These days it’s hard not to get overwhelmed once in a while. Between juggling work, family, and other commitments, you can become too stressed out and busy. But you need to set time aside to unwind or your mental and physical health can suffer.
Learning how to manage your stress takes practice, but you can — and need to — do it. Here are 10 ways to make it easier.
Working out regularly is one of the best ways to relax your body and mind. Plus, exercise will improve your mood. But you have to do it often for it to pay off.
So how much should you exercise every week?
Work up to 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise like brisk walks or 75 minutes of a more vigorous exercise like swimming laps, jogging or other sports.
Focus on setting fitness goals you can meet so you don’t give up. Most of all remember that doing any exercise is better than none at all.
2.Relax Your Muscles
When you’re stressed, your muscles get tense. You can help loosen them up on your own and refresh your body by:
- Enjoying a massage
- Taking a hot bath or shower
- Getting a good night’s sleep
Stopping and taking a few deep breaths can take the pressure off you right away. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel once you get good at it. Just follow these 5 steps:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your hands in your lap and your feet on the floor. Or you can lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- Imagine yourself in a relaxing place. It can be on the beach, in a beautiful field of grass, or anywhere that gives you a peaceful feeling.
- Slowly take deep breaths in and out.
- Do this for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
Eating a regular, well-balanced diet will help you feel better in general. It may also help control your moods. Your meals should be full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein for energy. And don’t skip any. It’s not good for you and can put you in a bad mood, which can actually increase your stress.
We all have stress – at work, at home and on the road. Sometimes we can feel especially stressed because of a bad interaction with someone, too much work or everyday hassles like getting stuck in traffic.
Chronic stress can keep you from feeling and performing your best – mentally, physically and emotionally. But no one’s life is completely stress-free. It’s important to know how to manage the stress in your life. These three simple techniques will help you deal with stress.
1. Positive Self-Talk
Let’s be honest, we all talk to ourselves! Sometimes we talk out loud, but usually we do it in our heads. Self-talk can be positive (“I can do this” or “everything will be OK”) or negative (“I’ll never get better” or “I’m so stupid”). Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk can help you calm down and manage stress. With practice, you can learn to shift negative thoughts to positive ones. For example:
Negative to Positive
- Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” say, “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this.”
- Instead of saying, “I hate it when this happens,” say, “I know how to deal with this – I’ve done it before.”
- Instead of saying, “I feel helpless and alone,” say, “I can reach out and get help if I need it.”
- Instead of saying, “I can’t believe I screwed up,” say, “I’m human, and we all make mistakes. I can fix it.”
To really make it work, practice positive self-talk every day – in the car, at your desk, before you go to bed or whenever you notice negative thoughts. It’s a great practice to teach kids, too!
2. Top 10 Emergency Stress-Stoppers
Emergency stress-stoppers are actions to help you defuse stress in the moment. You may need different stress-stoppers for different situations, and sometimes it helps to combine them.
Here are some stress relievers:
- Count to 10 before you speak or react.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths until you feel your body un-clench a bit.
- Go for a walk, even if it’s just to the restroom and back. It can give you a chance to think things through.
- Try a quick meditation or prayer to get some perspective.
- If it’s not urgent, sleep on it and respond tomorrow. This works especially well for stressful emails and social media trolls.
- Walk away from the situation for a while, and handle it later once things have calmed down.
- Break down big problems into smaller parts. Take one step at a time.
- Turn on some chill music or an inspirational podcast to help you deal with road rage.
- Take a break to pet the dog, hug a loved one or do something to help someone else.
- Work out or do something active. Exercise is a great antidote for stress.
3. Stress-Busting Activities
Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to relieve stress and find your happy place. Even when you’re down, you may find pleasure in simple things like going for a walk, catching up with a friend or reading a good book.
When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good – even if only for 10 or 15 minutes.
Some of these stress-relieving activities may work for you:
- Play with your kids or pets – outdoors, if possible.
- Take a walk in nature.
- Meditate or practice yoga.
- Work in the garden or do a home improvement project.
- Go for a walk, run or bike ride to clear your head.
- Read a book, short story or magazine.
- Meet a friend for coffee or a meal.
The key is to find your groove and make it a practice. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you may start to feel better once you disrupt the cycle of stress.
Stress is part of being human, and it can help motivate you to get things done. Even high stress from serious illness, job loss, a death in the family, or a painful life event can be a natural part of life. You may feel down or anxious, and that’s normal too for a while.
Talk to your doctor if you feel down or anxious for more than several weeks or if it starts to interfere with your home or work life. Therapy, medication, and other strategies can help.
In the meantime, there are things you can learn to help you manage stress before it gets to be too much. These tips may help you keep stress at bay:
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Accept that there are events that you cannot control.
- Be assertive instead of aggressive. Assert your feelings, opinions, or beliefs instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive.
- Learn to manage your time more effectively.
- Set limits appropriately and say no to requests that would create excessive stress in your life.
- Make time for hobbies and interests.
- Don’t rely on alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to reduce stress. Drugs and alcohol can stress your body even more.
- Seek out social support. Spend enough time with those you love.
- Seek treatment with a psychologist or other mental health professional trained in stress management or biofeedback techniques to learn more healthy ways of dealing with the stress in your life.
There’s a lot more you can do to help manage stress. Consider these lifestyle changes:
We could all use a little less stress in our lives, am I right? Between everyday work stress to maintaining relationships, navigating social engagements and wrangling the kids stress, there’s more than enough stress to go around. Luckily, there are ways to ease your stress levels if you set your mind to it.
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Clinical psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, explains how stress works and healthy ways we can help manage stress before it gets out of control.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to a challenge or demand. Everyone experiences stress, which can be triggered by a range of events, from small daily hassles to major changes like a divorce or job loss. The stress response includes physical components like an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger.
“Although we often think of it as being negative, stress can also come from positive changes in your life, like getting a promotion at work or having a new baby,” says Dr. Borland.
How can we handle stress in healthy ways?
Stress serves an important purpose — it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. But lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties like anxiety and depression, or increased physical health problems.
“A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness,” says Dr. Borland. “While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.”
1. Eat and drink to optimize your health
Some people try to reduce stress by drinking alcohol or eating too much. These actions may seem to help in the moment, but actually may add to stress in the long run. Caffeine also can compound the effects of stress. While consuming a healthy, balanced diet can help combat stress.
2. Exercise regularly
In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever. Consider noncompetitive aerobic exercise, strengthening with weights or movement activities like yoga or Tai Chi, and set reasonable goals for yourself. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins — natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
3. Stop using tobacco and nicotine products
People who use nicotine often refer to it as a stress reliever. However, nicotine actually places more stress on your body by increasing physical arousal and reducing blood flow and breathing. Plus, it can worsen chronic pain, so if you’re experiencing prolonged tension and body aches, smoking won’t help.
4. Study and practice relaxation techniques
Taking the time to relax every day helps manage stress and protect your body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques, such as deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation. Many online and smartphone apps provide guidance on these techniques. Although some require purchase costs, many are available free of charge.
5. Reduce triggers of stress
If you’re like most people, your life may be filled with too many demands and too little time. For the most part, these demands are ones we’ve chosen. But you can free up time by practicing time-management skills like asking for help when it’s appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself and reserving time to take care of yourself.
6. Examine your values and live by them
The more your actions reflect your beliefs, the better you’ll feel, no matter how busy your life is. Use your values when choosing your activities.
“Considering the stressful demands and responsibilities we face on a daily basis, it’s important to engage in activities that are in line with our values and speak to us on a personal level,” encourages Dr. Borland.
7. Assert yourself
It’s OK to say “no” to demands on your time and energy that’ll place too much stress on you. You don’t always have to meet the expectations of others.
8. Set realistic goals and expectations
It’s also OK — and healthy — to realize you can’t be 100% successful at everything all at once. Be mindful of the things you can control and work on accepting the things that you can’t control.
9. Sell yourself to yourself
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself of what you do well. There are ways you can build a healthy sense of self-esteem.
10. Try biofeedback
This behavioral technique helps you learn stress reduction skills by providing information about muscle tension, heart rate and other vital signs as you attempt to relax. It’s used to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain. Biofeedback can be used to help you learn how your body responds in stressful situations, and how to cope better. If a headache, such as a migraine, begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full-blown.
If you’re interested in any of these techniques, ask your healthcare provider for more information or other suggestions they may have. Often, counseling can help you recognize stress factors that may not even be readily obvious.
What to do if you have trouble sleeping
Sleep is often sacrificed when you’re overwhelmed with stress. You may experience insomnia because of discomfort, stress from personal concerns, or side effects from your medications. If you can’t sleep, try these tips:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule: go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Make sure your bed and surroundings are comfortable. Arrange the pillows so you can maintain a comfortable position.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping only. Don’t work or watch TV in your bedroom.
- Avoid napping too much during the day. At the same time, remember to balance activity with periods of rest.
- If you feel nervous or anxious, talk to your spouse, partner or a trusted friend. Get your troubles off your mind.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Don’t rely on sleeping pills. They can be harmful when taken with other medications. Use them only if recommended for a brief period by your healthcare provider if other nonmedication methods don’t work.
- Take diuretics, or “water pills,” earlier if possible, so you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Don’t stay in bed worrying about when you’re going to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine, but don’t exercise within two to three hours before the time you go to bed.