Stress management and Coping Techniques
Stress seems to be an ever so powerful constant in our lives. While we can experience positive stress that makes us work effectively,(e.g. I would say for me a healthy amount of pressure helps me produce good work), and that is accompanied by positive experiences or situations (e.g. like getting married, planning a birthday party, etc.), there are a lot more instances in live that produce physical, mental and emotional unrest (negative stress). It is almost impossible to completely eliminate stress from your life. It is just such an integral part of our normal everyday lives. However, it is not impossible to deal with it in a healthy and productive way.
Stress management is all about adapting to the environmental stress on a conscious level. It enhances the control we have over our own behavior and gives us a sense of comfort. Multiple studies have shown how strong the correlation between stress and diseases such as mental disorders, strokes, or cardiac diseases are. Which is why it is so important to teach ourselves how to apply coping mechanisms in response to a stressor that bring out positive results. Dealing with the effects of stress or conflicts on a physical, mental, and social level drastically reduces the probabilities of nervous breakdowns, long-term exhaustion, stress-induces headaches, anxiety and depression, sleep disturbances, and more.
In this article I want to give you a short guide on different coping techniques that help to minimize or master the effects of stress on your body and mind. Stress management is all about taking control and being in charge of the effects stress has on you. My focus is on healthy and positive stress management techniques. (KEEP IN MIND: positive stress coping mechanisms should be distinguished from defense mechanisms/ maladaptive coping mechanisms that only increase stress and which are applied subconsciously instead of consciously)
Tip 1: Write a Stress Journal
This exercise focuses on identifying your stressors. Finding the source of your stress is the basis from which you can develop all further coping techniques. Sometimes it may be easy to know where stress is coming from (loss of a job, divorce, exam preparations, etc), but sometimes we experience stress on such an integral level that we don’t really know what causes it anymore.
A recording of regular stress experiences can help you look at your habits and attitudes and ultimately help you to identify certain patterns that become clear every time you’re feeling stressed. You can focus on what you think causes the strain on your system, and how you are feeling right now. What were your symptoms (e.g. headache, sweaty palms, heat in your cheeks, etc), and how did you handle it in response. Where you satisfied with the way you handled the situation? At what point did you lose your effectivity because the pressure overwhelmed you?
This technique will help you to improve the way you manage stressful situations. It also helps you to take responsibility for your actions. Self-reflection is the key to taking charge of your behavior again, so stress cannot overwhelm or even immobilize you again.
Tip 2: Time Management
When taking control of your stress, effective time management is absolutely essential. We all know our good old friend procrastination. Most of the time we can blame it for an accumulation of and for throwing us under the bus. However, procrastination should not be in the driver’s seat of your life. It is important to set priorities, and to not load your schedule to the breaking point. There is absolutely no shame in not committing to an event if you already had a 14 hour day.
It can be helpful to
- keep yourself and your workspace organized. Reduce clutter, and piles of unsorted papers on your desk.
- take a specific amount of time each day to handle electronic communication, like answering emails, to increase your productivity and reduce the stress of being surrounded by chaos.
- learn to say ‘no’. If you reached your limit, you reached your limit. Avoid pushing yourself over the top.
- drop things from your schedule that aren’t absolutely necessary.
- try to find a balance between your work schedule, your family life, social activities, and free time.
Tip 3: Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation gives your body an opportunity to enter a state of peacefulness in opposition to all the negative side effects of stress (e.g. muscle tension, being vigilant all the time, constantly being on the move, etc). Practising relaxation is not only a coping mechanism, it also improves your physical, emotional and mental health on a more basic level.
Reducing stress means to take some time just for yourself. Create “me” time, where nothing else matters except your well-being. Try to schedule some time for yourself every day and do something that you truly enjoy during that time. Or maybe you will even find yourself taking up a new hobby.
(Find more tips on how to create some “me-time” in my post 7 Easy and Simple Tips to Practice Self-Care Every Day.)
Here are some techniques that reduce the release of stress hormones in your body and stir your body and mind towards a calm and well-balanced state of mental and emotional health:
- mindful meditation
- autogenic training
- deep breathing techniques
- guided Imagery/ visualization
- progressive muscle relaxation
- Tai Chi
- artistic expression (e.g. zen coloring)
- reading a novel
- emotional disclosure (e.g. writing or talking to someone)
- take a walk or hike
- get some fresh air
- enjoy sunshine on your skin
- listening to music
- Treat yourself to a massage or spa experience
Tip 4: Exercise
Nothing relieves your system of stress more than moving your body. Physical exercise is a great stress reducer. It not only works in favor of your general fitness, it also helps you deal with your emotional stress. While working out, your body releases endorphins. Endorphin is a hormone that is partly responsible for creating a feeling of happiness, a general ‘feeling good’ mood in your body. Additionally, exercise can benefit the relief of muscle tension and helps you sleep better.
Even though regular physical activity has a greater effect on stress relief and the way you deal with it, you don’t have to be overly athletic or a gym-junkie to experience its results. A walk in the park, or a walk with your dog outside breathing in fresh air might be all you need to feel better about yourself. It might be just a simple change in behavior that will overall have a long-term effect e.g. take the stairs instead of the elevator, don’t park closest to the store entrance rather walk a couple of feet more, or maybe it’s just taking a break every now and then and doing 20 jumping jacks.
Tip 5: Change Your Mindset
“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it” – Mary Engelbreit
Sometimes it might not be possible to alter the situation to your favor. It might be easy in other cases e.g. if you get restless by watching all the negative news on TV, turn the TV off. On the other hand in other situations you might find yourself being able to compromise; but in others the situation is beyond your control.
There is stress that you just cannot avoid. In those cases the best way to deal with a conflict is often to just accept the way things are right now. By accepting and recognizing your stressor, you are more able to adapt to the situation.
- Try to have a positive attitude about it. Try to find something good in this particular situation instead of digging yourself deeper into the hole by fuming and getting even more upset while pointing out all the negative effects. Let’s say you get stuck in traffic, instead of ranting at other drivers, maybe just turn on your favorite music, or take a moment to breathe and make the conscious choice to enjoy your time by yourself in the car at that particular moment. Or maybe you can have sympathy with all the drivers around you who are stuck in the same situation as you are, and who might have an even worse day because of it (because they might have just lost their job, a lot of money, or a loved one; they might have some relationship problems, or are not happy with where they are in life right now).
- Try to reframe your set of mind by asking yourself: How important will this moment be in five years, in ten years? Will it be worth the stress and anxiety, or will it be rather meaningless in comparison to other things I experienced in my life?
- Try to not be perfect all the time. Perfectionism is a major contributor to stress. The truth is: nobody is perfect. No wait, let me rephrase that: Everybody is perfect the way they are already with all their quirks and peculiarities. Set yourself up for success by having reasonable standards. Go easy on yourself. Take it one small step at a time and celebrate your accomplishments.
- Be thankful and forgiving: This is a good practice to keep things in perspective. Look at all your good qualities and the success you already have had in life. Try to make a list of things you appreciate. Part of that is to accept that everybody makes mistakes and nobody is safe from being fallible. Let go of negative feelings such as anger and resentment and decide to look forward and move on.
- Practice emotional disclosure: Write or talk about your feelings to others, a close friend, family member, or therapist. It’ll not only nourish your relationships, it can also be very cathartic.
- Try to laugh more: Humor can be such an energy releasing technique to deal with stressful situations. It will not only give you a more positive mindset and prevents you from creating drama, laughing also reduces muscle tension and releases endorphins. Your blood will be well-filled with oxygen that will help you to find a more positive adjustment to things.
(Check out my other article: Positive Thinking: 59 Affirmations to Practice Daily to learn more about changing your mindset.)
Tip 6: Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Apart from exercising, slowing down, or adapting and accepting your stressors, making healthy choices in life are also very much a part of building a balanced basis for stress resistance. A first thing can be to eliminate your stress triggers from your life if it is possible. It might just be enough to try to reduce them.
- Eat a healthy diet: Nourish your body with healthy food and eating habits. Try to avoid eating out of frustration or stress. Be mindful of your eating habits, such as mindless eating while watching TV or having a bowl of candy right in front of you on our desk instead of placing it a couple of feet away.
- Try to avoid alcohol, drugs, too much caffeine and sugar: After the high comes the crash. By avoiding these types of experiences you develop a more balanced approach to problems, you are more relaxed, and you sleep better.
- Develop healthy sleep habits: Give your body and mind enough time to charge up their energy level again. Try to give yourself a good amount of sleep every night to build up your strength. Feeling tired and exhausted will only increase the level of stress you’re experiencing. It will interfere with your rational thinking as well as reduce your reaction time and your ability to listen to your instincts and gut feeling.
Phew! We made it! I really hope you can take something from this list of stress-reducing coping techniques to have a better handle on your stress management. Maybe you would like to try different things in different situations. Take the technique that fits into your personal experiences and that suits your character. I hope you can find a way to weave it into your everyday routines and your lifestyle to develop a healthier and more positive perspective.