It seems like every day we hear news about the growing danger of stress in our lives. Click-bait headlines, news articles, and blog posts tell us stress causes physical, mental, and emotional illness. Experts tell us work stress can lead to addiction. They tell us financial stress can lead to relationship stress, which, in turn, can lead to divorce – another major stress. External pressure from society can lead to stress about whether we’re successful enough, good looking enough, fit enough, or happy enough.
And then when we check our social media feeds, it looks like everyone else is handling their stress just fine. The ups and downs of life do not seem to be driving them up a wall. Which brings us to the next thing we read, see, and hear about all the time in the media: stress management. Judging by social media, it looks to us like all our friends, new and old, must have some great stress-management techniques at their disposal.
Otherwise, how could they look so happy?
They go to yoga, meditate, and do Pilates. They get massages on vacation. They’re on hikes, taking amazing pictures. They post insights derived from the ancient wisdom of the Eastern Mystics, the Stoics, and contemporary self-help books.
Sometimes it looks like all they do all day long is manage their stress. It’s self-care on overdrive. From where we sit, it sure looks like it takes a lot of energy.
Don’t worry, though. We have two insights for you – one of which we hope is not news:
You should know the first one already.
As for the second, it’s just a matter of reminding yourself what you need to do.
There are a thousand and one ways to manage stress.
And believe it or not, almost all the new approaches you hear about actually do work. Meaning things like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and other mindfulness practices such as guided relaxation or visualization – with proper instruction and reasonable expectations, they’re remarkably effective. We don’t need peer-reviewed journal articles to confirm this: it’s easy to take a yoga (or meditation or tai chi) class and find out for ourselves.
If you’re curious whether they work for you, you should go take a class.
Exercise works – more on that below.
Traditional pharmaceutical approaches work, too. Medications such as anxiolytics and anti-depressants help millions of people around the world manage difficult emotions related to stress every day. Their detractors say they treat the symptoms, not the underlying causes, and they’re not entirely wrong. However, medications that help people manage symptoms, participate fully in day-to-day life, and enter treatment in a positive state of mind are a gift: while we search for alternatives to pharmaceuticals, we should not lose sight of their amazing potency and well-documented efficacy.
Add to this list the endless stream of alternative supplements, therapies, and strategies to manage stress and it can all seem overwhelming: you can get stressed trying to figure out which way you’re going to choose to manage your stress.
That’s what this post is really all about: we want to remind you that inside all of these stress management techniques – well, actually, before all these techniques, there’s a short list of simple things you can do to set yourself up for success.
And the truth is, without these simple things, all the stress management techniques in the world are doomed to fail.
Call this a list of stress-management prerequisites.
Stress management is not rocket science.
You choose what works for you – probably something we mentioned above – and stick with it. Medication, meditation, recreation – the choices are unique to the individual. But before you choose your stress management techniques, you’ll want to make sure the following five elements of your life are in place.
The theme here is keep it simple.
As we mentioned above, you can do all the stress management in the world, but if you’re not eating right, sleeping well, and exercising regularly, your health will likely suffer – and your stress will increase because of it. And if you don’t have something to keep you engaged in life – a passion or at least an interest – and a group of people to share your joys and sorrows with, then the statistics say you’re more likely to be unhappy. They also say you’ll die younger, but that’s another conversation.
What we want you to take away from this article is nothing new. In fact, all five points on our list are something you might have heard your grandmother say before you knew enough to listen to everything she said. Where stress management is concerned, we want you to try everything: all the yoga, all the meditation – give it a shot. See what resonates with you. And while you search for your go-to stress techniques, make sure your foundation is strong, based on the fundamentals you first heard decades ago: eat right, sleep well, be active, be interested, and find your people.
If you can do that, then we actually think the stress might take care of itself.
Note: If you’d like to pursue treatment for stress management, a few of the evidence based approaches include Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.