Lately I’ve been feeling like stress is at an all-time high. With the stressors of modern life combined with everything going on in the world, it takes a miracle some days to even get out of bed. A little bit of stress is good motivation to get moving (can anyone say deadlines?) But too much stress can send you on a downward spiral.
Stress can wreak havoc on your body, causing lowered immune systems, tension
headaches, stomach upset, and can also cause relapses on bad habits and emotional dysregulation. And the longer you’re under stress, the worse those things get, leading to more severe health issues, including mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
As a counselor, I see the impact of stress first-hand, and it’s not pretty, which is why I try to manage mine before it gets out of control. Thankfully, I can use the same stuff I teach my clients in my own life. And, I’d like to share some ideas with you to help reduce your own stress.
Here are some ideas to manage that ever-increasing stress:
1. Take a break. Whether it’s a vacation or a five-minute potty break, allow yourself to get away from whatever’s stressing you out for a few minutes. The tricky part is getting away from it in your mind.
2. Think about something else. Anything else. It doesn’t have to be anything meaningful. You can literally count the tiles on the ceiling and multiply them by the lamps, etc. or name all of the cereals you can think of from A to Z. Putting your mind somewhere else for a moment can give you enough of a mental break
3. Practice mindfulness.
4. Spend time with friends and family. Hey, there are people out there who love you! Granted, sometimes they are the very ones who are causing you stress, but a lot of times spending quality time with them, doing something positive, can reduce both of your stress levels enough to improve your relationship. Play a board game, catch a movie, go for a walk together, cook a meal together. Really being together purposefully, no matter how simple of a thing we’re doing, can dramatically increase that feeling of connectivity.
5. Relax. Start by noticing your breath. I always tell my clients that if breathing weren’t automatic, we’d be passed out half the time. We don’t think about breathing, so therefore, just taking a moment to notice how the sound of your breath as it passes through your nose and mouth, how air is cooler as you breathe in and warmer as you breathe out, the movement of your stomach and chest as you inhale and exhale. That, in itself, will slow down your breathing, which, in turn, slows your heart rate and relaxes your body. You can intentionally breathe out for six and in for four, if that helps. Or, my personal favorite, combat breathing, where you breath in through your nose for a few seconds, hold it, and then breathe out long and slow through your mouth like blowing through a straw. Relaxing your body by getting a massage, or tightening and relaxing your muscle groups from head to toe, or taking a warm bath or shower are also ways to chill out.
6. Do something fun. Enjoy yourself. Even if you think, you have too much to do to relax or enjoy yourself, still do it for a little while. It’s like a car, if you keep driving it but don’t stop to put gas or oil in it, it’s only gonna take you so far. So think of fun and relaxation as the oil and gas of your car. Put a little bit of it in your life every day, whether it’s watching your favorite shows, doing a crossword puzzle, writing a silly story or poem, having game night with friends, trying out a new recipe or restaurant, playing sports, or any other activity you enjoy. You’ll notice the difference in your mood (as will others!), and you’ll even be more productive at the stuff you were doing before you had fun.
7. Be creative. Sometimes there are things that we need to do something about and we’re not sure where to start. Getting ideas down on paper or just getting our feelings out of our heads, either through writing them down on paper, playing an instrument, or drawing, can really help you through that stressful situation.
8. Turn off everything electronic. Unplug, as they say. Sometimes stress is coming from overstimulation. Turn off the news. Pull yourself away from the endless stream of Facebook or Twitter. Get your face away from your phone. Go outside. Smell a flower, feel the grass, listen to the birds, watch the leaves sway in the breeze, taste the air. Use all your five senses to experience the world around you.
9. Reach out to people. Sometimes stress gets so high, that we need to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone needs help sometimes. It’s better to get help than to wait until things are so bad that you end up hurting yourself or others. There is plenty of help out there. You can start by asking the pastor of your church; he/she will be happy to speak with you and if it is outside his/her area of expertise, he/she will know of resources in the area.
10. Pray. This should be number one on the list but it usually ends up being the last thing we do. God is always there for us, listening, loving. Reach out to Him and rest in His arms. Lay your burdens at His feet, and He will carry you through those stressful times.
*April is National Stress Awareness Month.
Allison K. García is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians.