As of late, we’ve been talking a lot about stress. We’ve talked about the physical effects of stress and that realization that you’re actually more stressed than you thought. Between juggling work, family, friends, and other commitments, it’s easy to become stressed out. There are a number of ways to reduce tension and relax. However, some are much more effective for some than others. It’s important to find positive methods though. Even though some negative methods still bring stress relief, they actually bring more harm than good in the big picture. Today let’s dive into positive and effective stress management practices to help you live a more relaxed 2019.
Negative Stress Management Practices
There are a number of habits and practices we may have picked up in the past in order to deal with stress. But they aren’t exactly great for our mental health or keeping us stable:
How many smokers do you know (and maybe you’re one of them) that feels smoking has a truly calming effect? The tension before that first drag can be almost palpable. And with that first exhale, it’s easier to sense that overwhelming feeling of calm for the user. However, studies are refuting this belief that smoking calms down stress. Remember, nicotine is still a stimulant. Scientists say that rather than helping smokers relax, nicotine actually increases anxiety and tension. The relaxing effect of smoking is alleged to be a mere psychological addiction.
How many of us can admit that nothing feels better than indulging in a sweet or salty treat at the end of a long, stressful day? We claim these foods are magic and can instantly change our moods. But scientific studies are beginning to disagree. Yes, emotional eating helps temporarily ease our stress. But in the long run, it actually causes more stress – both figuratively and literally. Extra weight puts extra tension on our bodies and can cause a number of health issues down the line. Not to mention the emotional and mental strains of guilt and regret.
Alcohol and Drug Use
Let’s be honest. In today’s world, it’s hard not to get caught up in wanting things immediately. The same is true for dealing with emotions. Taking drugs – both legal and non – is a common solution to “fixing our problems”. Benzodiazepines, antidepressants, buspirone and beta blockers are the most common drugs used to relieve stress. These prescription drugs may provide an easy escape from stress. But unfortunately, the relief is only temporary. Long-term use of prescription medications can result in dependency or adverse side effects.
Positive Stress Management Practices
If you identified with any of the above practices, don’t worry. There are a number of positive coping methods that can help you more effectively practice managing stress. We all indulge in the occasional “stressed out pizza” or “anxiety ridden pint of ice cream”. And doing so from time to time is normal! We just want to make these positive habits the ones you turn to first:
Remember Your Breath
It’s a good thing breathing is involuntary. Though that doesn’t mean we should forget about it entirely. Stopping to regroup and take a few deep breaths can help you deal with stress whenever and wherever it occurs. t’s no wonder that many relaxation methods – like yoga and meditation – encourage deep and effective breathing.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your hands in your lap and your feet on the floor. Or you can lie down
- Close your eyes
- Imagine yourself in a relaxing place. It can be on the beach, in a beautiful field of grass, or anywhere that gives you a peaceful feeling
- Slowly take deep breaths in and out – play with how long each breath is held and try these if you aren’t sure where to start
- Do this for 5 to 10 minutes at a time
Breathing exercises are wonderful because you can practice them anywhere. Not to mention they help to relax your muscles and quiet the mind! Regular practice of breathing exercises also encourages being more proactive rather than reactive when faced with future stress.
Slow Down and Take a Break
It’s easy to get caught up in the rapidly quickening pace of life. Do your best to be mindful of that and take the time you need to slow things down. Note the times in particular you are the most stressed and see how you can help yourself get through it. If time is an issue for you, set your watch ahead so you always have a few extra minutes to breathe before a big presentation or interview. If you know you get frazzled when your boss hands you another huge project, try to break it down. See what tasks make sense to be grouped together and don’t try to take them all on at once. If your inbox is over capacity for example, try answering 5 a day. Pick at it piece by piece. There will always be more to do, but you don’t have more of the present moment.
And in the moments that you find yourself in the thick of it, take a break if you’re able to. Clear your head and try to go for a walk. Or put in your headphones, close your eyes, and listen to your favorite song. When you have more than a few minutes, devote that time to doing more restful things. You could try to practice yoga or follow along in a guided meditation. If you’re spiritual, you could try prayer or Tai chi. It simply isn’t feasible to constantly be on the “go, go, go”. So, carve out the time you need to set, reflect, and connect.
Practice Regular Exercise
We often think about exercise in regard to weight and physical health. But did you know that exercising has just as many mental benefits as well? Exercise provides a distraction from stressful situations and as an outlet for frustrations. Studies have shown that right after exercising, a surge of natural “feel good” hormones called endorphins are released. Regular physical activity improves a person’s mental and physical state and makes him or her better able to combat stress. How much should you exercise every week?
Good: At the very least, 3 to 5 times for 30 minutes
Better: 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise like brisk walks
Focus on setting fitness goals you can meet so you don’t give up. And remember, we aren’t saying you need to become and Olympic athlete. Doing any exercise is always better than none at all.
Be honest with yourself. You know you feel better in general the days you stick to a well-balanced diet. Good nutrition is one of the foundations of good health. And the foods we choose to eat can directly correlate with how we handle a situation later in the day. Certain foods provide comfort and actually increase levels of the body’s stress-fighting hormones. Other types of foods and beverages can reduce stress by lowering the levels of hormones that trigger it. Try to fill up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. And try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine as a good rule of thumb!
Do Things That Make You Happy!
It’s easy to want to prioritize work, your relationships, and your family. But you have to set aside time to prioritize YOU. Try to do something every day that makes you feel good, and it will help relieve your stress. It doesn’t have to be a ton of time — even 15 to 20 minutes of relaxation techniques and you time will do. Jump back into that book you put down months ago. Get crafty or learn a new skill. Take a movie off your Netflix list finally or have a board game night with friends.
Also, take note of the things that do make you happy and show appreciation for them. Studies show that those who regularly practice gratitude are able to shift how they look at stress. This keeps them calmer, less panicked, and are more able to have a positive attitude and see the silver lining when things go wrong.
You’re Only Human
We’ll say it again for those of you in the back. You are only human. Perfection doesn’t exist. And it never will. There will always be things out of your control. All you can do is do the best you can with the tools you have. Be kinder and gentler with yourself. Try not to judge yourself so harshly. Listen closely to what you’re thinking or saying when you’re stressed out. If you’re giving yourself a negative message, change it to a positive one. For example, don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this.” Tell yourself instead: “I can do this,” or “I’m doing the best I can.”
Stress Management with CPA
Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms. We know you need a toolbox full of skills in order to cope with the challenges life throws at us. At CPA, we will always encourage patients to explore coping mechanisms that work best for them. However, we also know that a number of those skills come from counseling and different methods of therapy.
Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson Township. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how our counseling services can help teach you the skills to cope with stress management!
For the past 20 years, Scott has been providing a safe and supportive environment where people feel comfortable talking about their depression, fears, stresses, and hopes for life. Having a collaborative relationship with clients is important to him. Scott brings hope and knowledge into his sessions and provides psycho-education to aid in the effectiveness of therapy. He works with clients coping with issues such as, but not limited to anxiety, trauma, depression, partner-relational issues & phase of life transitions. My experience entails couples, adolescent, family and adult counseling. He is certified in Chemical Dependency Counseling, ASIST Suicide Intervention, Crisis Intervention Stress Management, and Comprehensive Crisis Management. He has earned his Master’s Degree in Counseling Education from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor’s of Science in Christian Counseling from Fort Wayne Bible College.
Scott’s goal is to help people struggling with trauma to regain stability and strength as well as insight into their issues. He believes that everyone has an innate ability to grow and learn. He enjoys helping people accomplish that goal and live better and more productive lives.