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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

11 Simple and Effective Ways to Manage Stress

11 Simple and Effective Ways to Manage Stress

Stress can be one of the most crippling things to struggle with on a regular basis. Its debilitating nature can make it difficult to focus and immobilize our minds, bodies, and emotions.

Figuring out how to manage stress can be challenging. Anxious thoughts and feelings can’t simply be bandaged over and left to heal like a cut or scrape. The overwhelming emotions that accompany stress can make coming up with a plan of action feel like an impossible task.

But don’t despair! There are actually plenty of ways to address stress and anxiety, many of which are simple to implement and can quickly make a difference.

In this article, you will learn the effective ways on how to manage stress. But before that, let’s understand the problem more first.

What Is Stress?

Did you know that over a quarter of a billion people around the world suffered from anxiety in 2016 alone? And yet, less than half of those struggling with stress are doing something about it. Part of the issue stems from the fact that often, it’s difficult to even know where to start.

It’s important to understand the distinction between a genuine stress disorder and the mere feeling of being stressed. The latter is actually a good, honest human emotion. It’s part of what keeps us alive and kicking. If you never experienced stress, you wouldn’t feel motivated to do much of what you need to thrive in life.

However, once you start to feel afraid of those anxious feelings, that’s when you know you’ve got a problem.

Stress disorder symptoms can manifest in our lives in a variety of mental, physical, and emotional ways. Here are a few of the different symptoms you might find if you’re dealing with stress on a serious level:

  • Issues with remembering things
  • Feeling irritable
  • Depression and negativity
  • Mood swings
  • Serious headaches
  • Fluctuations in sleep patterns

While there are plenty of other symptoms, outlining all of the ways that stress can hurt you would be a Herculean task. Instead, let’s start discussing solutions.

Just remember that stress and anxiety are able to physically, mentally, and emotionally cripple us. It’s a critical part of the recovery process that we diagnose the problem when it becomes serious.

And then take steps to address it.

11 Simple and Effective Ways to Manage Stress

Self-awareness regarding your stress levels is a good first step, but it isn’t likely to resolve all of the issues. Once you have a grasp of how bad your stress and anxiety levels are, it’s time to look at ways to manage that stress.

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We’re not talking about dozens of time-consuming, expensive visits to a therapist. While therapy may be an answer for some, often the best solutions can be elegantly simple and impressively effective.

1. Take a Deep Breath

Let’s start off with one of the most easily overlooked solutions: taking a deep breath.

This might sound basic, but it truly is one of the greatest anti-stress tools that you have at your disposal. Remember, stress is an emotional response. It indicates an overload of the senses and an inability to process your circumstances properly.

When you find yourself confronted by a stressful situation and you feel that fear creeping into your thoughts, the first and best thing you can do is slow down and take a few deep breaths.

This provides oxygen for your brain and allows you to retake control over your cognitive process, which can help channel your thoughts and emotions in a positive direction. Rather than simply panicking, you’ll find that a deep breath gives you the ability to think rationally no matter how bad the situation is.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a free, always-accessible, easy-to-implement coping mechanism you can rely on in practically any stressful scenario.

2. The Power of a Massage

If you’re literally feeling wound up by all of the stress, one of the best physical solutions available is to get a massage.

The calming effects of a good massage are an excellent way to help address the physical symptoms of stress. Further, if you consider the fact that it forces you to sit still and relax for a significant chunk of time, it can make it the perfect way to slow down and let your body unwind.

Even if you can’t afford to dish out the cash to go to a quality spa on a regular basis, you can always consider investing in something like a massage chair in order to get a similar effect. These can offer back massages, foot massages, and heat therapy, bringing the effects of a massage right into the comfort of your own home.[1]

3. Fire up That Diffuser

If you find yourself confronted with a predictably stressful situation on a regular basis — say, for example, in your workplace — it can be helpful to head off the stress by using one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Aromatherapy is an affordable and easy way to manage stress in a long-term situation. All you need to do is get a good diffuser, some water, and some essential oils.

Lavender essential oil is one of the best options when it comes to stress. Not only is it a gentle fragrance and natural air freshener (so it won’t seem out of place to pump a room full of the stuff), but it’s also excellent for promoting mental well-being and sleep quality, both of which are important factors in the fight to reduce stress.[2]

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4. Have an Attitude of Gratitude

While we’re on the topic of your mental well-being, another really important step in conquering our fear of stress is to practice having an attitude of gratitude.

Again, this may sound like a simplistic suggestion, but the concept of “watching your attitude” isn’t just helpful for curbing the negativity of a stubborn three-year-old; it’s age-old wisdom that applies to everyone.

One of the best ways to begin to gain control over our thought processes (especially those negative ones!) is to understand the cognitive behavioral therapy concept of cognitive distortions. These are classic ways that the human brain tends to warp information, all of which can quickly lead to stress and anxiety.

If you can begin to identify thought processes like “disqualifying the positive” or “jumping to conclusions,” you’re much more likely to catch yourself and focus on being grateful, instead.[3]

Here’re some ways to help you practice gratitude daily: 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude

5. Revolutionize Your Sleep

Did you know that the average night sleep for a modern American is less than 7n hours? It was over 8 hours fewer than a century ago.

The truth is, 6 hours of sleep a day just doesn’t cut it. Not only that, but sleep is a crucial part of living a healthy, happy life — and naturally, also a life with less stress.

If you’re feeling stressed, one of the first things to do is take your sleep schedule seriously. This doesn’t just include longer sleep times. Make sure to avoid screens before you go to bed, and consider implementing something like lavender essential oils in order to improve the quality of your sleep as well.[4]

6. Break out the CBD Oils

While we’ve talked about essential oils a couple of times now, another great oil that can help combat stress and anxiety is CBD oil.

CBD oil is a powerful natural supplement that, like lavender, doesn’t just combat anxiety, but promotes overall mental wellness. It can help improve sleep and relieve depression symptoms, as well, all of which are natural remedies for addressing long-term, chronic stress.

If diffusing lavender just isn’t doing the trick, or if you can’t stand the overly floral aroma, you may want to consider taking some CBD oil as an alternative to help combat the stress.

7. Get Moving

Another tried-and-true way to address stress is to get up and get moving.

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Whether you’re heading to the gym, going for a long run, or hitting up the park with your dog by your side for some company, it’s important to carve out some time to exercise. It may be preaching to the choir at this point, but it bears repeating:

Stress isn’t just a mental battle, nor is it just an emotional struggle — it affects our physical bodies as well.

Getting exercise helps release endorphins, gives you a confidence boost, gets you out in the sunlight, and helps distract you from whatever is causing you to feel anxious. In the same way that exercise is a classic anti-depression tool, it’s worth adding into the mix as you try to find relief from the stresses and strains of life.[5]

8. Get Everything off Your Mind

One of the ways stress can cripple us is by muddling up our thoughts. Between unprocessed feelings and fretting about unknown or unpredictable events, anxiety and stress can easily make a person feel like they’re drowning.

One of the best ways to clear your thoughts and regain control over your mind when you’re dealing with serious stress is to simply grab a pen and paper and write everything down. You can make a pros and cons list, organize everything by categories, or create a mind map.

However you choose to go about it, taking the time to write down and organize your thoughts can immediately ease the pressure and help take the fear and worry out of a situation.

Take a look at this article and learn more about the technique: How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

9. Grab a Stick of Gum

Did you know that chewing gum has been shown to both increase memory recall and reduce stress?

The important thing with this suggestion is to give it a decent chance. Some studies have shown that the actual act of chewing gum can be a bit distracting at first, but when implemented for the long term, it can actually be quite an effective anti-stress tactic.

It doesn’t matter if you’re managing a huge workload at school or dealing with unreasonable demands at work — keeping a pack of gum in your pocket can be a great go-to option when you feel your stress levels rising.[6]

10. Laughter Is Still the Best Medicine

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but laughter is still the number one prescription for a healthy life.

It isn’t just an old wives’ tale, either. The science really does back this one up. Laughter provides a host of different short- and long-term benefits, particularly in the area of — you guessed it — stress.

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Laughter smooths tension away, alleviates pain, helps with your mood, and even brings a flood of oxygen-rich air into your body.

If you find yourself feeling stressed out, look for a friend or two and do something fun that you know will get you laughing.[7]

11. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”

Finally, just like pausing to take a deep breath, another tried-and-true stress management tactic is developing the simple ability to say “no.”

It’s always admirable to help those in need. No one is arguing that. But in the same way that you should put your own oxygen mask on before the child sitting next to you on a plane, it’s critical to understand that if you aren’t aware of your own limits, you’re likely to end up being less effective for everyone.

If insecurities and the fear of rejection lead you to uncontrollably say “yes” every time you’re asked to do something, sooner or later you’re going to have a panic attack.

As you practice many of the things on this list and gain more control over your thoughts and feelings, begin to practice the complex and challenging art of simply saying “no” sometimes. It doesn’t mean you need to become a selfish person. Just take a moment to weigh each request against your ability to take the time and effort to help properly.

If you want to learn about how to say no, this article is for you: The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Bottom Line

There are clearly plenty of ways to cope with stress and anxiety in our lives. The important thing, though, isn’t which of the items on this list you choose to try, but rather that you understand where you’re trying to get to.

Remember, stress isn’t a bad thing on its own. It’s a natural part of life that actually has many benefits. However, letting stress itself dictate our mood, thoughts, and feelings can be detrimental to our physical and mental state.

So take some time now, pick 2 or 3 things from the list, and commit to implementing them from here forward. As you slowly mature and regain control over your stress, continue to add more things from the list.

Before you know it, you’ll be breathing easy and coping masterfully through each and every stressful situation that life throws your way.

More Stress Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on November 9, 2020

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, breaking bad habits is difficult because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower, and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

2. No Motivation

Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academic pressure, and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

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This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family, and life in general.

If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to start breaking bad habits.

A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

Overeating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of chips, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are necessary for survival. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good, and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

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You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

5. Upward Comparisons

Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

Research shows that in the age of social media, social comparisons are much easier and can ultimately harm self-esteem if scrolling becomes a bad habit[2].

6. No Alternative

This is a real and valid reason why breaking bad habits is difficult. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

Someone who has physical or psychological limitations, such as a disability or social anxiety, may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

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7. Stress

As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing an unhealthy habit.

When a person is stressed about something, it is easy for bad habits to form because the mental resources required to fight them are not available[3].

We often see a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

If you need some help reducing stress, check out the following video for some healthy ways to get started:

8. Sense of Failure

People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

Overeaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in, and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store. Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

If such people slip even once with a glass of wine, or a smoke, or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

9. The Need to Be All-New

People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

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These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit and try to create good habits from there.

10. Force of Habit

Humans are creatures of habit, and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or eating junk food when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them, as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

Final Thoughts

These are the main reasons why breaking bad habits is difficult, but the good news is that the task is not impossible. Breaking habits takes time, and you’ll need to put long-term goals in place to replace a bad habit with a good one.

There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

More on Breaking Bad Habits

Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?
[2] Psychology of Popular Media Culture: Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem.
[3] Stanford Medicine: Examining how stress affects good and bad habits

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