Me? Stressed? Never!
Let’s be real: we all experience stress sometimes. Stress is a normal reaction to the demands of life. Put simply, when your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones. Those hormones provide the fuel for you to respond to stressful or dangerous situations. Once that situation returns to normal, your body returns to its relaxed state.
The problem is that with all of the demands of modern life, we rarely get a chance to return to that relaxed state anymore. Many of us remain in that high-alert state, and that is taking a toll on our physical and mental health, our relationships, and our lives. So, what can we do about it?
Identify the Sources of Stress In Your life
Where is the bulk of your stress coming from? Is it from a major change in life? Have you just experienced a job change, a move, a breakup, or a new baby? Or is it something more long term, such as a stressful job, turbulent relationship, or family issue?
Or is the stress more coming from within you? Are you putting unrealistic expectations on yourself — holding yourself to an impossible standard? Do you strive for perfection and then come down on yourself hard when you can’t live up to those self-imposed, unrealistic goals?
If you don’t know where your stress is coming from, it’s going to be hard for you to deal with it. So do some soul searching. Keep a journal, and every time you start to feel stressed, stop and take note of where it is coming from. Write it down. Then you can begin to deal with it.
Since stress can be impossible to eliminate 100%, one proven way to help you deal with it is to get moving. Exercise is vital for maintaining mental health. Studies have shown that exercise reduces stress, improves alertness, enhances performance, and reduces fatigue. It also releases endorphins that can help you manage stress.
Make Time for Yourself
Let’s face it: many of us down right suck at putting ourselves first. We prioritize our kids, spouses, friends, work, social commitments, you name it. But very few of us excel at taking time for ourselves, and that is a vital part of both stress management and keeping yourself sane and happy.
So block out time on your own calendar to do things you love and that help you feel rejuvenated. For example, read a book, participate in your favorite hobby, go on a walk, take a long bath, or call someone who always makes you feel good about yourself. This doesn’t have to be complicated or cost a lot of money, so don’t overthink it. You can even start small, take 10 minutes everyday, to just do what you want to do with no distractions. I promise you, it will become addictive.
I know what you’re thinking. Mediate? Seriously? You want me to calm this overactive mind? But trust me — if I can do it, anyone can. Just try it and stick with it, remembering that it’s a practice. Start with five or 10 minutes every morning. It will change your life. You can find all kinds of free guided meditations online, or try an app like Headspace.
Now, stay with me here. I know going from meditating to breathing exercises may have you rolling your eyes, but I’m serious: this stuff does work. When you start getting into that heightened alert/fight or flight state from stress or anxiety, fall back on a breathing exercise. There are several different methods out there.
First, you need to make sure you’re breathing properly. This means using diaphragmatic breathing, which is breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Most of us only breathe shallowly and keep it all up in our lungs and upper chest. Work on inhaling and exhaling slowly and keeping your chest still. Focus on getting your stomach to rise and fall. This will signal that you are breathing deeply. I like to breath in slowly for four counts, hold my breath for four counts, then release the breath slowly for four counts. When I get into a stressful work situation, this is my go-to for quickly getting myself back under control and thinking clearly.
Identify Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Adding healthy coping mechanisms into your life is one thing, but if you don’t stop your current destructive habits, then you aren’t going to make much progress. What do I mean by “unhealthy coping mechanisms”? I’m talking about drinking, smoking, binge eating, and even negative self-talk. These are all destructive.
Now, I know breaking these types of habits is hard. Many of us have used them for years to cope with stress. So I’m talking about baby steps here. If you’re a binge eater, maybe first try going for a walk to calm yourself down instead of turning to food. Then, if you still need to eat, maybe you won’t eat as much as if you’d gone straight for the fridge first. See where I’m going here?
Stress is a part of life. There is no avoiding it. All we can do is try to reduce it when possible and — when we do encounter stress — do our best to use the tips above for dealing with it and not letting it rule our lives.