Little stressors add up. Here’s how to manage them in healthy ways.
From politics to gloomy weather to everyday pressures, there’s a lot to be stressed about. Stress is a normal occurrence for just about everyone, whether it’s from a major event or just our daily lives with work, school, home — or commuting in terrible Puget Sound traffic. When life becomes a roller coaster with unpredictable ups and downs, stress can be difficult to manage.
The first step in managing your stress is identifying the causes. Once you determine your stressors, you can work on solutions for overcoming stress, such as engaging in activities that help you relax, like yoga or reading.
I like to ask my patients how they respond to stress and learn if they are coping with it in a healthy way. Some common physical responses to stress are aches and pains, a constant low energy level or always feeling tired without a good reason. Emotional responses include feeling anxious, angry, depressed or helpless. Prolonged feelings of stress mean that you are not dealing with stress in an effective way.
Common unhealthy coping mechanisms include:
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• Drinking alcohol or smoking
• Working too much or procrastinating on things that need to be done
• Sleeping too little, too much or both
• Trying to do too many things at once
Engaging in these behaviors may mean that you are not dealing with stress well. However, there are many positive ways to alleviate everyday stress. Here are some ideas.
Take a breath. No matter what is going on around you, a quick and easy way to de-stress is to take a break, perhaps walk around a little and take a couple of deep breaths. Purposely slowing your breathing for a minute or two calms your body and helps you think more mindfully.
Get active. Regular physical activity can relieve mental and physical stress. Adults who exercise have a lower risk of depression, and getting active can be very enjoyable. Try walking, swimming, biking or dancing.
Talk to someone. Being in the company of a trusted friend, co-worker or family member can be extremely beneficial. It is easy to feel isolated, but often you are not the only one experiencing a particular problem. People with strong social support systems experience fewer symptoms of stress. However, if the stress becomes too overwhelming, you should seek professional help.
Sleep. Not only is sleep necessary in order to think and function at your optimal level, but getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours) will lead to positive benefits in the long run. Research has shown that most Americans would be happier, healthier and safer if they got an extra 60 to 90 minutes of sleep per night. Of course, this is easier said than done. I advise my patients to stick to a sleep schedule, follow a bedtime ritual and take time to relax before bedtime (with all devices turned off).
Planning a strategy for dealing with a source of stress, seeking help from others and taking healthy steps to overcome the sources of stress will help you deal with stressful situations better in the future. As you face new and existing challenges, coping with the stresses of daily life in an effective way can make a big difference.