Stress can feel inevitable in today’s world, but you can control its effect on your daily life.

Feeling stressed is normal. In fact, stress can even be helpful by briefly boosting brain function, your immune system, and sparking motivation. However, chronic stress is something that can really take a toll on our mental health, eventually leading to physical symptoms as well.

It’s unrealistic to suggest that stress can be totally avoided, but what you can do is take steps to control your stress levels on a daily basis. By adopting these 5 habits that fight negative emotions, you’ll find your overall stress levels can become much more manageable.

1. Think about what triggers your stress or negative emotions and find ways to avoid them.

We are all individuals, and that means that what sparks stress or anxiety for one person may not affect someone else the same way. This is why recognizing what affects you is the first step in managing your stress.

A significant stress trigger for many people right now is social media and watching the news. It’s important to stay up to date with what’s happening in our world and our communities right now, but flooding yourself with the negativity and the conflict that tends to come with social media can be emotionally draining.

If you find yourself feeling upset, worried, or angry when you’re on Facebook or watching the news, consider limiting your consumption of these sources. Remove people from social media that create conflict or simply unfollow their posts. You can also aim to spend only a specific, allotted time checking social media.

Another stressor for many people right now is the lack of structure in their daily lives. Many of us in Chicago and around Millennium Park are still coping with job losses or working from home. Not having a standard 9-to-5 daily schedule can make you feel a bit lost. To combat this, create a flexible daily routine you can follow throughout the week.

2. Start and end your day with a guided meditation and practice breathing exercises.

The way you start your day can set the tone for how the rest of your day will go, and how you end your day can affect how you might feel the next morning.

Consider waking up with an uplifting, focused meditation, and going to sleep with a relaxing, stress-relieving meditation. You can find a number of guided meditation tracks for free on YouTube as well as on apps like Headspace.

Apps like Headspace also have entire libraries of tracks designed for quick listening throughout the day. For example, check out their Motivation library if you’re hitting a midday slump and need some encouragement to push through.

Breathing exercises are also very effective tools for stress relief. Many guided meditations incorporate breathing exercises into their tracks, but you can also find specific breathing exercises on YouTube. If you catch yourself feeling anxious or you’re simply on a break at work, take a moment to practice your deep-breathing techniques.

3. Be aware of self-defeating thoughts and learn to challenge them.

Stress can elicit negative thoughts about ourselves. Some common ones you might catch yourself thinking are, “I should be doing more” or “I shouldn’t feel so upset.” Coined by psychologist Clayton Barbeau, the act of “shoulding” yourself is a habit that does nothing but create more pressure and stress for ourselves.

When you catch yourself using “should” phrases or thinking thoughts that are critical of yourself, question whether those are even true. Shift your thinking towards what you can do to reach a goal or complete a task rather than putting unfair—or even impossible—expectations upon yourself.

4. Take care of your physical health with nutritious meals and daily exercise.

Stress strongly influences our eating habits. About 34% of adults say they either overeat or eat unhealthy foods as a response to stress. Others find themselves skipping meals due to stress and anxiety. Think about your own eating habits and how they are affected by stress.

Relieving stress isn’t just about relieving the mind, but also caring for our physical selves. Strive to eat nutritious meals every day and swap out unhealthy splurges for healthier snack alternatives.

Exercise is another fantastic stress reliever. Create a personal challenge to do something active every day. You can start small by walking around your block or doing some push-ups or sit-ups during a TV commercial break.

5. Smile often—even if you’re by yourself or you don’t really feel like there’s a reason to.

As a dental group, we’re all about encouraging our patients to show off their smiles. But it isn’t just because dentistry is our passion. Did you know that the act of smiling actually relieves stress?

Studies have shown that smiling isn’t just a psychological mood-booster, it has a positive physiological effect as well. This means that a smile—yes, even a fake smile—not only improves your mood, but it also physically relaxes your body, thereby relieving tension, stress, and discomfort.

Find ways to smile, even when no one is around. Smile while you’re driving in the car. Smile at your dog or cat. Smile when you look at yourself in the mirror while washing your hands. And though it can feel silly, the times when you really feel stressed and can’t think of a reason to smile are the times purposeful smiling can have the biggest impact.

If the appearance of your smile makes you reluctant to share it with others, we’d welcome you to discuss this with us. Cosmetic dentistry and other forms of dental care can make it possible to get the smile you’ve always wanted.

Take a break from your busy day by visiting Drs. Barr and Diachenko for a checkup and cleaning.

A dental appointment may not be what instantly springs to mind when thinking about self-care, but by shifting your mindset you just might find that a checkup and cleaning can be quite a stress-buster.

If you haven’t seen a dentist in the last six months, why not book an appointment for a hygiene visit? We’ll take a look at your oral health and then you’ll be able to sit back and relax while one of our skilled hygienists gently polishes your smile. You might even try a visualization exercise by picturing your stress being cleaned away along with the plaque build-up on your teeth.

To schedule your visit, call our Millennium Park office or fill out this online appointment request form. We look forward to seeing you and helping you care for yourself by caring for your smile.