Use these tools to help cope with stress.
Stress is a part of life. Some of the most stressful life events include moving, marriage, divorce, health crisis, retirement, and unemployment… but everyday life is stressful, too. It’s important to manage stress since medical studies show that stress can put your well-being at risk and make you more susceptible to illness and physical pain. It can weaken your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life.
So, what can you do about stress? Since it can’t be completely avoided, let’s take a look at some ways to deal with stress.
Address your stress
Why is the stress happening? Ask yourself questions to root out the source of your stress and acknowledge it. (If you’re lucky, you might even be able to find ways to avoid it!)
For example, if your stress comes from a hectic schedule, you might look at how to better block out your time for everything you need to accomplish. Time management apps are designed to help busy people be more productive and stay on track with goals. Or, if you’re planning on moving or getting married, know that these stressful times of life will pass — it’s temporary. Is your financial situation stressing you out? Reach out to a Linn Area financial counselor for help so you can feel more in control of your finances. (We may be able to help you consolidate your debt to make paying your monthlies less stressful.) Is your job stressful? Can you identify ways to address the stress? Would you benefit from looking for a different job?
Step back for a big-picture view of the things that cause you the most distress and see how they rank in importance in your life.
Avoid unnecessary stress
It really helps to identify stressors you can say “no” to and stick to your boundaries. Whether it be personal or professional stressors, it’s good to know what is a “must-do” versus a “should-do” versus a “won’t-do.” Know your limits. Avoid people or places that stress you out, if possible. Control your environment and turn off the news or unplug from social media if it is stressing you. The power to say “no” is one that you can master, and it can help you avoid common stresses.
Accept the things you can’t change
Some things that cause stress are unavoidable, but how you deal with them is your choice. For those things in life that are out of your control, such as the behavior of other people, focus instead on managing your reactions to their behaviors. Set your boundaries, but also look for the upside if you can. And learn to forgive. People make mistakes, so it’s good to let go of anger which can lead to deep stress. Think of how hard it can be for you to control yourself sometimes… and realize that it is impossible to control others or things that you have no power to change. Let it go.
Catch some zzz
Studies show that around a third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep can make you feel cranky and scattered, and chronic tiredness can affect your critical thinking. If you’re not sleeping enough, it can contribute to health problems, which just increases your stress! (Argh… stop the cycle!) Look at your sleep habits and see what you can do to make sleep a priority. Consider a more pleasing routine that prepares you for bedtime. Plus, you should avoid viewing electronic or “blue light” devices for at least an hour before you place your head on your pillow.
Take a walk
Whether you’re feeling anxious every day or just stressed in the moment, a short walk around the block can provide stress relief. In the long run, regular exercise provides a great antidote to tension, as well as great health benefits. If you’re new to exercise, yoga and tai chi provide simple, gentle ways to move and breathe through your stress. Look for free exercise classes around town where you can try before you buy. Grab a friend to make it more fun. (Key takeaway: Find something you enjoy doing!) A little exercise can go a long way to helping your state of mind and body, including improving your sleep!
One way to get rid of some of your stress is to write it down. Studies have shown that expressive writing is therapeutic — and it lets you throw your stressors in the garbage! Art activities can have the same benefit — that may be why adult coloring books have become so popular. And finally, gratitude offers another form of expression that has tangible benefits. When you train yourself to think of the things you’re grateful for, you make less room for stressing about your problems. Give some kind of expression to your stress and feel it melt away as you express yourself through words, thankfulness, and creativity.
Talk to someone
During times of stress, it’s important to reach out to friends and family members who offer good sounding boards. Their feedback can help validate your anxiety and diffuse it. By talking with them, you may learn of new solutions you hadn’t considered. If stress contributes to issues like headaches, stomachaches, loss of appetite, or substance abuse, it’s time to pick up the phone and find a counselor. Counseling can give you a safe place to express your stressors. Mental health professionals can also provide in-depth stress management techniques to enhance your mental health. At times of extreme stress, counseling is often the best option for talking about and coping with what you’re feeling.
Stress can take a toll on your body, and eating well can help balance the effects of stress. Instead of reaching for a drink or decadent or salty snack, try something rich in antioxidants, like blueberries or salmon. Replace fatty pastries with a handful of raw nuts. (They still have fat, but it’s the good kind!) Satisfy your need for a crunch with a fresh, crisp apple or a few carrot sticks. While you’re at it, take stock of your consumption of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Too much sugar leads to weight gain, inflammation (aka pain) and the potential for roller-coaster-like emotional swings. The caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks can ramp up feelings of anxiety. And alcohol is a depressant, which isn’t great for your mental health, either. All of these substances can affect your sleep cycle, so moderation is key.
Well, duh, right? Of course, relaxation is what you want when you’re stressed, but how can you achieve that? Look up relaxation techniques on YouTube or get an app to help you with relaxation-inducing breathing and meditation. Some people prefer to employ “mindfulness techniques.” Whatever you call it, it’s worth the few minutes you’ll spend on clearing your mind. Massages also help relax your body. Reading serves as a tremendous source of relaxation for many people. The important thing is to find what works for you!
There’s nothing like a good belly laugh to release endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemical. Watch a funny YouTube video or stream your favorite comedy on the internet. Or, call a friend and find something to laugh about together!
No matter what you do, you’ll always be faced with some kind of stress. The key is to find balance with your work, life, and health.