This article is written to provide you with tips for managing your stress in healthy ways. Lots of other articles begin by defining stress, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume that you already know what stress is — otherwise, why would you be reading this article?
Instead, let’s start by taking a look at how you’re feeling in regard to your stress. Are you irritable or easily annoyed? Constantly tired — either physically, mentally, or both? Are you having difficulty sleeping well? Do you feel overwhelmed? Are your muscles tense or sore? Are you struggling with headaches, upset stomach, or difficulty focusing? Are you depressed or anxious or unable to relax? Are you snappy with others? Do you feel burned out? Are you experiencing hair loss, acne, or high blood pressure? These are just a handful of examples of how stress can negatively affect us.
So, what can we do about our stress?
Figure Out What Causes Your Stress — There are multitudes of things that can cause us to feel stressed. And these things can be different for different individuals. One of my big stressors is conflict. Another is performance pressure — because I often set standards for myself that are a bit too high. I feel stressed when I feel like I have more to do than I have the time or energy to get done. What makes you feel stressed? Are you comparing yourself to others? Worrying about money? Are you anxious about meeting the endless expectations of others? Is your stress related to pressure to succeed? Are you having trouble keeping up with everything? Try to think specifically about what ramps up your stress level. Look for patterns. Try to fill in this blank: “I hit my highest level of stress when _____________.”
Take Control of Your Stressors — There are many things in life that we are not able to control. However, there are many things that we can change in some way once we’ve realized that they are major sources of stress. For example, if the constant dinging of your notifications on your computer or mobile device cause you to feel overwhelmed, silence them — you will give attention to each of them when you are able. If you are stressed because you waited until the last minute to finish an important assignment, promise yourself that you won’t procrastinate next time — it’s like doing yourself a huge favor! 🙂 If you are stressed by the relentless, fast-paced demands of your life, let a few things go. Give yourself permission to take a break — even a 5 minute break can help you feel re-centered. If there is a person in your life who is the source of a great deal of stress for you, consider approaching the relationship differently, perhaps by not worrying so much about what they think. You might also consider distancing yourself from toxic interactions as much as possible. Whatever or whoever your stressors may be, consider ways to make changes that are within your control. After all, wouldn’t it be better to let something go and be able to relax than to try to do everything but continue to be a frenzied ball of nerves? Reduce and eliminate your stressors when possible. When that’s not possible, do what is within your control to make them manageable.
Other Tips for Managing Your Stress Level — An important trick for managing your stress is to keep your baseline stress level as low as possible. When you are able to do that, you won’t constantly feel like you’re right on the verge of snapping at any moment. The following are some super helpful ways to keep your stress baseline at a lower level:
- Keep a healthy work/life balance. Life can’t be all about work. And your work can’t be all about your personal life. Separate the two. Try not to drag your personal life into your work and try not to drag your work home with you. Overworking can leave you depleted of both time and energy and add to your stress level.
- Self-care is a must. If you have a lot of stress to handle, then you need to be at your best in order to handle it as well as possible. This means giving yourself permission to take time for yourself — to relax, to unwind, to go to the doctor, to get a massage, to eat and sleep and laugh. Take care of yourself with the same love and compassion that you would take care of others you love. And don’t feel guilty about it!
- Find an outlet for your negative energy. You need a way to get frustrations and emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up. This might mean talking or venting or crying. Let the tears out — your stress will flow out with them! Or your preferred outlet might be physical exercise or a creative hobby. Make time for these things. Don’t relegate them to your “spare time” because we all know there is no such thing. Prioritize them as necessary parts of your life for survival.
- Deep Breathing. Don’t be a skeptic until you’ve tried it — it really does help. Take some slow, deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. (Like smelling the roses and then blowing out the birthday candles.) This instantaneously lowers your blood pressure, slows your heart rate, and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed and self-controlled. It’s almost like a magical reset button. And it’s free! Use it! 🙂
- Relax your muscles. When you’re stressed, you are holding tension throughout your body. Take a quick second to think about your body from head to toe — a “body scan” — to determine where you’re holding your tension. If your fists are clenched, open them and rest them palm up. Are your jaws locked? Are your neck or shoulders tightened up? Let your muscles relax so that stress can subside.
If you’re struggling with stress, you’re not alone. Avoid the temptation to try to cope in unhealthy ways since this will only create more problems for you in the long run. Use the tips above to cope in healthy ways, and don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you feel that you’re unable to cope on your own.