Stress is a feeling that everyone experiences at one point or another. It can be sudden, intense, overwhelming, and even frightening. Stress is often short-lived such as sitting for an exam, having an accident or having a disagreement. But stress can also be a low-level, long-term problem that creeps in every day and over time, putting you at higher risk for major medical conditions like depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Thanks to the global health crisis, stress is at an all-time high right now. Dr. Juliet McGrattan offers straightforward advice and achievable techniques on how to manage stress in your everyday life:
What is Stress?
Stress is designed to protect you and help you survive. When faced with a life-threatening situation, you can either stay and fight or take flight. This ‘fight or flight’ response triggers the release of chemicals and hormones in the body that quickly prepare you to perform. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, you are hyper-alert and ready for anything. In this day and age you will rarely encounter life-threatening situations, but sometimes your body sees things as potentially dangerous and triggers the stress response anyway.
But why do two people in the same situation experience stressful events so differently? One may be overwhelmed by stress while the other remains as cool as a cucumber. And why is it that some days, a problem can cause you a lot of stress but other days, you let the same problem wash over you and not stress you at all?
That’s because how much stress you feel is determined by what’s going on inside you and how well you believe you can handle the situation you’re in. How you react to stress depends on a number of factors, including:
- Childhood experiences
- Emotional resilience
- Previous experience of similar situations
- Life situation at that moment in time including how much sleep you’ve had, where you are in our menstrual cycle and what kind of a day you’re having.
How to Manage Stress
Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to deal with stress. It’s important that you take steps to do this, whether you’re going through an intense period of stress or you’re looking for ways to live a stress-free life in the future.
To begin with, try and minimize stressful environments and spend time in stress-free environments, even if only for a few minutes at a time. And, in the long term, more importantly, look at your personal relationship with stress, how you perceive it, what you can do to increase your coping skills and the inevitability of life in general. Apply less pressure.
The following stress-busting techniques are simple, everyday things you can do to help you manage stress better, enable you to grow as a person and develop the confidence that the future holds. You will be calm and composed when faced with stressful situations.
Here are some ways you can change your internal thoughts and external stressors to prevent the effects of stress on your mental and physical health:
Internal Changes To Manage Stress
You can’t completely avoid stress, but you can improve your ability to cope with it and change the way you view situations. The following 11 techniques need to be practiced and repeated regularly to help you build a stronger mind that will be better equipped to deal with stress.
Exercise can be used as a tool to help you cope with stress. When you exercise vigorously, the feel-good chemicals released by the brain lead to feelings of well-being and calmness. Challenging yourself and continuing to reach a goal can help you build mental resilience and self-confidence. Then you can face any difficult situation in your life with more confidence. Yoga is a great exercise that helps you feel in control of your body rather than your body controlling you. It combines exercise with the following two techniques of breathing and meditation.
2. Learn to Breathe
The ability to breathe deeply into your diaphragm is a quick way to calm yourself down. Knowing that you can instantly reduce unpleasant feelings of stress just by closing your eyes and taking deep breaths is very satisfying. It takes practice to master, so spend some time each day enjoying the relaxation of proper deep breathing.3.
3. Meditation and Mindfulness
It can be hard to sit and just focus on the present moment when you’re feeling stressed, but mindfulness meditation is a skill you can learn. Being able to clear your mind of all racing thoughts and worries, even for just a minute or two each day, gives you mental space. It is refreshing and helps you see things more clearly. Starting your day with a short meditation will help you deal with the stress of the day.
People with stress need to rewire their minds and get rid of their fixed and limiting beliefs about themselves. If you think you are a ‘stresshead’, you will be a ‘stresshead’. Write down what you would like to be. For example, ‘I am calm and take stressful situations in my stride.’ Repeat this affirmation at least once a day, with meaning, and again when you feel stressed. Saying this will eventually lead your mind to believe that it is true. Talk to yourself gently and positively. Learning that you can control your thoughts is very powerful.
People only remember the bad things and focus on what didn’t go right instead of what went right. Keeping a journal where you write down your thoughts and always record successes and things you are grateful for will ensure that positive things are at the forefront of your mind. It serves as a reminder that no matter the stress, good things are happening to you and you are still growing and succeeding in life. You can write your affirmations in your journal.
6. Connect with Others
Having a community of supportive people helps you feel calmer. You know that when things are not going well, there are people who come to your rescue and have your back. You feel less stressed when you have the protection of colleagues, friends and family. Build your support network by giving to others when they need you, and don’t be afraid to ask for the same in return.
7. Learn to Talk
Thankfully, conversations about mental health are becoming more acceptable and normal. However, sharing your feelings can still be difficult. Learning to open up and discuss your innermost thoughts can be freeing. Other people may offer a different perspective and you may find that you are not alone. It’s important to choose someone you trust. You may also consider talking to a health professional. Talk therapy is a great way to understand why you think the way you do and how changing that thinking can change the way you feel and act. Your GP can refer you.
8. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
It’s easy to turn to alcohol, drugs or food to comfort yourself during times of stress. These only offer short-term relief and usually make you feel worse after the effect wears off. Bad habits quickly lead to addictions that are difficult to overcome. Replace them with healthier options from this list and, importantly, spend time overcoming the stressors that are wearing you down to build confidence and self-belief. Reach out to others to help you do this.
9. Improve Your Sleep
Fatigue, inability to think straight or concentrate, and other symptoms of sleep deprivation can make you feel stressed. And lack of sleep is often caused by stress. Do what you can to maximize your sleep. Wrap up with screen-free time before bed and practice breathing and relaxation techniques to help you unwind. Keep your bedroom a cool, calm haven and don’t be a reminder of the work you still have to do by lying about the place.
10. Give Yourself Time.
Stress often comes from being rushed. Be organized, prepared and on time for the things that matter to you. Allow more time than you think so you can fit in unexpected delays and surprises. Give yourself time to relax too – see the outdoor tips that follow.
11. Make Yourself a Priority.
Make sure you give yourself some time in your week. Be really strict with work-life boundaries. Schedule ‘me time’ and time to practice self-care. Spend half an hour a day writing in your journal, meditating, and reading your affirmations. Make time to do whatever is for you and find the fun. It’s not an indulgence, it’s a need to help you feel strong, resilient and able to cope with stress.
External Changes to Manage Stress
It is not always possible to remove stressful situations from your life. Running or hiding is rarely the best option. However, it is important to spend a lot of time in a non-stressful environment. Here are 14 ways you can give your mind a break and give your body and mind a chance to rest and recharge.
- Get outside for fresh air and sunlight
- Be with people who make you laugh or watch a TV show that makes you giggle
- Spend time in nature – walking, gardening or just sitting
- Nourish your body with healthy food and drinks – avoiding caffeine and alcohol can help
- Listen to or make music
- Cook or bake
- Rest – it’s OK to just take some time out when you need to
- Distract yourself – find something that absorbs you such as a good book or a film
- Stroke your pet
- Get a massage
- Spend time with those you love – sex is great stress relief
- Get creative – crafting, painting, whatever you might enjoy
- Avoid stressful situations –limit your exposure to the news and social media which can cause a great deal of stress at the moment. Steer clear of that family member that makes your blood pressure go up.
- Exercise – of whatever type you want. Exercising outdoors is more effective at reducing stress than indoor exercise.