Posted on March 22, 2017 by Dr.Paul
We all experience some stress in our lives, but that may be where the similarities end. For some, stress has an ebb and flow, coming and going as time passes. For others, stress may build into an ever-present anxiety, until it feels like an alarm without a snooze button.
Perhaps the most important distinction to make between different types of stress is the contrast between acute stress and everyday stress. For example, you may experience a noticeable spike in stress before, during, and after a move, or when the holidays roll around and your extended family comes to visit. To some degree, that kind of stress is normal and unavoidable.
But everyday stress is more often related to habits and choices. Though it may seem just as inevitable, the truth is that there’s a lot we can do to control, rein in, and re-direct our daily stress.
Here at PMR, we recognize the critical link between stress levels and overall wellbeing. For that reason, we’ve compiled this list of useful strategies to combat the rising tides, finding calm, clarity, and control when you need it the most.
Identifying Your Stressors
You can’t exert control over your everyday stressors until you begin to understand what they actually are—and of course, that’s easier said than done. Often, rather than specific events, the causes of your stress are related to your own thoughts and reactions. In fact, stress may become an everyday reality simply because it’s a deeply engrained part of your own habits.
Think: Do you walk into work each day with a deep-seated belief that things won’t go well, before the day even begins? Do you believe that the stress you experience is normal, unavoidable, and outside of your control?
It will feel that way until you learn the skill of specifically identifying your stressors. The key is mindfulness. For one day—or even just one hour—notice when your stress or anxiety levels are elevated.
What’s causing the stress? Is it a reaction to someone else, or is it a negative thought in your own mind? How does it feel, and how do you react to it? Write down the answers, noting if any patterns seem to emerge.
Eliminating Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Often, when stress hits, we immediately look to “unwind.” It’s an automatic thought, or response, that’s difficult to redirect. But it’s possible. Of course, there are positive, healthy ways to deal with stress—we’ll cover them in this article. But in order to choose healthy mechanisms, you must first examine the unhealthy ones.
A coping strategy is unhealthy if it only helps in the moment, leading to additional harm, health problems—and yes, stress—in the longer term. Some prime examples of unhealthy ways of coping with stress include drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, turning to non-medicated drugs, bingeing on unhealthy foods, smoking cigarettes, and lashing out at loved ones.
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list: any activity that helps now, but not in the future, could be placed in this category.
Reach Out and Make Connections
Now we come to the fun part: strategies that do make a difference when it comes to dealing with stress. Perhaps the most important of all is learning to reach out to others.
In fact, there are scientific reasons that leaning on other people helps us to feel calm and safe. According to HelpGuide.org, “the inner ear, face, heart, and stomach are wired together in the brain, so socially interacting with another person face-to-face—making eye contact, listening in an attentive way, talking—can quickly calm you down and put the brakes on defensive stress responses like fight-or-flight.”
Note that face-to-face interaction is best, but in a pinch, talking on the phone can also help. Of course, in order to confide in others, you must first have a willing network of friends and acquaintances. If you don’t have that, try making regular contact with people in your life to get in the habit. All that matters is that you trust the person and that they’re willing to listen, so co-workers, teachers, and family members are all fair game.
Find Healthy Ways to De-Stress and Decompress
If you don’t practice it regularly, you may be surprised at the effectiveness of talking to someone else—it can make a frightening storm cloud of stress suddenly seem manageable, even if the situation itself hasn’t changed.
But there are other strategies you can use to de-stress, and it’s important to develop these habits, too. If you make healthy choices and take time to pause throughout the day, you’ll find your stress levels naturally declining over time. Here are a few of the most effective strategies and habits for decompressing:
- Even small amounts of vigorous exercise—a ten minute jog, for example—can boost mood, calm the brain, and distract you from stressors.
- Practice mindfulness. A little bit of meditation every day can fortify your brain against negative, stressful thoughts.
- Consider your diet. As with all aspects of health, the foods you put into your body matter—nutritious foods will improve your mood and keep you energized during stressful moments.
- Limit your time in front of a screen. Plenty of studies have shown that too much time with our smartphones, TVs, and laptops stresses us out more than it relaxes us. Screen time at night also makes it harder to get sleep, which leads us to our next point…
- Get enough sleep. If you’re running a sleep deficit, you’re already putting yourself at greater risk of stress and anxiety. Aim for seven to eight hours a night.
At PMR, we emphasize holistic, comprehensive approaches to health, and stress is no different. Everything from nutrition to acupuncture can play a role in reducing everyday stress levels. Remember that you deserve to relax, and that your experiences with stress are largely within your own control.
To learn more about reducing and controlling everyday stress, contact us at PMR today!