them for failure and guarded them against the arrogance of success.

I know how hard it can be to maintain a positive attitude when you feel you’re in over your head but here is what I learned from the Stoics about how to stay calm in the face of daily stress:

1. Be mindful of your day
When at work, we fantasize about a vacation; on vacation, we worry about the work that’s piled up on our desk. We dwell on intrusive memories from the past and imagine the glory that lies ahead of us. Anywhere but here, our minds pop in and out of the present moment. As a result, our thoughts and emotions control us, something the Stoics warn against.

Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “Ordinary thoughts course through our mind like a deafening waterfall. We need to rest in stillness—to stop doing and focus on just being.” Living in the moment is also called mindfulness, and Kabat-Zinn is the biomedical scientist who introduced meditation into mainstream medicine.

When we become mindful, we observe our thoughts from moment to moment but we don’t judge them. Mindfulness requires us to be with our thoughts just as they are, neither good nor bad, and not grasp the positive thoughts or shove away the negative ones.

Acceptance of a negative emotion doesn’t mean you have to like what produced the negativity. It simply means you accept that certain things are beyond your control. The anger, jealousy, or pain is there whether you like it or not. Just embrace the emotion—sadness, stress, pain, or anger is there whether you like it or not.

According to Kabat-Zinn, acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do; what happens next and what you choose to do comes out of your understanding of this moment.

“True fulfillment is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”—Seneca

How To Make It Work For You: Read “Full Castrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He writes about his medically-proven stress reduction program based on mindfulness. It gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology. He illustrates how mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga can help us stay calm in the face of daily stress so we can establish greater balance of body and mind.

2. Select with care
A recent study of 5,000 top performers in business yielded a surprise. The study found that the highest-ranked performers were not those who did the most.

Nor was a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers accepted fewer tasks and then obsessed over them. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go.

They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel. Talent, effort and luck mattered, but not so much.

“You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply — though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.”—Seneca

How To Make It Work For You: Focus is the key when you want to pursue goals with value rather than stick with the status-quo. You do not need to work longer hours to outperform; you need to set your priorities and then pour your blood, sweat, and tears into those areas. It’s easier to stay calm in the face of daily stress once you select the important goals in your life that produce value for you.

3. Quiet the inner nag
Distractions often occur when our inner nag starts to fret about all the things that need to get done. As a result, intrusive thoughts constantly interrupt our productivity, and we end up second-guessing our choices.

Research behind the Zeigarnik Effect proves that the unconscious mind needs the conscious mind to plan how to finish tasks or accomplish goals. That’s why the inner nag keeps fretting about all that needs to be done. When this happens, it’s impossible to stay calm in the face of daily stress.

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”—Marcus Aurelius

How To Make It Work For You:

Sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper and let your thoughts ramble.
Whether it’s small or large, important or not, write down every single thing that either needs a decision or has your attention.
Don’t take the time to prioritize the items on your To-Do list at this point. Just listen to the voice of that inner nag and write down whatever pops up.

4. Identify the steps
FBI firearms training showed me to how to narrow my focus to the one thing that needs attention immediately (front-sight) while at the same time registering awareness of the bigger picture of other things around me (the target).

In the same way, your conscious mind may now be focused on a new goal, but the unconscious mind still sees everything else that needs to get done. It needs closure and it will continue to create intrusive thoughts that won’t go away until you’ve turned your attention back to those other tasks that also need to be addressed.

In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about the importance of identifying Action Steps after you’ve created your To-Do List. The list by itself doesn’t narrow your focus enough when you have lots of priorities clamoring for your attention. You continue to create anxiety for the unconscious mind because it needs more than a goal—it needs a plan! It needs an action step.

Prioritize the to-do list you created in Step 3. You’ve addressed all the tasks that your unconscious brain is anxious about, but now you need to prioritize each item according to importance.

Beside each item on the prioritized To-Do list, identify the specific next action step to be taken regarding that item. For example, if you need to buy a birthday present, write down “Drive to Nordstrom tomorrow.”

The unconscious mind needs specifics like time, place, and opportunity. Once the plan is formed, the unconscious stops nagging with constant reminders.

If you have a presentation to make at 8:00 am, your unconscious mind wants to know exactly what needs to be done. You may have 100 other items that also need attention, but you can relax and not worry about the inner nag bothering you again about it if you make a plan to review your notes at 7:00 am that morning.

It is human nature to finish what we start, and front-sight focus is how we pay full attention to one goal at a time so we can be successful.