Stress is an inevitable part of life and being human, and living a stress-free life is just not realistic. Everyone experiences stress on a daily basis just through everyday tasks. Taking a test at school, being handed a new project at work, playing competitive sports, or public speaking can all be sources of stress. And feeling a little anxiety in these situations is normal and totally expected. Major life events such as moving, marriage or having a baby, can also cause stress. Traumatic events such as living through a pandemic, or having a death in your family, can cause stress as well. The good news is that you can manage stress by channeling your energy into certain activities.
The key in managing your stress levels in these various life situations, big and small, is to pay attention to how they’re affecting you physically, mentally and emotionally. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if you’re temporarily feeling your heart rate increasing, your breathing getting faster and your brain working harder, that’s normal. Your body is just going into fight or flight mode. You can use that stress as a motivator to perform at your best in the moment.
If you reach a point where stress becomes chronic and affects your sleep, moods, blood pressure and digestive system, or causes major anxiety or depression, it has become a bigger problem. These symptoms suggests you could be dealing with an unhealthy amount of stress. In this case, it’s important to deal with it right away so it doesn’t turn into bigger health issues later.
Here are six tools you can use to realistically manage any kind of stress:
1. Mindfulness and breath work
These are the best tools for managing stress of any kind. Not sure where to start? You can practice mindfulness and breathing through meditation, yoga or even listening to calming music. They center you, decrease your heart rate, slow down your breath and even change your brain chemistry. Research shows that practicing mindfulness for even five minutes a day can produce positive results. Once your mindfulness practice becomes an ongoing habit, you’ll have a stress-buster built into your daily life.
Journaling is a powerful tool that can help provide perspective. When you write down what’s going on in your life, what’s causing you stress, and how you’re feeling, you’ll capture your inner voice on paper. When you capture your deepest thoughts, you can look back at them with a different lens. This can provide solutions to the challenges that are causing you stress in the first place. Or at the very least, you will feel better for expressing your feelings in a healthy way.
3. Professional support
When you’re dealing with big and traumatic events in life that cause an enormous amount of stress, it may be a good idea to seek professional support. It may sound drastic, but getting help can prevent your stress levels from becoming chronic or better manage levels that are already too high. Your mental and physical health are too important to be overtaken by stress, which could lead to more serious health problems down the road. Prioritizing your health and wellbeing and getting the support you need is critical in serious circumstances.
Regular exercise is a great way to manage stress and just like mindfulness, if it’s incorporated into your daily life most days of the week. Activity will provide an automatic response to stress that will give you strength, stamina and resilience. Exercise isn’t just about physical strength, but mental strength as well. What’s more, it benefits and protects you from stress in a multitude of ways, including your mood, cardiovascular health, blood flow, oxygen levels and more. Choose forms of movement that you enjoy and try to incorporate them into your day for at least 30 minutes at a time. It’s not important what type of exercise you choose. Running, biking, dancing, interval training or anything else that brings you joy will help create a habit.
Getting outside in nature can really help calm your mind and body. Being in nature allows you to breathe in fresh air, feel the sun shining on your face, and plant your feet into the earth. It helps you feel grounded and connected to something bigger than yourself. It will inspire you to look at different situations in new ways and can spark your creativity as well. Go on hikes, watch the sunset on the beach, take a boat ride or simply sit in your backyard. Keep it simple and accessible and enjoy the beauty and wonder of being in nature, which may in turn, reduce your stress.
Stress can be one of the greatest hindrances to getting a good night’s sleep. However, when you’re stressed, getting a proper amount of sleep (about seven to nine hours per night), is one of the most important things you can do. It can help protect your immune system, clear your head, and rest your mind and body. Leveraging the tools above should help with sleep. If you can practice mindfulness, write in a journal, talk to a professional, exercise and get outside in nature, you’ll hopefully improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.