Coping With Stress, Starting Today
1.) Reduce Your Intake Of Stimulants.
Eliminating our most common vices simply isn’t realistic, and especially not all at once. So try starting small. Can you replace your second, or afternoon, cup of coffee with herbal tea? If you need wine or a cocktail to unwind after work each day, pick 1 or 2 weekdays to make a mocktail instead, drink flavored sparkling water (add fruit or herbs!), or even kombucha for a similar placebo effect. Bonus: Keeping yourself better hydrated will enable your body to cope better with stress.
You should also aim to avoid or reduce your consumption of refined sugars – they aren’t only in desserts, they’re in most manufactured foods (even salad dressings and bread), and can cause energy crashes which may lead you to feel tired and irritable. Make sure to check the labels of all processed foods, and try to find an alternate brand, or better yet pick something up from your neighborhood farmer’s market to avoid all the additives!
2.) Get Moving To Burn Off Your Stress.
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body. These are the “fight or flight” hormones that are designed to protect us from immediate bodily harm when we are under threat. Physical exercise can be used as a surrogate to metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state.
When you feel stressed and tense, go for a brisk walk in fresh air (check out our previous post about the benefits of walking!). Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis, either before or after work, or at lunchtime. (Pro tip: make your workouts *non-negotiable* with yourself and your schedule, and pick a consistent class time to attend regularly). Regular physical activity will also improve the quality of your sleep!
3.) Go To Sleep.
A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Unfortunately though, stress also interrupts our sleep as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep (stop thinking about your to-do list at 2 am!!).
Rather than relying on medication, try maximizing your relaxation before going to sleep. Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as alcohol if you know that leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. Stop multi-tasking! Quit scrolling stories on your phone with the TV on. Pick one or the other, to help your brain slow down. Try reading a calming book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. Aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
4. Try A Relaxation Technique.
Meditation isn’t for everyone. But literally anyone can do this, anywhere, even at your desk or in the car. One very simple relaxation technique is to focus on a word or phrase that has a positive meaning to you. Words such as “calm” “love” and “peace” work well, or you could think of one self-affirming mantra such as “I deserve calm in my life” or “Grant me serenity”. Focus on your chosen word or phrase and return to the chosen word or phrase even when your mind wanders. If you find yourself becoming tense again later, simply silently repeat your word or phrase.
Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. Relaxation is a skill that needs to be learned and will improve with practice, like anything in life! So make sure to try this technique more than once to get the hang of it.
5. Keep A Stress Diary.
Keeping a stress diary for a few weeks is an effective stress management tool, to help you become more aware of the situations which cause you to become stressed.
Note the date, time and place of each stressful episode, and what you were doing, who you were with, and how you felt both physically and emotionally. Give each stressful episode a stress rating (on, say, a 1-10 scale) and use the diary to understand what triggers your stress and how effective you are in stressful situations. This will enable you to avoid stressful situations and develop better coping mechanisms.
Not a dear diary type? 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.
6. Take Control: Just Say No.
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. (repeat this out loud three times right now because we are serious, sister!) Start to prioritize, and ultimately organize, your tasks.
Make a list of all the things that you need to do and list them in order of genuine priority, and over a longer timeframe. Remember to create buffer times to deal with unexpected tasks, and most importantly schedule time for YOURSELF, whether that’s exercise, a pedicure, or even a walk or phone call with a friend.
Take some things off your plate! Note what tasks you need to do personally and what can be delegated to others to do. See what you may even be able to completely eliminate, or move a task or two to a ‘when time allows’ bucket with no deadline.
Lastly, just say N-O. A common cause of stress is having too much to do and too little time in which to do it. And yet most of us 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. Think about practicing some pre-prepared phrases to let other people down more gently, so you feel more comfortable saying no more often.
Which tip do you find will be easiest for you to work on today? Any other tips you’ve found personally helpful that aren’t on this list? Let us know!