Coping with Stress – 5 Strategies
Do you sometimes feel that stress has such a tight grip on your life that trying to relax gives you even more anxiety? When trying to unwind at the end of a workday, many people find their mind turning to stressful thoughts of what they would have, could have, or should have done, and detaching (much less relaxing) feels impossible. With so much unfinished business and tasks on the never-ending “to-do” list, even your attempt to unwind can conjure up feelings of guilt as you ask yourself, “Should I be doing something more productive with my time?” Being bombarded with news, politics, and advertisements doesn’t help while trying to stay on top of finances, health concerns, and maintaining relationships. Even things that make us happy can be accompanied by stress.
Stress is a normal human reaction and happens to everyone. It makes us feel restless, unfocused, overwhelmed, irritable, and can lead to a number of health issues. Of course, not all stress is bad, though. Research shows that a healthy amount of stress teaches the brain how to thrive in challenging situations. On the other hand, too little stress can lead to feelings of stagnation, boredom, and depression.
But when intrusive, stressful thoughts continuously disrupt our lives or distract us from the things we should, or would like to be doing, our mental and physical health begins to suffer.
5 effective and easy-to-follow strategies for managing stress and reducing daily tension:
Start Off Your Day Right
You can start your day by hitting the snooze button, chugging a cup (or three) or coffee, and running out the door with a granola bar in one hand and the certainty that you’re forgetting something on the other. Or, you can start your day with good morning habits that set a calmer, more focused tone for the rest of your day.
A solid morning routine that prioritizes self-care can make a tremendous difference in your mental health. For starters, research shows that people who eat breakfast have more energy than people who wait to eat until lunchtime. And there’s also evidence that fatigue and low energy contribute to chronic stress, which in turn makes us even more tired and worn out.
The best way to start your day off on the right foot is to find a morning routine that works for you. Some people love waking up early to ease into the day, but for others, just the thought of rising at the crack of dawn is enough to unleash a non-stop loop of dread and anxiety.
In other words, experiment with what feels right for you — just remember that the key to an effective routine is consistency. Here are some starting points you may want to consider:
- Make your bed
- Put off checking your phone until you’ve showered and dressed
- Drink some water
- Listen to a podcast
- Write or review your to-do list
Learn How to Say No (Say Yes to Boundaries!)
Setting boundaries is never easy. We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, especially when it comes to the ones we care about. The problem is that finding ourselves saying “yes” to everything, particularly to things we rather not do just to avoid upsetting or disappointing others, leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Building healthy boundaries is vital to healthy and respectful relationships, not only with others but with ourselves. When you establish boundaries and politely say “no,” you’re staying true to what you want and what you believe in, which helps build self-esteem and lowers the stress that comes with trying to please everybody all the time.
Of course, there’s a difference between being assertive and being aggressive, meaning that there’s no need to attack or belittle others to build boundaries. Get into the habit of setting boundaries by giving yourself permission to focus on yourself first and foremost. It takes practice to say “no” without feeling guilty, but you’ll find that by doing so, you’re actually being kinder and more considerate to yourself and the people that you love.
Reap the Benefits of Good Sleep
Sleep and stress are sort of a chicken-and-egg situation. They’re so intricately related that it’s hard to know which one triggers which: are you stressed because you can’t sleep, or you can’t sleep because you’re stressed?
A good night’s sleep is one of the best antidotes for chronic stress. Sleep decreases cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone. It also helps with mood regulation, sharpens judgment, and improves decision making, helping you cope better with stressful situations. In fact, good sleep has been named one of the three pillars for mental health, alongside healthy eating and regular exercise.
Here are some easy-to-follow tips to combat the effects of stress at bedtime:
- Assess what’s making you feel stressed and make a plan to manage that stressor
- Improve your daytime habits: are you drinking too much coffee? Is reading the news before bed making you anxious? Avoiding activities that increase stress before bed can help you get a better night’s sleep
- Create a bedtime routine
- Learn relaxation techniques, like yoga, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing techniques
Laugh It Off
Have you heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”? It sounds a little silly, but it’s actually sort of true. A good chuckle might not cure you of any diseases or magically make pain go away, but researchers have spent years studying the effects of laughter in the body and found that it does yield a decent number of short and long-term benefits, particularly when it comes to managing stress.
For one, laughing instantly lowers your blood pressure and relaxes your muscles, countering two common signs of stress in the body. It also lightens your mood by releasing endorphins, one of the “feel-good” chemicals, which also act as natural painkillers.
What’s more, a quick giggle boosts your oxygen intake and promotes circulation, aiding in relaxation and lowering stress hormones like cortisol. Psychologically, laughing, especially in times when you are anxious or upset, helps shift your perspective and distance yourself from the problem, allowing you to put your energy towards solving whatever stressful situation you find yourself in.
Take Your Supplements
There are a number of foods, herbs, and vitamins that have been shown to effectively reduce stress and promote mental wellbeing. On the food front, fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored tend to be rich in antioxidants which help fight cellular damage associated with stress. Some examples include red peppers, oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, dark leafy greens, and red onions.
In terms of natural supplements, there’s strong evidence that these herbs and vitamins, sometimes known as adaptogens, can help mitigate the effects of mental and physical stress:
- Rhodiola rosea
- Valerian root
- Bacopa monnieri
- Huperzine A
- Vitamin C
A Final Word
While stress is an inevitable part of being human, there are things you can do to reduce your anxiety and boost your energy levels naturally. Practicing good morning habits, setting appropriate boundaries, and lightening the load by laughing a little are all great starting points.
Natural supplements that support healthy cognitive functioning and reduce cortisol levels are also great allies against stress. As always, talk to your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel like stress continues to be a problem in your life.
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