My last article focused on increasing awareness about the signs and symptoms of stress, as well as how to determine when stress becomes problematic. As mentioned in the previous article, be sure to consult your doctor to rule out any physical causes or medical reasons for stress-like symptoms. Of course, stress can often make a medical issue more difficult to manage and patients often find that their symptoms are worse when life gets stressful.
Tips for Stress Relief
- Learn, then regularly practice a breathing or relaxation exercise to dial down your nervous system's response to stress. There are many forms of breathing and relaxation exercises, ranging from visualization and imagery exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, Qi Gong, yoga, tai chi, autogenic relaxation, etc. Find something that works for you, then carve out time to practice on a regular basis.
- Learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness hails from Eastern traditions and it involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and nonjudgmentally. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, consider the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams. The site, http://www.franticworld.com is a good starting point as it has free guided meditations that will provide a taste of what mindfulness is about.
- Make time for exercise every day. Exercise is a powerful way to dampen your body's stress response. Research has shown that even a brisk 10 minute walk can boost your mood.
- Reduce alcohol, tobacco and caffeine use. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use can often escalate during times of stress. Many people find that these strategies may feel helpful in the short-term, but given the risks to physical and emotional health over time with prolonged and excessive use, it's best to find other, healthier ways to cope with stress.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Appetite may increase or decrease during times of stress. It is also not uncommon to crave certain high fat, high sugar foods when feeling stressed. Consult your physician or a dietitian regarding healthy eating habits and a dietary plan that is right for you.
- Share your concerns with a friend or loved one. The stress buffering effects of social support have been well documented in scientific studies (for a recent review, click here). If you are unable to access emotional supports within your personal network, consider seeking professional support from a mental health professional.
- Learn to say "no" to unnecessary or unfulfilling activities. People often feel obliged to say "yes" to all requests, large or small, necessary or not. This is especially true of those of us who are by nature, "people pleasers." During times of stress, energy conservation is key, thus learn to suppress that inner "pleaser" and be selective about the requests, favors, or new projects that you take on and say "yes" only to activities or tasks that are fulfilling, necessary, or meaningful to you.
- Make time for hobbies and leisure interests. Work-life balance can be sorely missing or off-kilter during times of stress. Life can start to look like it's composed strictly of work, deadlines, responsibilities, errands, and obligations. Reintroduce balance by deliberately scheduling leisure or fun activities into your calendar. Scheduling the activity will make it more likely to happen and will provide something fun to look forward to.
Consult a psychologist or other health professional if you are having difficulty managing stress on your own.