Stress may be a part of life, but there are ways to minimize its impact. Here are some ways to deal with stress before it happens, while it is occurring and then after it is over.
Before it Starts: An Ounce of Prevention
Be mindful of your commitments: Don’t over promise or over schedule yourself or your family. Everything does not have to be finished today, and you don’t have to say yes to everything.
Utilize your social networks: Friends and family help decompress. Talk to them face-to-face, or at least on the phone, on a daily basis.
Avoid toxic people: These are people who take more than they give, are always negative, or make you feel like less of a person. These relationships are damaging, unhealthy, and can be the source of the stress.
Express gratitude: Keep a journal, participate in a challenge like 100 Happy Days, or say thank you daily for something that you often take for granted. These simple actions bring awareness to all of the things that are going well in your life and provide perspective when things go downhill.
Now You’re Stressed Out: Relax
Don’t forget to breathe: When stress hits us hard, we stop breathing deeply. Taking a deep breath in and then slowly letting it out sends a signal to our nervous system that it is okay to relax. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, pause, then breathe out of your mouth for five. Try this for five minutes at a time.
Meditate: Meditation is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, calm a racing heart, and help us become more resilient in stressful situations. Sit comfortably, then focus your mind on the breath. Some people repeat a mantra as they breathe to further focus their minds. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the sensation of your breath and focus on releasing any tension or clenching you feel in your muscles.
Get up and go: Even when the urge to sink into the couch becomes overwhelming, get up and take a walk. Throw a ball. Play a game of tennis. Dance, sing, do jumping jacks. Exercise reduces stress, even in small doses, and makes you feel better. If you can step away from a stressful situation even briefly, a few lunges, sit ups, or sun salutations can re-focus your mind and calm you down.
Laugh at stress: Laughter lowers cortisol (our stress hormone) and releases endorphins in the brain. If you manage to find humor in a stressful situation you may be able to defuse it and deal with it more productively.
Reflection: After the Fact
Identify the source of the stress for future reference: Is it a temporary stress, like looking for a job or welcoming a new baby into the home? Is it a long-term stress like caring for a chronically ill loved one? Identify the source of the stress as well as its longevity and you will be better able to develop a plan to cope with it.
Are you causing your own stress? Take responsibility for your part in creating stress in your life and make positive changes. Do you wait until the last minute to complete projects? Work on your planning skills. Is the lack of organization in your house driving you crazy? Tackle one area at a time. Change what you can change and take personal responsibility for your role in the stress.
Plan healthy ways to deal with stress: Smoking, drinking, overeating, and sleeping too much/not enough are all unhealthy ways to deal with stress. Plan to deal with future stress in a healthy way. Exercise regularly, stock your pantry with healthy food and snacks, and reduce or quit overindulging in alcohol and nicotine.
These techniques help you identify and manage not only the stressor but also your part in the stressful event and your reaction to it.
What are some of your favorite ways to reduce stress in your everyday life?
Image by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr