Updated: Oct 2, 2018
How many times have you presented a concern to a doctor, therapist, or “expert” of any kind, really, only to hear the same response over and over again: “You need to reduce stress levels.” No sh*it, Sherlock.
While this advice is promoted in countless magazines, books, and educational materials, I find there are far fewer discussions about what we can actually do to reduce stress levels. In today’s post, I hope to bring you some of my favourite tips and tricks to help you feel more grounded and at peace.
First Thing’s First: What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Stress”?
The word “stress” was first introduced back in 1936 by a scientist who defined it as “the body’s response to any demand for change.” The word soon took on a life of its own and is now used to describe a countless array of subjective experiences. It's actually typically synonymous with distress—an overwhelming sensation of being physically, mentally, or emotionally strained.
Typically, there are three different types of stress that people experience:
Time-related stress: stress related to the feeling that there isn't enough time in a day to get things done.
Anticipatory stress: stress due to imagining what might go wrong in the future.
People stress: when you feel stressed around certain people.
Situational stress: stress that is somewhat unavoidable—for example, your house burns down unexpectedly. If you weren’t remotely stressed in this situation, I’d be checking your pulse to be honest.
What Coping Mechanisms Are Useful for Each Category of Stress?
The best way to cope with this is to improve your time management skills. It might seem simple, but making a to-do list and writing it down is essential in my opinion. From there, I like to go one step further and divide tasks into the following categories: Urgent, Important, Delegate or Forget It. This tells you what needs to be done immediately, what needs to be done but can wait, what can be passed on to someone else, and what might not even need to be done any more.
Figure out what environment is most conducive to you being productive. If you like it quiet, see if you can go into work an hour early or stay an hour later when there are less people in the office, for example.
Figure out when you’re most productive and do the most important tasks during that time frame.
2. Anticipatory stress:
Though it’s easy to do, worrying about the future is actually quite pointless. In reality, it doesn’t matter how much you think about a situation; thinking won’t change the outcome. What are the smallest things you can do in the now to make yourself feel more in control of the situation you’re fantasizing about? Is the future picture you’re painting realistic or are you exaggerating things? And if you’re fearing something about the future, ask yourself what would be your “upper limit” in that situation that would cause you to change your actions. For example, if you’re worried about the idea of possibly changing jobs, ask yourself what would have to happen for you to know it's time to quit. Being aware of your threshold can be helpful.
Out-future yourself with the power of visualization. This technique involves imagining what’s happening five minutes after the stressful situation with a positive mindset. If you’re worried about giving a talk in front of a big crowd, for example, imagine what’s going on five minutes after that talk. With a vivid picture of what's happening afterwards—and the realization that it's probably not matching up to the horrid picture you've painted—you should hopefully feel a bit better.
3. People stress:
Know when you need to cut yourself off from other people—or at least limit your time with them. From there, develop strategies to decrease the amount of time you’re near them. It can be as simple as sitting on the opposite side of the table at a dinner party or putting on headphones at work so you don't have to make small talk with them
Try to develop empathy for the person that's bothering you (as hard as that may be). You don’t have to be friends with them, but developing compassion for their situation may help you tolerate them a bit better.
Know when you need down time to recuperate and be able to say “no” when that mood strikes.
Overall Strategies to Decrease Stress
Progressive muscle relaxation*:
This technique involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups so you know how it feels to have fully relaxed muscles. First, you squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about five seconds. Really focus on what it feels like to have tense muscles. When those five seconds are up, quickly release the tension and exhale. Pay attention to the difference between super tense and super relaxed muscles. Here’s the series of clenching/relaxing that I would follow (TIP: put on some relaxing music in the background as you do this!)
Forehead: raise eyebrows as high as you can
Eyes: clench eyelids tightly
Mouth: open your mouth as wide as you can so your jaw feels stretched.
Neck and shoulders: raise your shoulders so they get as close to your ears as possible.
Chest: take a deep breath and hold so your chest feels tight
Stomach: suck it in as much as you can
Butt: squeeze your butt cheeks together
Arms: clench your fists and extend your arms as hard as you can.
Upper legs: extend your leg as hard as you can and focus on how tight your quadriceps and hamstrings feel.
Lower legs: put your ball of the foot on the floor and tighten your calf muscle.
Feet: curl your toes downward
2. Go out in nature and unplug.
There’s something about being fully immersed in nature, whether that’s through taking in a sunset or sunrise when it’s quiet outside, feeling grass on bare feet, or basking in some hot rays of sunshine. Being immersed in nature not only promotes peacefulness, but there are also actually a variety of studies that highlight the physiological benefits of being in nature.
This has become a new hilarious trend in the social media world that involves doing extremely mundane tasks as a form of helping yourself feeling better. It might be as simple as making your bed, doing the dishes, or packing your lunch for the next day. These little things can go a long way in making you feel more in control of your week.
4. Do a totally brainless activity.
Yes, I watch The Bachelorette. I’m not proud of it, but you know what? After a long day that required a lot of mental and emotional energy, this show honestly just allows me to shut my brain off. I get the same sensation when I read a really stupid trashy magazine that consists of fictional stories about celebrities. Find something—anything—that let’s you go practically brain dead.
5. Learn to say no and set boundaries for yourself.
It’s easy to feel like you need to say “yes” to everything due to social pressures or to avoid hurting people’s feelings. But if you continually put yourself second (or third or fourth) on the priority list, you’re just going to get burnt out. And then you’re going to be cranky and no one’s going to even want to invite you to their dinner parties so let’s avoid that!
6. Eliminate stress from your vocabulary.
Funny enough, I heard this piece of advice from a waiter at a restaurant. He said that the word “stress” provokes a feeling of permanence, distress, and hopelessness… a recipe for disaster! Instead, start saying you’re feeling “overwhelmed.” I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds much more manageable and it feels less daunting to imagine what we can do to feel a little bit more grounded rather than just completely not stressed out.
7. Engage in a hobby that makes you feel good about yourself—or pushes yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel good when you’re stressed out. As such, it’s important to do things that boost your self-confidence so you feel more capable of your abilities. Doing a hobby also helps give us time away from whatever is stressing you out. It’s hard to think about work, for example, when you’re playing intramural basketball with some friends.
Try something totally new that pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Seeing your ability to learn and adapt to new situations and environments reminds us that we’re resilient. I actually just started taking a pottery class for the first time, and one of the most amazing things has been realizing that I’m able to learn something totally different—even if it has taken me many, many classes! For more on how to build your resilience, check out this other blog post of mine.
8. Do a form of exercise that YOU find helpful.
Every single article I’ve ever read on how to combat stress talks about yoga and meditation. And while there’s no doubt that these can be extremely helpful activities, it’s important to recognize that people relax in different ways. I, for example, find it very therapeutic to go to a kickboxing class and punch something for 30 minutes if I’m feeling stressed sometimes, and it gives me an AMAZING workout! If your form of relaxation is to sweat, get your heart rate up, and channel some of that frustration into a workout, then do THAT.
9. Laugh a little.
Everything seems oh so serious when we’re stressed out. Something I love doing is putting on a stand-up comedy routine or movie I know will make me laugh. It just puts you in a different headspace!
10. Escape the stressor.
Avoidance might not always the best solution, but sometimes it can give you the reprieve you desperately need. I knew one businesswoman who would rent a hotel room in another city when she was really stressed just so she could have some time to herself, which I thought was a brilliant idea. For you, this might mean sleeping over at a close friend’s place, turning off your work emails for a night, or just having a solo staycation. Do whatever feels right for you.
11. Last but not least, eat well and exercise.
If you’re downing six Red Bulls a day, eating drive-thru food five days a week, and sitting on your butt 24/7, your body is going to be in such a poor state that handling stress will just throw it over the edge. Cue getting sick, feeling like garbage, and having to miss work (which, of course, only adds more stress). Do yourself a favour and eat as clean as you can during more overwhelming periods. Your body needs all the support it can get!
The Bottom Line
Removing “stress” from your vocabulary, knowing how to identify stressors, and finding helpful solutions on how to deal with said stressors are the keys to eliminating stress.
You Tell Me!
What are your favourite ways to bust stress? Let me know in the comments below!
*taken from anxietybc.com