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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work

Do you feel the frustration of being pulled in a million directions?

Scattered energy—the result of scrambling to do all the things, but feeling like you’re failing to be effective at any of them—ignites overwhelm both at work and at home. Maybe you’re struggling more than usual because the lines between professional and personal life have become blurred. Or maybe the extra challenges of this year are simply magnifying this battle you’d already been fighting for awhile.

Although it’s impossible to eliminate all of the stressors that make us want to pull our hair out by the roots or curl up in the cozy comfort of our beds, we can master control of our reactions to them. The key to successful stress management is simple: take a proactive approach.

These science-based stress management techniques will help you stop the hamster wheel so that you can feel more calm, no matter what life throws your way.

Mindful Morning Rituals Set the Tone for a Peaceful Day

Do you ever feel like you’re just slogging through the motions but don’t really enjoy the process of starting your day? It doesn’t have to be that way. Starting our mornings with intention sets in motion a positive ripple effect that touches every aspect of our lives. Simply taking the time to create a sense of calm and self-nurturing in the morning goes a long way toward effective stress management.

1. Focus on Feeling Good First

Instead of feeling defeated from the moment you open your eyes, plan ahead to do something that brings you joy. For this to be most effective, choose something based on what you truly like, rather than what you think you should do.

For example, you may have read that morning workouts relieve stress by increasing serotonin (that wonderful mood-boosting hormone). This is true, and if working out feels good for you, keep it up!

If you dread getting out of bed to exercise, however, it’s time for a different approach. Putting pressure on ourselves to do something we can’t stand actually diminishes our motivation and compounds our stress!

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Strategy: Let go of “shoulds” and do something you know you like.

In case you’re not sure, here are some simple ideas to try:

Indulge in peaceful quiet before everyone else in the house wakes up. Savor the warmth, flavor, and aroma of your coffee. Get outside to soak up the peaceful beauty of the sunrise. Listen to uplifting music or the sounds of birds chirping. Write about what you’re grateful for or what’s going well in your life.

Mindfulness activities like these help us tune into our senses and notice our thoughts and feelings without interruption. They relieve stress by building resilience in the form of improved coping skills and decreased tendencies to take on others’ negative emotions. These abilities mean that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.[1]

2. Carefully Cultivate Whom/What You Allow Into Your Mind Space

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This famous Jim Rohn quote was penned long before the advent of modern technologies like the internet and social media. Thanks to these advances, our five-person bubble has expanded exponentially.

We would be wise to not ignore the fact that even a “quick morning check-in” on our phones can have a powerful impact. Our mood and stress levels throughout the day often hinge on this single element.

One efficient method for controlling this impact is to create solid boundaries. Decide which individuals, events, and thoughts are deserving of the precious real estate in your brain. Refuse to allow other people’s urgencies to become your emergencies.

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Strategy: Avoid email, social media, and news until after you have taken time for your morning feel-good activity.

Limit exposure to these outlets throughout the day to minimize stress levels.[2] Identify any people, topics of conversation, or situations that trigger a stress response in you. Avoid these as much as possible, and cut out any extra noise that isn’t supporting you to feel calm.

Avoid Midday Meltdowns and Gain Control of Your Life

Have you ever noticed that many stress relief tips, especially as related to enhancing success and improving our quality of life, focus on morning and evening routines?

Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, calls these habits the “bookends” of our days and states that they are the hallmarks of a successful life. While this practice in itself helps us relieve stress by putting ourselves in control of our daily beginnings and endings, there is an often undervalued merit in creating additional anchor points throughout the day to keep our energy grounded and optimized.

3. Make Space for Fun

Let’s face it– adulting can be a real drag. We have so much pent-up tension due to our focus on “shoulds,” “musts,” and “need-tos.” In all that busyness and resultant worry, we sometimes forget to let go of expectations and tune back into our wants, dreams, and physiological requirements for relief.

Strategy: Resist the urge to scold yourself for being selfish or lazy, or for not “earning” it.

That inner critic is totally normal but it’s not only a fun-killer, it will intensify your feelings of stress. Handling that voice can be a little tricky, but it’s totally doable.

These self-sabotaging thoughts, at their core, come from your subconscious mind trying to protect you from judgement, either by self or others. Simply noticing them is the first step to moving past this. Ask yourself, “Is this really true, or is this my brain speaking out of fear?” Liken it to addressing a small child: would you tell her that she is selfish or lazy for playing, taking a break, or enjoying herself? Of course not! Imagining yourself in her shoes is a simple way to practice self-compassion.

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Also avoid the tendency to save fun for the end of the day after you’ve “earned it.” It’s not about keeping score, and if you try, you’re likely to lose. Happiness and satisfaction with our lives doesn’t have to be earned, no matter what we were taught.

Our brains and bodies react so positively to experiences that evoke joy, comfort, connection, and play that the effects are measurable. In fact, simply engaging in enjoyable activities has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol (stress hormone).[3]

4. Eat to Beat Stress

A fuel-starved brain is a stressed brain. When our stomachs are running on empty our blood sugar levels dip, flatlining our energy. This reduces patience levels, too.

If you have ever experienced a child, or even your spouse or a colleague, fuming at you like a ticking stress bomb, you may have witnessed what some call “the hangries” (hunger + angry). People are more likely to panic or blow up when functioning at this level. The part of our brains that makes educated, logical, insightful decisions is literally shut off in this situation.

It’s common to only notice we’re hungry or remember to eat once we’ve already reached our edge. The problem, as mentioned, is that our decision-making skills at this point are nil. We’re likely to grab whatever will most quickly reassure our brain that it’s not starving to death, and since one of our brain’s top fuel sources is glucose, we naturally crave simple carbs and sweets to get that sugar hit fast. This adds to stress a couple hours later, when our energy crashes. It creates even more stress by causing us to waste a lot of mental energy beating ourselves up over choices that make us feel crappy.

Strategy: Planning ahead is essential, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.

Batch prep staple foods– like pasta, quinoa, and various fruits and veggies– for putting together quick meals and snacks on the fly. Keep nourishing nibbles on standby—in your car, desk, fridge—for convenient and quick recovery from the “hangries.”

Include foods high in magnesium, which are proven to work to manage stress and create a tranquil mood.[4] Magnesium-rich oatmeal and brown rice are easy to prepare in advance. Load salads or sandwiches with leafy greens like romaine, red leaf lettuce, or spinach. Snack on bananas, yogurt, broccoli, or Brazil nuts for a quick dose of this stress relieving mineral.

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Unwind and Decompress to Release Tension and Stress

At the end of a chaotic day, it’s natural to want to set our troubles aside and just tune out for a bit. The hard truth is, many of our nighttime relaxation go-tos don’t actually get us the results we’re trying to achieve. At best, they provide short-lived surface-level relief… and at worst, they actually aggravate the stress we’re attempting to escape.

5. Break Free From the Nightcap Trap

Alcohol is commonly used as a method for winding down at the end of a stressful day. In fact, about one-fifth of all American adults use alcohol to help them relax enough to sleep at night.[5] The effects of adequate quality sleep on stress relief are well documented, so it makes sense that we’d equate the combination of these benefits and alcohol’s sedative effects with lowered stress levels.

Unfortunately the opposite is true, causing this approach to backfire. The sedative effects of alcohol naturally wear off after just a few hours, which leads to what’s called the Metabolic Rebound Effect, a phenomenon which directly interrupts restorative sleep cycles.[6] One proven consequence of sleep disruption is increased stress responsivity, bringing this cycle full-circle.[7]

Strategy: Shift from escapist stress relief methods to more intentional ones that contribute to feeling relaxed, connected, and balanced.

Using alcohol-free stress relievers will help you feel truly nurtured and support your restorative sleep. Here are some ideas to try:

Pull Your Scattered Energy Together!

With these five stress management techniques, you can finally say goodbye to sluggish mornings and frazzled days, and consciously create the life you’ve always known you could live.

Big improvements to our stress and overall well-being are possible with relatively small adjustments to our mindsets and behaviors. Tune into self awareness, commit to releasing the habits that keep you planted in complacency, and shift into actions that support you to live your purpose, on purpose.

More Stress Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Tsunami Green via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

5 Stress Management Techniques That Are Proven To Work 7 Common Signs of Work Burnout And How To Deal With Them

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

4. Interrupt Your Day

When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

Final Thoughts

Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
[4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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