The root of stress management is realizing stress is information that we can examine and use, and the first step in understanding that data is becoming mindful of our stress and its impact upon us, says Kathleen Hall, founder of The Stress Institute in Atlanta.
While the subtleties may vary in stress management sources’ tips on how to manage stress, there are a number of constants. The following covers some of the universal ground, and a few wild cards.
1. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it.
Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life. Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. Be willing to compromise but be more assertive. Manage your time better.
2. If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself.
Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Focus on the positive; this simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
3. Take a break from a stressor.
Even 20 minutes of self-care is helpful.
It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby, or a growing credit card bill, but when you give yourself permission to step away from it you can gain a new perspective and feel less overwhelmed. It’s important to not avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime), but even 20 minutes of self-care is helpful.
4. Breathing is the foundation to de-stress and heal.
Our normal shallow breathing starves the body and brain of oxygen, which affects the immune and cardiopulmonary systems. Develop the practice of taking several deep diaphragmatic breaths in a tense moment; it clears the mind, body, and soul.
5. Scientific research supports the practice that quieting the mind, body, and soul offers great health benefits.
Find a quiet place, get comfortable, focus on a one- to five-word phrase you fancy and repeat it over and over. Take deep diaphragmatic breaths, in and out, in and out. You may want to set a timer in the beginning for 10 minutes so you won’t worry about time. The practice sends healing hormones into your body for relaxation and health.
6. Be aware of your unhealthy coping methods to dealing with stress.
Turning to food, alcohol or drugs often just turns one set of problems into another that can balloon out of control. It’s better to avoid those unhealthy coping mechanisms from the start, and find good ways to keep your stress under control.
7. The practice of journaling has health benefits.
Journaling reduces stress by removing the worry and thoughts racing over and over in your mind. You move these worries, concerns, hopes or dreams out of your body onto the paper.
8. Affirmations can affect our health.
Research indicates every thought and emotion creates a chemical release into our bodies, which affect our mental, physical and spiritual health and well-being. Negative self-talk can be damaging; giving positive messages wards this damage off.
9. Friendships are strong indicators of mental, physical and spiritual health.
Friendship is not a luxury, but is essential to work-life balance and your health. Studies show that isolation decreases immune functioning and increases mortality risk.
10. Exercise regularly, sleep, and eat a healthy diet.
Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Aerobic exercise does wonders for releasing pent-up stress and tension. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day. Reduce caffeine and sugar. Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
11. Heighten your awareness of the moment by focusing intently on an object.
Notice a pencil’s shape, color, weight and feel. Or slowly savor a raisin or a piece of chocolate. Mindfulness leads to relaxation. Realize that managing stress is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Everyone is different, and reacts to stress differently.
This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated.
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