Deadlines. Bills. Money problems. Chores. Family responsibilities. Relationship challenges. Work issues. Politics. Drama. STRESS. TOO MUCH STRESS. Does this sound familiar? Of course it does. Statistics from the APA even show how stressed we are. Forty four percent of people surveyed indicate that their stress levels had increased in the past five years.
Stress is an epidemic and none of us are immune.
Whether you are five or one hundred and five, chances are you have some aspect of your life that causes you stress. In fact, there are probably several stressors that you could list off the top of your head right now without even trying.
Stress is universal. It hits all ages, races and cultures.
Stress doesn’t just evaporate, it morphs as we age, like some evil shape-shifter. The things that are stressful at one developmental stage of our lives may not bother us later, but usually something else takes its’ place. The stress circle of life. How nice.
Some of the outcomes of stress can be mildly annoying, while others can manifest into serious situations if unattended. Symptoms of stress can include:
Insomnia is a very common side effect of stress. Trouble with getting to sleep or problems staying asleep are both problematic. Insomnia can become chronic and can result in cognitive impairment, daily functioning and mood regulation.
Stress can result in a flurry of thoughts in a rapid sequence that are difficult to keep up with. Dealing with a racing mind can make it difficult to concentrate or focus on a task at hand and additional problems related to chronic distraction.
Stress fluctuations can bring out the moodiness in all of us, particularly if there are multiple stressors happening at once.
Stress increases cortisol levels within the body, which impacts a host of other physical processes. This can contribute to adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, weight gain, heart issues and memory issues.
We can’t escape stress, but we can certainly manage it. With practice, we can even learn to manage it with finesse. There are countless ways to tackle it. Often the best approaches are simple and address the needs of the mind, body and spirit.
Try choosing one idea from each list (mind, body and spirit) and use these techniques within a few days of each other to transform the way you manage stress.
Attending to the needs of your mind is an important piece of the puzzle when learning to manage stress with finesse. Mind care involves not only cognitive and thought-based work, but emotional care as well. In many ways, attending to the needs of the mind to manage stress means practicing good emotional self-care and making it a habit.
Set aside time to shut off the phone, tv and laptop. Shut off the radio or other devices that offer external chatter in your mental space. Get away from people. Set aside at least one hour per day to be in silence. If you need to go to your room and sit quietly on your bed for an hour to make this happen, do that. Give your mind time to process thoughts, feelings and other random bits of information in a quiet space without distraction.
Allow yourself to cry:
Sometimes people equate crying with defeat or weakness. In reality, the opposite is true. Crying reduces stress. It offers a simple form of release that no other action can provide. Allowing oneself to cry is one of the healthiest things we can do to relieve stress.
Reframe your thinking:
Examine the way your thoughts play into your stress levels. Make a list of stressful situations in your life and the thoughts that correspond with those situations.
Are there different ways to view these situations? Are you able to reduce stress in any of those areas by delegating tasks, asking for help or disengaging in the situation in some way?
Distract your mind with stand up comedy, some upbeat tunes or a mindless fun read.
Write it out:
Whether you open a word document or take out an actual pad of paper, sit down and write about your stress until you aren’t stressed anymore. Don’t worry about how it looks, sounds, whether it makes sense or anything else. Just write as a therapeutic tool to get those stressors out of your head.
The body often takes just as much of a toll as the mind during stressful periods. Attending to your body’s needs is a crucial aspect of managing stress with finesse.
Increasing your physical activity level is a fast way to reduce stress. This doesn’t mean you have to go run a marathon (unless you want to). Just do more than you’re doing now. Create time in your day to move. Getting your heart rate up, even for just ten minutes or so, can reduce the stress hormones within your body significantly.
Nothing beats a massage for total body relaxation. There are a plethora of massage types to choose from, depending on what is most appealing to your needs. Deep tissue, full-body massage is always a good choice for complete relaxation. Try to schedule a massage regularly. It will be something to look forward to when stress begins to creep up.
Having sex is terrific way to release stress within the body. Plus, it’s good exercise. And then there is the obvious benefit of orgasm, which not only feels amazing, but releases oxytocin in the brain and offers an immediate sense of wellbeing.
Stretching is one of the most simple and overlooked stress relief techniques. It’s fast, free and healthy. Taking deep breaths and holding your stretches for longer than normal to get the most from this easy technique.
High carbs, fats and sugars are usually the most appealing foods when we are experiencing stress. We’re drawn to them because they give us a quick lift and make our taste buds happy. The problem is, these foods also drop us quickly after spiking our blood sugars and expanding our waistlines. For stress reduction, choose foods that make your body happy. Select healthy carbs such as veggies, fruits and whole grains. Go for healthy, lean proteins. These foods will bring your body greater satisfaction and decrease your stress levels by default.
Often people mistake the word spirit for religious. Spiritual care can mean tending to your religious practices, but in this context, we are talking about the place somewhere between the mind and body. It’s not an emotion exactly, but emotion plays a part in it.
Care of the spirit involves a consideration of what brings you joy, satisfaction, connection and contentment. Consider some of these ideas as you explore what spiritual care means to you.
Spend time with a friend:
Call a friend and make plans to go for a walk or have coffee together. Sometimes being with a good friend is the best cure for high stress.
Engage your creative mind through painting, sculpture or some other hands-on activity. Creativity allows our minds to shift into a zone where there is no room for stress.
Inspirational stories can lift the spirit in unique ways. Checking into someone else’s challenges and hard-fought successes can inspire us to reach deeper within ourselves to tackle our own.
Talk it out:
While talking out stress may seem more like a “mind care” activity, it often benefits the spirit even more than the mind. Knowing someone cares and is listening with empathy is a priceless gift.
Whether you are talking to a therapist, a friend or a family member, allow yourself to absorb the compassion and empathy. Let that resonate within you and it will reduce your stress greatly.
Sing or pray:
You don’t need to be a highly skilled singer to sing away stress. Nor do you need to be a deeply religious person to pray.
Both singing and prayer engage meditative, primal parts of the brain that need nurturing and self-expression. As we tap into those parts of ourselves, the daily grind of stress slip away.
Finding healthy ways to manage stress is key to managing it with finesse. Self-care is the most important part of this journey. Learn to listen to your mind, body and spirit for clues into what will help you manage stress.
Once you learn to recognize what your stress-reduction needs are, you will be managing stress like a pro.