When we are stressed, our body activates our “fight or flight response” and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Your heart beats faster, and your breathing speeds up. These physiological changes often lead to headaches and tense muscles, which are the last things we need on a busy day.
Everybody has it, and everybody talks about it, but nobody really knows what stress is. WHY?
What Causes Stress-
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
Some of the most frequent stresses are the following:
- The Workplace
- Our Relationships
- Death of a Loved One
- Our Appearance and Personality
- Our Past
- Personal issues
- Pressures of studies
- Losses e.g. bereavement
- Unexpected news
- Daily hassles
- Thinking styles
- Negativity: “I’m useless, a loser, a failure.”
- Suspicion: “Why are they so nice to me?”
Here are 15 ways to manage stress effectively so we can live our lives feeling emotionally abundant rather than emotionally drained –
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to combat stress.
It might seem contradictory, but putting physical stress on your body through exercise can relieve mental stress.
The benefits are strongest when you exercise regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t exercise.
Try to find an exercise routine or activity you enjoy, such as walking, dancing, rock climbing or yoga.
Activities — such as walking or jogging — that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving.
2. Deep Breathing
Stopping and taking a few deep breaths can take the pressure off you right away.
This can be done wherever you are – behind your desk, while driving your car, in the middle of a busy coffee shop at morning rush hour, when your child is throwing an epic temper tantrum in the middle of a toy aisle. Close your eyes and think of something positive. Giving yourself a mental break in all of your current stressful madness can have powerful effects. Pair this with some light yoga to take in all of the relaxation you can muster. This will ease your muscles in your back, neck, chest and other locations on your body.
3. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine
Avoid, or at least reduce, your consumption of nicotine and any drinks containing caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it.
Alcohol is a depressant when taken in large quantities, but acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Therefore using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful.
Swap caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices and aim to keep yourself hydrated as this will enable your body to cope better with stress.
4. The Power of Sound
Listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body.
Slow-paced instrumental music can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as stress hormones.
Some types of classical, Celtic, Native American and Indian music can be particularly soothing, but simply listening to the music you enjoy is effective too.
Nature sounds can also be very calming. This is why they’re often incorporated into relaxation and meditation music.
5. Write It Down
One way to handle stress is to write things down.
I always keep a small notebook on me because writing helps to relieve stress. Freewriting consists of you setting a timer and then just writing down whatever comes to mind. If you can’t think of anything, then write down that you can’t think of anything. 5 minutes of freewriting can clear your head and relax you.
6. Learn to Say ‘No’
A common cause of stress is having too much to do and too little time in which to do it. And yet in this situation, many people will still agree to take on additional responsibility. Learning to say “No” to additional or unimportant requests will help to reduce your level of stress, and may also help you develop more self-confidence.
To learn to say “No”, you need to understand why you find it difficult. Many people find it hard to say “No” because they want to help and are trying to be nice and to be liked. For others, it is a fear of conflict, rejection or missed opportunities. Remember that these barriers to saying “No” are all self-created.
You might feel reluctant to respond to a request with a straight “No”, at least at first. Instead think of some pre-prepared phrases to let other people down more gently.
It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re laughing. It’s good for your health, and there are a few ways it may help relieve stress:
- Relieving your stress response.
- Relieving tension by relaxing your muscles.
In the long term, laughter can also help improve your immune system and mood.
A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted.
Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
8. Get in touch With Yourself
If you feel your stress levels rising, try listening to your body. What does it need at the moment? It often helps to tap your chest, stomach and back, massage your fingers and joints or rub your hands together vigorously. Try to always stand with both feet planted squarely on the ground, which gives you a sense of stability. We are used to acting according to what we think and have forgotten how to listen to our body, which knows what is truly good for us.
9. Eat Well & supplements
Eating a regular, well-balanced diet will help you feel better in general. It may also help control your moods. Your meals should be full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein for energy. And don’t skip any. It’s not good for you and can put you in a bad mood, which can actually increase your stress.
Several supplements promote stress and anxiety reduction. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common ones:
Lemon balm: Lemon balm is a member of the mint family that has been studied for its anti-anxiety effects.
Omega-3 fatty acids: One study showed that medical students who received omega-3 supplements experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms.
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat stress and anxiety. Several studies suggest that it’s effective.
Green tea: Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants which provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels.
Valerian: Valerian root is a popular sleep aid due to its tranquilizing effect. It contains valerenic acid, which alters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to lower anxiety.
Kava kava: Kava kava is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. Long used as a sedative in the South Pacific, it is increasingly used in Europe and the US to treat mild stress and anxiety.
Some supplements can interact with medications or have side effects, so you may want to consult with a doctor if you have a medical condition.
10. Relax Your Muscles
When you’re stressed, your muscles get tense. You can help loosen them up on your own and refresh your body by:
- Enjoying a massage
- Taking a hot bath or shower
- Getting a good night’s sleep
11. Chew Gum
For a super easy and quick stress reliever, try chewing a stick of gum.
One study showed that people who chewed gum had a greater sense of wellbeing and lower stress.
One possible explanation is that chewing gum causes brain waves similar to those of relaxed people. Another is that chewing gum promotes blood flow to your brain.
Additionally, one recent study found that stress relief was greatest when people chewed more strongly.
12. Talk to Someone
Just talking to someone about how you feel can be helpful.
Talking can work by either distracting you from your stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension by discussing it.
Stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective.
13. Spend Time With Your Pet
Having a pet may help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Interacting with pets may help release oxytocin, a brain chemical that promotes a positive mood.
Having a pet may also help relieve stress by giving you purpose, keeping you active and providing companionship — all qualities that help reduce anxiety.
14. Manage Your Time
At times, we all feel overburdened by our ‘To Do‘ list and this is a common cause of stress. Accept that you can not do everything at once and start to prioritise and diarise your tasks.
Make a list of all the things that you need to do and list them in order of genuine priority. Note what tasks you need to do personally and what can be delegated to others to do. Record which tasks need to be done immediately, in the next week, in the next month, or when time allows.
By editing what might have started out as an overwhelming and unmanageable task list, you can break it down into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks spread out over a longer time frame, with some tasks removed from the list entirely through delegation.
Remember as well to create buffer times to deal with unexpected and emergency tasks, and to include time for your own relaxation and well-being.
15. Spend Time With Friends and Family
Social support from friends and family can help you get through stressful times.
Being part of a friend network gives you a sense of belonging and self-worth, which can help you in tough times.
One study found that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend,” and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.
Keep in mind that both men and women benefit from friendship.
Another study found that men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
For me, this is the best and yet most stressful time of the year in which my rituals support and guide me. Perhaps some of them are right up your alley, or others you can adapt a little to suit you better. It is fascinating and rewarding to learn how different and yet similar we all are and perhaps the whole point is simply finding out what works best for us.
I wish you an exciting and relaxing time!