Managing stress… it can sound a little stressful when you already have a lot on your plate. We all want to de-stress, decompress, and unwind periodically to keep our busy and hectic lives in control. Like any other habit or skill we develop, de-stressing is a muscle we need to learn to flex. The more we do it the easier and more natural it becomes.
First, Check In
First and foremost, you need to understand and recognize how you experience stress. Everyone has different triggers and different manifestations of stress. Stress can manifest around both positive and negative events, such as planning a wedding, celebrating the holidays, making a career change or struggling to pay the monthly bills. Identifying what specific situations in your life triggers stressful feelings and how they manifest in your body is the first step to getting them under control. Recognizing the behaviors you naturally turn to in order to cope with stress is also important. You know yourself and what works best for you. Most of us are not going to be able to transform from irritable, tired, overworked individuals into Zen Buddhist monks overnight. We do, however, all have unique pasts and experiences to draw on and further develop. A childhood spent in Church or on an athletic field can serve us well as adults when we want to slip back into a calmer place. There are no universally effective stress reduction techniques, but a program tailored to meet your specific needs will successfully keep stress at a manageable level.
In 1 Minute….
Put It in Perspective. Take a deep breath and moment to reflect on what is causing your stress and then ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen? What is actually the most likely outcome? Is there anything I can do to improve it? Is there a best possible outcome or any potential good that can come out of this? Situations are often not as bad in reality as we let them escalate to in our minds. Take a moment to break the cycle of building stress in your mind to bring yourself back to reality.
Take A Breath. Now take a really deep breath…several times a day. Develop a routine in your day that triggers you to just breath for a minute. Find a mundane activity in your day, like walking to your car, putting on your seatbelt, getting dressed, or doing the laundry, where you can stop and take several deep breathes each time you do it. This simple mindfulness habit can help keep you centered and slow your mind down.
Laugh. It’s not a joke…laughing can actually calm your stress response. Laughing also increases feel-good endorphins in your brain and releases tension in your muscles, both of which counterbalance the effects of stress. Keep a humorous photo, video, email or website easily accessible on your phone and in a moment of stress take a peak at it to help stress fade away.
In 5 Minutes…
Go Outside. Take a five-minute walk around the block, around the office, or just step into the fresh air to cool off. Simply being outdoors in fresh air can lower stress levels, increases feelings of well being and improve your outlook on life.
Phone a Friend. Calling a friend or loved one, even briefly, can help remind you of the support in your life and also help you put things in perspective. A quick chat can often be the de-stressor that helps you keep you going through your day.
Talk Yourself Through It. It may sound nuts but turning inward to work through what is stressing you out is both calming and an effective way to control stress. Tell yourself you can do it (trust yourself, you can) and then work out a plan to move forward. Positive self-talk is actually a skill you can develop and improve with practice. By turning negative thoughts (“Everything is out of control”) into positive ones (“I can handle this if I take things one step at a time” ) you take control of the situation and remove the stress.
In 1 Hour…
Get Moving. Physical activity relives stress by releasing feel-good endorphins and helping to use up the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Regular physical exercise not only relieves stress, it reduces depression and improves cognitive function. Spend an hour outdoors walking, running, swimming or playing tennis for the added stress-relieving benefit of being outdoors. Or spend an hour in a yoga, tai chi or Pilates class and also deepen your mindfulness practice.
Get a Massage. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to de-stress is to just lie there and let a masseuse help you decompress. A good massage can ease muscle tension, melt stress away and be an all-around pleasurable experience. Seventy percent of Americans find massage to be highly effective method at reducing stress
Learn to Meditate. Developing a personal meditation practice can bring you a sense of inner peace, calm and balance that benefits both your health and well being. Meditation can be like pushing the re-set button on your day. It is inexpensive, effective and a skill you hone with time. Prayer is one of the best-known and simplest practices of meditation. You can also start by taking a guided mediation class, picking up a book or simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing.
In 1 Month….
Develop Healthy Habits. The best way to manage stress consistently is to regularly engage in stress-reducing behaviors including physical activity, eating healthy, meditation, practicing mindfulness and turning to family and friends to talk about stressful situations. New habits take time to establish so focusing on one behavior at a time is the best path to success. Over time you can incorporate more and more stress-relieving activities into your routine, but do not take on too much at once.
Take Care of Yourself. Make your health and your body a top priority. Strive to consistently eat a healthy diet, get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep and pursue hobbies you enjoy. By keeping your body as healthy as possible you will be more adept at managing stressors as they arise. Schedule time away from work or family commitments to unwind even if it is only for a day or a weekend. Find time to take the occasional break from constant communication and unplug your phone, tablet and computer to remember a simpler, less stressful time…like 1998.
Ask for Support. Share with close family and friends when stressful situations arise in life and lean on them for support. If stress is continuing to be barrier in your life, talk to a psychologist who can help you mange your personal stress.