A Mini Guide to Building Routines That Reduce Stress

Learn how to reduce stress at work and home with routines you can start today.

Since the pandemic, mental health issues have risen globally and in Canada. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in five people in Canada lives with a mental illness each year. Of these mental illnesses, mood and anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent. The Commission estimates that by 2041, people living with a mood or anxiety disorder will skyrocket to 4.9 million. 

Stress and anxiety can have a profound impact on work and home life. According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), those with a mental illness are more likely to be unemployed. Additionally, a workplace leave for mental illness is near twice the cost of a leave caused by a physical illness.

April is Stress Awareness Month, which offers a welcome opportunity to take stock of your mental health and look for new ways to ease stress in your work and home life. This article will cover tips and strategies for coping with life’s most significant stressors, including expert insights from Sophie Bonneau (MA, PCC), founder and leadership coach at Queen Bee Coaching.

Understanding the signs of stress

Whether your most significant life stressors are caused by work, finances, or family obligations, it’s essential to have the tools to recognize the signs of stress in yourself and others. According to Bonneau, a few of the most common symptoms of emotional stress include:

  • Crying easily
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Poor focus or low productivity
  • Irritability or having a short fuse

"Essentially, as adults, we've learned to emotionally regulate, and when we're under a lot of emotional stress, we lose our mastery of that emotional regulation more easily. So, our emotions feel closer to the surface, and we may have bigger reactions to things," Bonneau says. "So, when we're managing our emotional stress at a healthy level, and everything is good, we can just take it in stride. But sometimes it gets too much, the scales tip a little bit, and it becomes unmanageable, and you usually start to see those kinds of signs."

Outside sources that can contribute to stress  

In her experiences working with clients, Bonneau says she’s found that managing stress in the workplace and in our personal lives has become more complicated and challenging in recent years. She believes that the complexities of our lives have increased, as have our expectations for ourselves and the unrelenting pressures we feel daily.

"I believe that humans have seasons and cycles, times when they are more stressed and less stressed. And generally, in workplaces of the past, there was more of a seasonal trend where there would be those high-performance times and those lulls," Bonneau says. "From my experiences working with my clients and through my own experiences, it feels like we're shortening or losing those lulls altogether. It's constant — there's this constant, nonstop demand."

In addition to the general life stressors many of us feel on a day-to-day basis, Bonneau listed some other common factors that can contribute to high-stress levels:

  • Parenting 
  • Health challenges
  • Managing finances 
  • Economic turbulence
  • Supporting ageing parents
  • Work-related responsibilities

"We ask a lot of ourselves, and I think it takes its toll — it's not always sustainable," Bonneau says. "Inevitably, some of that stress can lead to burnout and more serious health problems as people are not always managing what they need to be managing sooner."

How to build routines that reduce stress

When it comes to keeping stress at bay, Bonneau suggests building easy habits in your everyday life that can improve your coping skills and strengthen resiliency. Her tips include:

  • Prioritizing high-quality sleep. Bonneau suggests practicing good sleep hygiene habits like putting away electronics one hour before bed and laying off the caffeine in the afternoon.
  • Focus on quality hydration and nutrition. She also recommends ensuring you’re getting enough water and healthy food throughout the day to lessen the impact of stress on your physical health.
  • Incorporate movement into your routine. Bonneau notes that we are sedentary most of the day in our modern lives. However, our bodies are designed to move, so adding some form of movement to each day is essential, even if it’s just five minutes of stretching or a 15-minute walk.
  • Spend time outside. Getting outside for some fresh air is a simple yet powerful way to support stress management and boost your physical health.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Bonneau also believes in the power of slowing down, finding stillness and connecting with our inner selves to cope with stress.
  • Breathe deeply. Take time throughout the day to notice your breathing: is it shallow? Fast? Breathing deeply and using our full lung capacity can make all the difference in breaking away from a stressful mindset.
  • Ask for help. Many of us may feel like we’re facing life alone, but that’s never the case. Bonneau suggests asking for (and accepting) help when it’s needed to help ease the burden of stress.
  • Set boundaries. In our modern lives, there seems to be a never-ending cycle of to-do list items, invitations, and requests. However, Bonneau emphasizes the importance of saying “no” when you’re at your limit and setting clear boundaries with friends, family members and colleagues.

Bonneau suggests taking it slow by making one small positive change a day. It’s essential to avoid feeling like you must completely change your routine all at once, which could lead to more overwhelm. It’s never too late to begin building healthier habits and incorporating positive ways that help you manage stress. Start small, take baby steps, and remember to act as your own best advocate. If you need additional support, lean on your EAP for services related to your needs.