Stress is something we all experience. It is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives, big or small. Some stress is good and can help us perform daily tasks and activities. Too much stress can cause mental and physical health problems. What are the signs of too much stress, and how do we manage it when it all feels like too much?
Stress can show itself in all forms – irritability, anxiety, overthinking, and difficulty concentrating. There are also physical signs of stress which can include headache, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite. If stress is chronic, it can worsen pre-existing conditions. People with chronic stress are also more likely to overuse substances like alcohol. To prevent stress of that level, it is important to have a strong set of stress management tools in your belt. So, let’s get into five best practices for managing stress.
- Take care of your physical health
When your body is healthy, your mind functions at a higher level which, in turn, can lead to lower stress levels. Stress can deplete certain vitamins, such as A, B complex, C, and E, which are all important to our body functions! The best way to replenish these vitamins is to eat healthy, balanced, meals. Exercise is a natural way to reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins; the mood-elevating chemicals in the brain. It is critical to ensure proper physical health if you are trying to manage high-stress levels.
- Practice deep breathing
Another fantastic way to reduce high-stress levels is through deep breathing. While a situation may not be life or death (they usually are not!), your body may still react as if it is. Fight or flight is a natural response to stress. Box breathing is a great technique to ensure you are taking deep breaths to combat stress. The act of breathing and focusing on the count helps to take your mind off of your stressors. Take a deep breath in for 4 seconds, hold for another 4, breathe out for 4, and hold for another 4. Repeat this for a minute, and you are sure to feel better – even if it’s just a little bit!
- Manage social media time
While social media can be a fun way of connecting with others, it can also be an over-influx of information. The endless information on social media is generally too much for one person to process. Have you ever heard of doom scrolling? It is not only a cause of stress but also a sign of it! Disassociating (or over-associating) by doom-scrolling social media can lead to an increase in stress levels. Set screen time limits and make sure you are connecting with your loved ones in real-time, if possible. If not, just take a break and go for a short walk!
- Take breaks!
Not only do regular, short breaks increase focus and productivity, but they also help decrease stress. One popular way to implement this is the Pomodoro Technique. In this technique, a timer is utilized to break work up into shorter chunks. The most common pattern is 25 minutes of work, with micro-breaks of around 5 minutes. Everyone is different, so play around to see which will best suit you!
- Connect with others
Another natural, easy way to lower stress levels is to spend time with friends or family members. People who know you well will likely know what you are going through and may be able to offer a helpful perspective. That said, sometimes trying to solve your stress is not the most beneficial. In that case, opt for a simpler conversation. Talk about the weather or upcoming celebrations are great topics for light conversation.
Another great way to connect is with a furry friend! Studies have shown that petting a dog in and of itself is enough to decrease blood pressure. Interacting with pets can also relieve and suppress stress hormones. Pets bring feelings of joy and goodwill, which in turn ease worries and lower stress — even if it’s only for a moment.
Remember that every person handles stress in their own way, and these are not one-size-fits-all approaches. Use these tips to help you identify ways to manage stress. There are hundreds of ways to manage stress in your life, so if something isn’t working for you, try another way! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. The effectiveness of these tips is dependent on the resources available to you.
Drink more water, be more active, and try to appreciate the world around you.
Brian Hesler, M. D. (2023, February 21). Five tips to manage your stress. Mayo Clinic Health System. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/5-tips-to-manage-stress
Exercising to relax – harvard health publishing. Harvard Health. (2020, July 7). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
Fight stress with the power of connection. www.heart.org. (2022, May 19). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/fight-stress-with-the-power-of-connection
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Stress. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/stressShare