A looming deadline, an unexpected expense, a text from a loved one with bad news. No matter how it pops up, dealing with stress is a fact of life. If you find yourself stressed out more often than not, give yourself a break and try some proven strategies to manage stress.
Strategies to Manage Stress
Stress refers to the emotional or physical tension that you feel in reaction to a challenge or a demand. Stress can sometimes come into our lives for positive reasons, like a job promotion or planning a vacation. However, we typically associate stress with annoyances and negative events.
Your body’s reaction to stress is actually a survival mechanism known as “fight-or-flight response.” When your brain perceives a threat, it responds by flooding your body with stress hormones to prepare you for evasive action. Your heart speeds up, your hands start to sweat, your breathing gets faster, and your mind focuses on the threat until it is gone. Back when our bodies adapted this response, it was key to the survival of our species. We can thank stress hormones for helping our ancestors survive long enough to create our current generation.
Momentary stress reactions are normal, and can even be helpful when additional focus or energy is needed. Chronic stress is different. Your body needs rest to repair and restore itself. Unfortunately, chronic stress keeps the body in a constant state of alertness, which disrupts that needed rest. This can lead to serious physical and mental issues, such as clinical anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Learning what stress is helps us understand how to process it in a healthy way. If you experience stress on a regular basis, explore some better strategies to manage stress.
Exercise Every Day
Committing to regular daily exercise is a great way to manage stress. Exercise helps you use that stored-up energy and floods your brain with endorphins, which can further improve your mood. You can even use exercise for some quick stress relief throughout your day. If you’re feeling stressed out, take a ten-minute break and walk around the block. You’ll almost certainly feel better afterwards.
Manage the Link Between Diet, Sleep, and Stress
Another way to manage stress is to improve your diet and sleep routine. When it comes to stress, diet and sleep are closely linked. The alertness caused by chronic stress makes it difficult to sleep, which may cause decreases in energy and increases in appetite. This may cause you to crave foods that are high in sugar and fat, which can also make it difficult to sleep. Over time, this can create a vicious cycle for those that experience chronic stress.
To avoid this, eat a balanced diet that is high in nutrients and protein. This will make you feel full and help you avoid stress-related binging. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol as well, as they disrupt sleep as well as your appetite. If getting to sleep is a challenge, create a bedtime routine and stick to it.
Take Control with “The Four As”
While improving your physical health helps, it’s also important to change your mindset. The Mayo Clinic recommends four key daily strategies, known as “The Four As”:
- Avoid stress by setting boundaries with difficult people and planning ahead to circumvent stress before it starts.
- Alter how you interact with stressful people and situations. Communicate clearly, and say no to unreasonable demands.
- Accept that you cannot eliminate every stressor, and find healthy ways to mentally process stress. Talk out your problems with a friend, and practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
- Adapt to stressors by changing your expectations and reframing your view of the situation. Focus on the big picture, and practice gratitude whenever possible.
If you’ve been dealing with chronic stress for a long time, you might benefit from a more intentional relaxation practice. Mindfulness helps people gain control over their thoughts through meditation, breathing, and guided thinking. A recent study showed that just one week of mindfulness meditation significantly increased people’s abilities to handle stressful situations. Start slowly with a short daily meditation, and build your practice from there.
Finding the right strategies to manage stress is key to your peace of mind. You can’t eliminate stress completely, but if you learn to manage it, you’ll be happier and healthier too.
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