Often, the phrase “stress management” just causes you more stress.
It’s bad enough to feel overwhelmed by stress, but thinking about how to manage it often makes it more overwhelming. That’s partly our fault in the mental health field because we talk about it so much that it’s reached buzzword status. If people talk about it so much, it must be hard to master, right?
Not really. If stress controls your life, therapy might be the best answer for you. But before you make that call, here are a few simple tips to help you kick stress’ tail.
— Get enough sleep. Your body and mind need seven to eight hours of sleep to function properly. Sleep helps your brain process information, emotions, and experiences from the day before, which makes it easier to handle any stress caused by those events.
— Eat healthy. Again, your body and mind need proper nutrition to handle the stresses of everyday life.
— Exercise. Exercise keeps your mind and body healthy, and it gives you a way to release stress in a socially-acceptable way. (Example: Punching your neighbor who won’t return your lawn mower is frowned on; picturing his face on golf balls that you hit at the driving range is fine.) Exercising also releases endorphins, which are chemicals released into your bloodstream that make you feel happier and healthier. Exercise even helps battle depression; studies show regular exercise can reduce depression as much as taking an anti-depressant (and without the side effects of medication).
— Practice deep breathing. This sounds simple, but it works. Close your eyes, picture a place you like, and inhale deeply and slowly through your nose. Hold the breath for a second, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Imagine you’re blowing out a candle on a birthday cake in super-slow motion. Repeat the process a few times. This should relax you enough to take the edge off your stress, making it easier to deal with the problem at hand.
— Practice deep breathing every day, even when you’re not feeling stressed. If you practice enough, your body learns to automatically relax when you use deep breathing, even if stress is particularly strong that day. You don’t have to practice for hours; a couple of minutes at a time will do. But it does help to practice every day.
— Yoga. Yeah, I wasn’t a yoga person, either, until I tried it. Studies repeatedly show that yoga helps with concentration, relaxation, reducing stress, and even reduces depression and anxiety.
— Meditation. Don’t worry, meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting in a lotus position in the corner while wearing a revealing robe. Meditation can be as simple as taking a few minutes a day to relax, practice deep breathing, and notice your thoughts. Don’t judge your thoughts; just notice them and let them go. Studies show meditation not only helps relieve stress, but it also changes your brain’s chemistry in positive ways. (If you do find yourself sitting in the corner, please sash that robe closed.)
— Hang out with people you like. Laughter and the sense of not being alone with your stress will help reduce its influence. If you don’t have people that you like right now, try getting out to meet people with similar interests who’ll understand what you’re going through. (Might I suggest starting at a yoga class?)
— If the stress is still overwhelming, call me or another clinician for talk therapy. We can help you develop positive coping skills to deal with stress. We can also help you get to the root of the stress and help you make positive changes to reduce it.
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, stresses self care at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington, Ohio. Carl specializes in child, adolescent, and family therapy, and he’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program. He’s also the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. For an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565.)