Life is going along splendidly and then BAM! Something comes along out of the blue, something big, something important or something unwanted. Many of us respond to these things in a similar way; our muscles tense, we feel the unfairness of things in a big way and we feel overwhelmed.In this article, we will explore stress and 4 stress management techniques to help you deal with this emotional and physical tension.
What is stress?
Stress refers to our body and minds’ response to the many different demands that are placed on us. When we feel threatened, our brains release chemicals called neurotransmitters that send alarm signals throughout our body to act. Not every situation will cause a severe response with intense physical and psychological features, stress is subjective, meaning that everyone will respond differently to different situations. However, it’s a universal truth that if we allow stress to pile up or we have an unhealthy relationship with stress, it can harm us more than help us.
Major life changes are often a significant cause of stress for many, but it’s not just the big things that can lead to developing stress. Other factors like work responsibilities, our familial duties or a big test or presentation that we are preparing for could also create a high-stress environment for some. Additionally, the sights, sounds and smells of the world around us can negatively affect our focus and make it harder to concentrate, creating a stress response to the physical environment.
What is a healthy relationship with stress?
It starts with an acceptance that stress is a part of life and moving away from thoughts like “I can’t handle stress”, “Everyone else handles stress so much better than me, there must be something wrong with me” or “People will see that I can’t handle stress well”. It’s also helpful to think about stress management more like tidying than doing a deep clean. It’s much easier to clean one or two dishes after a meal, but leaving the dishes to pile up for days can seem so daunting! With these 4 stress management methods, we can work to do a little “mental tidying” as needed, when needed.
4 Stress Management Techniques
#1 Recognize your stress
Recognizing what is causing you stress can be the best place to start helping you formulate your plan of action. Sometimes, naming the various stresses in our life can seem overwhelming on its own. Make sure to give yourself options on how to sit down with these things; meditate, write to-do lists or simply tell someone what you would like to focus on.
In some cases, the best way to deal with stress is to face the problem, make a plan and seek support to help you carry it forward. This can be particularly hard if having to face something fearful or risky. Try to remember that it’s often worse in your head than it is in reality. If it’s helpful, you can also remind yourself how good you will feel when this problem is in your past.
In other cases, stress can be situational and feel like we have to wait it out. Often, we can feel additional stress around those feelings of helplessness as we try to manage our expectations. In these situations, giving yourself daily access to self-care regimes (like exercise, managing your triggers and seeking out support) can be helpful in avoiding taking on too much or seeking out ways to control the environment.
#2 Exercise When You’re Feeling Stressed
When we talk about exercise in the mental health world, we are not speaking like we are personal trainers! Not everyone can or wants to fit in working out at the gym, yoga classes or training for Tough Mudder. That said, it’s important to move: get up and shake out your arms, walk up or down a flight or stairs, take yourself for a stroll to a coffee shop that’s a little further than at the end of the block. Moderate movement releases all sorts of good feeling endorphins into your body and helps you feel a sense of mastery over your environment and your mood.
#3 Create a Sleep Routine
Everything starts and ends with good sleep; just think about how difficult the easiest tasks can feel when we have had a late night. But getting a good nights’ sleep is harder than it seems, especially when we are stressed. When stressed, we are more likely to ruminate at night as we are trying to shut down, so getting yourself organized and ready to shut down in times of low stress can be really helpful for those times of higher stress.
A good sleep routine will start roughly 1.5-2 hours before you intend to be asleep. Not in bed, but actually asleep and getting those well needed zzz’s. This is not the time to read and respond to that email or start to organize yourself for next year’s tax season. Try instead to incorporate activities that promote relaxation and shutting down of your mind. Taking a bath or hot shower, reading, meditating, drawing or doing a puzzle are all examples of great ways to slow down. Try not to look at your phone or tablet, as the brightness of these screens can actually ‘wake you up’, rather than shut you down.
#4 Be Realistic
This one, while very simple to say, may be the hardest tactic to employ. Be realistic! As there is no path in life that can help you to avoid stress or disappointment, then experiencing stress is not an indication that you have done anything wrong. If stress is a subjective experience, then the experience you are having is perfectly reasonable and valid. Be realistic about how you feel and about how you choose to respond to it.
Despite how awful stress can feel, our bodies are quite well made for short term stress. There are a myriad of internal systems designed specifically for the purpose of recognizing and dealing with stress and our bodies would not have developed in this way if there was no beneficial reason. If we can remember that, then maybe we can also be a bit more compassionate with ourselves when we are feeling the weight of the world on our shoulders.
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