Congratulations America. We’re the most stressed nation in the world. In fact, 55% of adults in the U.S. reported that they experienced stress during “a lot of the day” — compared to 35% globally.
And, stress has become even more overwhelming in the midst of COVD-19.
To be fair, stress is inevitable. While eating healthy, physical activity, getting enough sleep, and self-care are proven strategies to reduce stress, sometimes you need to call the Stress Busters. If not, you may be putting your mental health and wellbeing in dire straits.
1. Join the A’s.
“When we feel the effects of stress weighing us down, it’s like lugging a backpack that’s becoming heavier by the minute,” writes the Mayo Clinic Staff. “Too much stress can make our journey through life difficult.
And, it’s not just obligations that we dread that can cause stress. Even things that we look forward to — think weddings — can also cause be stressful. “When your stress level exceeds your ability to cope, you need to restore the balance by reducing the stressors or increasing your ability to cope or both.”
As such, if you need stress relief, you try using;
- Avoid. Yes. It is possible to bypass stress. For example, if traffic gets your blood boiling, plan your commute when it’s not as hectic. If you’re working at full capacity, then learn how to say “no.”
- Alter. You can also change your situation to alleviate stress. Some suggestions would be establishing boundaries, managing your energy, and communicating your feelings.
- Accept. Sometimes, you need to realize that things are just the way they are. Learning from your mistakes, positive self-talk, and venting productively can help.
- Adapt. Change your expectations and standards. Mantras, reframing, and focusing on the big picture can also help you adapt.
Just practice using the right technique until you notice that that once-hefty backpack is now your private bag of tricks.
2. Take a vacation — in your mind.
While actually getting out of Dodge, or even a staycation, can help put distance between you and your stress triggers, this isn’t always feasible. Maybe you don’t have the time or money. Or, there are still travel restrictions because of this ongoing pandemic.
Even if you have a vacation planned in a couple of months, that’s not going to help you get back to homeostasis right now. Guided imagery, however, can.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, imagine that you’re in you’re “happy place.” All you need to do is close your eyes and let your senses take over. If this is the beach, imagine the sun warming your skin, the sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean, and the sand between your toes.
Don’t stay there too long, though — you don’t want to get sunburnt. Just visit for a couple of minutes so that you’re ready to face the present once again.
3. Become a NAVY Seal.
You don’t have to do this literally — unless that’s your provocative. But, you can actually use the “4 x 4 breathing” technique that SEALS use to lower their physical stress response and regain control.
Also known as the “box breathing” method, it’s been used by former Navy SEAL commander Mark Divine since 1987. And, it works like this;
- Close your eyes. Next, slowly count to four while breathing in through your nose.
- Hold your breath and count slowly to four. Make sure that you don’t clamp your mouth or nose shut.
- Slowly being exhaling for 4 seconds.
- Repeat the above at least three times. Ideally, you’ll do this for 4 minutes or until calm returns.
4. Go on a negative fast.
Are you stuck in a negative loop? You’re not alone. Neuroscientists have found that our thoughts have momentum.
What does that mean? Well, the more negative thoughts you have, the more likely you’ll end up in a rut. On the flip side, positivity begets positivity.
The good news is that you can rewire your brain to be more positive by going negatively fast. The first suggestion would be to go on a tech detox — primarily getting off social media. Practicing gratitude and exchanging negative thoughts for positive ones can help be of assistance.
5. Assert yourself.
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. If both personal and professional demands are putting too much stress on you, then it’s okay to say “no.” Remember, your priorities come first.
Just be honest and upfront with them. You might also be willing to compromise. For example, if you can’t meet with a client or friend this Friday, share your calendar with them so that they can pick a date when you’re available.
6. Practice PMR.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a method designed to help manage tension caused by stress and anxiety. To get started, the University of Michigan Health System suggests the following procedure;
- Breathe in and tense the first muscle group (hard but not to the point of pain or cramping) for 4 to 10 seconds.
- Breathe out, and suddenly and completely relax the muscle group (do not relax it gradually).
- Relax for 10 to 20 seconds before you work on the next muscle group. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and how they feel when they are relaxed.
- When you are finished with all muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your focus back to the present.
With some practice, you’ll be able to relax more easily and quickly.
7. Consider stress your friend.
While uncomfortable, stress can actually be good for you in small doses. In fact, according to health psychologist Kelly McGonigal one study found that when participants viewed stress as helpful, they had a healthier cardiovascular profile. “It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage,” she explained during a TED Talk.
So, instead of completely eliminating stress, McGonigal suggests that we get better at stress. To achieve this, she recommends that we view stress in more constructive ways. For example, when you notice a change in your heart rate or other physical symptoms induced by stress, tell yourself, “This is my body helping me rise to this challenge.”
As the adage goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” And, science has proven that there’s some truth to this.
Laughter can relieve stress by;
- Stimulating your organs
- Relaxing your muscles
- Improving cardiac health
- Boosting your immune system
- Lowering blood pressure
- Aiding in weight loss
- Being a healthy distraction
- Improving your mood
- Reducing stress hormones
- Increasing endorphins
- Strengthening relationships
That’s all well and good. But, how can you add more laughter into your daily life?
Well, that can vary. However, you can try calling someone who always makes you chuckle. Looking at funny picture or videos are also a tried and true way to tickle your funny bone. Spending time with your pet, not taking yourself so seriously, and trying laughter yoga are also recommended.
9. Be imperfect.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life,” says researcher and author Brené Brown. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” Gotta love Brené — she’s my go-to for many questions.
I always say, “perfectionism prevents you from improving and discovering new opportunities.” Worse (to me) stress and thinking about it — ruins your productivity. You think about everything that is wrong. Stew, think some more — wish you had done that differently (more wasted time). Rinse and repeat the second-guessing another twenty times.
Truly — needling yourself with perfectionism can pretty much ruin every part of your life. I use to think if I cut myself down far enough “it would finally make me shape up and fly right.” Perfectionism is not worth the body toll, not the damage to your health, business, and of course, relationships.
The good news? You can stop perfectionism in its tracks by;
- Let go and surrender to the moment.
- Set SMART goals that you’ll actually achieve.
- Welcome feedback from others.
- Stop comparing yourself to others.
- Use “hypothesis testing” to push you out of your comfort zone.
- Stop ruminating.
- Find the balance between good and perfect.
- Focus on the process and enjoy it.
10. Create a masterpiece.
A Drexel University study found that making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body. The best part? The skill level doesn’t matter.
So, the next time you’re stressed, go ahead and doodle, collage, model clay, or tap into your inner Van Gogh.
11. Connect with others.
“One of the most under-appreciated aspects of the stress response,” said McGonigal, is that, “Stress makes you social.”
“To understand this side of stress, we need to talk about a hormone, oxytocin,” she added.
“Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone,” McGonigal stated. “It fine-tunes your brain’s social instincts. It primes you to do things that strengthen close relationships.” It even makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family,” enhances empathy, and “makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about.”
Also, oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory. “It also helps your blood vessels stay relaxed during stress.” And it “helps heart cells regenerate and heal from any stress-induced damage.”
What does this all mean? Helping your family, friend, neighbors, community, or coworkers can reduce the negative effects of stress.
12. Practice emotional first aid.
“You put a bandage on a cut or take antibiotics to treat an infection, right?” asks psychologist Guy Winch. “No questions asked. In fact, questions would be asked if you didn’t apply first aid when necessary.”
“So why isn’t the same true of our mental health?”
“We are expected to just ‘get over’ psychological wounds — when as anyone who’s ever ruminated over rejection or agonized over a failure knows only too well, emotional injuries can be just as crippling as physical ones,” he adds. But, we need to learn how to practice emotional first aid by doing the following;
- Don’t ignore your emotional pain. When you’re aware of it, treat it before it gets worse.
- When you fail, redirect your gut reaction so that this won’t happen again.
- If you’re treating yourself unkindly, be compassionate and talk yourself up.
- Disrupt negative thoughts with positive distractions.
- Find meaning in loss.
- Don’t let excessive guilt linger.
- Learn which treatments work best for you.
“Yes, practicing emotional hygiene takes a little time and effort, but it will seriously elevate your entire quality of life,” guarantees Winch.
Image Credit: atul choudhary; pexels; thank you!