We have all heard the Benjamin Franklin quote, indicating that in this world, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” These days, experiencing stress should be added into those words of wisdom.
Stress is a natural human emotion that you feel in response to challenges in your life. By definition, stress is a mental state of tension or worry caused by threats or difficulties. Everyone experiences it from time to time, but it’s how you deal with stress that has the most significant long-term impact.
At the close of 2022, the American Psychiatric Association conducted a survey that asked Americans about their stress levels. One in four Americans responded that they expected to have more stress going into 2023, a 6% increase from the survey that was conducted in the prior year.
With stress levels seemingly rising across the country, it’s arguably more important than ever to develop healthy stress coping mechanisms, Whether stress comes from work, relationships, or other life challenges, when it goes unchecked, stress can have a lasting impact on your mental health.
In short, stress is very real, but it doesn’t have to disrupt your journey. Let’s take a closer look at effective stress management techniques and tips to help you make changes that leave you feeling less overwhelmed and more empowered.
Introduction to Stress Management
Stress is an automatic response in your body, creating mental, emotional, and physical changes that can be used positively for growth and action. Long-term, however, the effects can be problematic for your mental and physical well-being.
That’s where stress management comes into play. Although you can’t eliminate all the stressors from your life, you can develop healthy coping mechanisms to transform your stress into power. In the end, stress management allows you to live a happier, healthier, and more productive life.
Understanding Your Stress Triggers
Before you can learn how to deal with stress, it’s helpful to start by identifying your unique stress triggers. Triggers can be found everywhere, and they affect people differently. What causes stress for you may have zero impact on your friends, family, or colleagues. Understanding the things that trigger you is an invitation to get to know yourself on a deeper level and to begin having control over your reactions.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress triggers fall into three main categories, including:
- Routine: These stress triggers are linked to everyday life, including work and your home life.
- Disruption: These triggers are linked to the life changes that impact your typical routine or way of doing things. Examples can include starting a new job or moving to a new city.
- Trauma: Experiencing traumatic events, like losing someone you love or getting into an accident creates stress triggers.
Tips to Identify Your Triggers
Understanding your reactions to people, events, and challenges helps you begin managing your stress. It also boosts your resilience and emotional intelligence, making it an incredibly powerful tool. Try a few of these tips to begin identifying your stress triggers:
- Be mindful of physical reactions, such as increased anxiety, sweaty palms, or a racing mind.
- Complete statements like “I wish people wouldn’t….” or “I feel overwhelmed when…”
- Reflect on your professional life and how you feel when you’re at work or interacting with colleagues and leaders.
- Assess what’s happening in your personal life, including changes in your relationships or long-standing commitments.
Mindfulness and Meditation for Stress Management
Meditation has existed for millennia. Today, you can use it to benefit your mental health and aid you in coping with stress. Think of it like training your brain to achieve a state of calm, focus, and positivity. Staying mindful includes putting your focus on the present moment and adopting an attitude of openness, acceptance, and curiosity. If you’re new to the practice, start with short meditation sessions. Even spending as little as 10 minutes a day can lead to positive results.
It can take time to find the meditation and mindfulness practices that work best for you. In the meantime, you can put a few coping mechanisms into action to help you in the moment:
- Focus on the present moment, becoming aware of your breath and the sensations in your body. Don’t react to them. Instead, observe and release them.
- Use your breath to calm your body. Deeply inhaling through your nose, holding, and slowly breathing out can have a significant calming effect. Inhale to a count of four, five, or six, and double your exhale to a count of eight, 10, or 12.
- Practice self-compassion, observing your emotions and understanding that everyone (even you) makes mistakes.
- Adopt more compassion for others and connect fully with the important people in your life to achieve positive effects that help build resilience.
The Science Behind Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are more than just trends or buzz-worthy practices. Although more work needs to be done to truly understand the impact and effects, there is solid research supporting their inclusion in effective stress management routines.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out that these practices may impact brain function and structure. Used in conjunction with other measures, mindfulness and meditation can help improve problem-solving, boost resilience to stress, and enhance relaxation.
Physical Activity and Stress Management
Exercise is a form of physical stress that has tremendous benefits, not just for your physical well-being but also for your mental health. Regular aerobic exercise helps reduce cortisol and adrenaline — your body’s stress hormones. Activity also stimulates your brain to produce endorphins, which elevate your mood.
Incorporating Physical Activity Into Your Routine
Regular activity helps your body work through the effects of stress and helps you separate yourself from other stressors. It can feel a lot like meditation, providing focus on the task at hand for increased calm and clarity. So, how can you add it to your routine?
If you aren’t physically active, talk to your doctor before getting started. Always remember that safety comes first. It’s also helpful to start slowly, gradually building up to increased activity. Shoot for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly, but only participate in what brings you joy. If you can’t reach 150 minutes, a shorter amount of activity is always better than nothing. Some activities to consider include:
- Walking is a simple, effective way to get out of your head, connect with your body, and calm your mind.
- High-intensity activities like dancing, running, or biking produce results.
- Relaxing activities like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are ideal for many people.
- Martial arts or kickboxing offer solutions that also release emotional steam.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices for Stress Management
Poorly managed stress can lead people to make unhealthy choices. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs, and risky behaviors as a way of managing their stress, compounding the effects on their bodies and minds.
Positive ways to deal with stress include healthy lifestyle choices that support physical, mental, and emotional health.
Don’t snooze and overlook the power of regular, quality sleep. Stress, anxiety, and depression can affect sleep quality, but establishing a regular sleep pattern and schedule can help.
Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
The food you eat provides the energy and nutrients your body needs to thrive and cope with stress. Research indicates that nutrients found in vegetables and fatty fish, like salmon, may help balance high cortisol levels.
Practice Mindful Eating
Putting thought into the food you choose to eat and focusing your undivided attention on your meal can make meals more enjoyable. Mindful eating encourages deep breathing and chewing your food slowly, both of which improve digestion and increase relaxation.
Make Time to Unwind
You know that the idea of “All work and no play…” leads to negative things. It’s essential to incorporate time to relax and engage in activities you enjoy. Take up a hobby, go out with your friends, curl up with your loved ones — these are critical habits.
Ask for Help
No one can go it alone, and there’s zero shame in needing help. When you feel alone, it can make stress even worse. Having someone you can talk to about what’s happening in your life can have a tremendously positive impact. Whether that’s a trusted friend or a mental health professional or someone else, just opening up and realizing you aren’t alone can be transformative.
Contact Dr. Manuel Astruc, M.D. & Associates for Professional Support
We understand your pain and want to help you learn how to cope with stress and feel better. With decades of experience as a caring psychiatrist in Saratoga Springs, NY, Dr. Astruc can help you find your way back to yourself. To learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment, call 518-217-4875 for immediate assistance.