Stress seems to be an inevitable part of life – especially if you juggle school, work, and family. There are so many factors that contribute to stress, and everyone’s burden is different – your stress may not look like your friends’ or coworkers’. But it’s important to note – stress is not a requirement in life. It is possible to live a life without (or with minimal) stress.
In our world today, stress is often worn as a badge of honor – when it shouldn’t be…
At work: I stay later hours an work harder, so I’m stressed more, but that should be valued because of what a hard worker I am!
At school: I juggle all honors or advanced placement classes with extracurriculars (and/or a full time job) – even though my body is still growing and it needs more sleep, I’m only getting 6 hours but that’s OK because of everything I’m accomplishing, right? WRONG!
Stress causes poor sleep, high blood pressure, heart attacks, body fat accumulation, sexual dysfunction, digestive issues, unhealthy skin, and so much more. In order to alleviate the tension that stress causes us, we can turn to coping skills: any characteristic or behavioral pattern that enhances a person’s adaptation to stress, thereby helping us better manage the stress.
Here are a few of the easiest, cost-free stress coping mechanisms that we recommend:
- Cleanse: take a shower or bath. This cleanses your energy and signals to your body that you’re taking care of it. It’s an immediate relief to any situation – whether it’s anxiety-induced stress, or anger-induced stress. Think of a shower or bath as your “warm off” (I mean, if you want to take a cold one, you can totally go for a “cool off,” haha!)
- Take care of your physical body: exercise and eat well. Your body is where you live, 24/7! When your body is in an unhealthy state, your brain’s not working optimally because it’s not getting the best nutrients to run most efficiently! Since the brain is the basis of your emotions and reasoning, when it’s not working too great, stress is ready to attack! I mean, just look at toddlers when they haven’t eaten – their brains go haywire and temper-tantrums results. Consider stress your body’s internal temper-tantrum trying to get you to pay attention to it and take better care of it!
- Piece by piece, step by step. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. No, we’re not ever suggesting eating an elephant, but this age-old adage is still useful today. Be present to what’s in front of you, step by step. We’re so often stressed because we’re trying to deal with something that hasn’t happened yet – like carrying an umbrella around when it’s sunny, stressing over the potential of rain. You’re totally taking away from the present moment! Guess what – you’re not a magician – you have no control over the future. You only have the ability to take each step here, now, in full presence, to ensure that you’re building a solid ground for whatever your future holds.
- Breathe deeply: and remind yourself to do so hourly. Take 10 of the longest, deepest inhales, followed by the longest, deepest exhales you possible can. Make it a habit to do this at the top or bottom of every hour – you’ll notice your shoulders start to glide away from your ears, and the tension in your shoulders and neck will reduce. What’s that tension? Stress.
You may not realize it, since the brain is the source of the most of the stress, but the issues are also in the tissues – your body will literally internalize the stress you feel, manifesting it into muscle tension, stiff muscles, and of course, diseases.
- Move with intention. Do some yoga – it’s clinically proven to reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) – and you don’t need a full class! Just 20 minutes of practice at least 3 times per week will do the trick (of course, there’s nothing wrong with practicing more…). If that’s not your thing, simply take a walk outside: whether it’s to cool off from a heated argument or pressing work dilemma or simply as a pick-me-up after a long day, when you take every step in the fresh air focusing on just the here and now, your stress levels will dissipate.
- Take stock of your body. Are you achy or tired? Are you having digestive issues, sleep issues, or any other physiological issues? Analyze them – when did they start? Was it around a time when a potential stressor came about? This may be a clue in discovering what your stressor is, if you’re not sure already.
For example, are you generally stressed at work, just because you have a high-profile job, but for the last week, your stomach has been in knots and you don’t sleep more than 3 hours nightly? Perhaps look back into your calendar at the day it all started – were you proposed a new project or assigned a new case?
- Disconnect: social media has created a constant culture of comparison. The thing is, comparison is the thief of joy. What’s worse, you’re comparing your everyday do that person’s highlight reel. There are now plenty of apps on the market (if you own an iPhone, it’s under “screen time” in Settings) that help you limit your screen time.
Take it a step further: deactivate every social media you’re on for just a week and see how your attitude changes.
- Cuddle: a pet, child, loved one, or friend. Hugging someone (or something) you love causes the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that buffers against stress, lowering your heart rate and cortisol.
- Watch & laugh: watch your favorite comedy show or a comedy movie – or even a loop of funny cat videos on YouTube. Research has proven that watching your favorite shows/movies over and over again actually put your brain at ease, which – you guessed it – decreases stress.
- Practice gratitude. Stress sucks – but having it is a sign that you’re alive, and that’s a plus, right? Start your day (or end your day) by writing down 3 things you’re thankful for. Keep a small journal/notepad on your bedside table so that this becomes a habit. Gratitude truly is the open door to abundance (of happiness, not stress!). As you practice is more, you’ll exerpeince a mindshift from “there’s x many things going wrong that stressing me out” to “there’s y many thing going right that are making things easy.”
Most importantly, if these stress coping mechanisms don’t feel as though they’re doing the trick, talk to a therapist – seeing someone isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of being strong enough to know how to help yourself. It’s acknowledging that you just need to sharpen the tools in your toolbox that you don’t exercise daily, to be the optimal version of you.