Are you Stressed?
How to Improve Your Stress Response
Stress is unavoidable. Maybe work or school has become unbearable. Money is tight. Relationships have gotten rocky. There are various aspects of your life that you will never fully control. Luckily, you can control your response to stress. You can also develop healthier behavior and thought patterns that help you keep stress at bay. Improving your stress response starts with recognizing the stressors in your life and implementing short-term and long-term strategies to manage them.
Coping with Stress in the Moment
Recognize when you’re stressed.In order to effectively manage stress and improve your stress response, you must first learn how to identify stress. It is possible to spend such a long time in a stressed state that you no longer know how to recognize it.
- The fight-or-flight, or stress response, typically involves muscle tension, a rapid heartbeat, and shallow breathing.
- Other signs that you may be stressed are demonstrated in how you react to certain events. Some people may become angry or irritable. Others may feel emotionally numb or depressed.
Take some deep breaths.Counteract the fight-or-flight reaction by stimulating the body’s natural relaxation response with deep breathing. In addition to soothing your physical body, this exercise also enables you to detach from stressful thoughts that may be exacerbating your stress.
- To practice deep breathing, locate a quiet, distraction-free place to sit or lie down comfortably. Then, breathe in slowly through your nose — long and deep. You can place a hand on your belly and notice it expanding with your inhale. After holding the breath for a few seconds, gradually release the air through your mouth, feeling your belly deflate as the air departs.
- Try to gain control of your diaphragm as you inhale and exhale — you should feel your stomach rise, not your chest, when you are doing it correctly. Belly breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and counteracts the fight or flight response and has a calming effect.
- Repeat this exercise several times and as needed to evoke the relaxation response.
Practice relaxation exercises.When you feel stressed in the moment, it can be helpful to have various strategies that help you to restore calm. There are a variety of relaxation techniques that can help you do this. Try out a few of these to determine which work best for you.
- Progressive muscle relaxation involves working your way up through the body by contracting and release each muscle group. Notice the tension when the muscles are contracted and release the tension for relief and relaxation.
- Mindfulness meditation is a terrific method to become more aware of how you’re feeling so that you can keep stress from getting out of hand. Find a quiet environment to sit in. Close your eyes and focus on a imaginary scene or choose a point of focus in the room ahead of you. Breathe in and out deeply, keeping your focus at the forefront of your attention. When you find your mind wandering, simply return to your focus without judgment.
- Visualization offers a respite from a stressful environment by imagining a peaceful and relaxing place in your mind’s eye. Again, find a quiet place to sit. Call to mind a place that makes your feel serene or listen to a guided imagery audio that describes a place. Activate all your senses: how does the place feel? Smell? Sound? Appear? Couple this exercise with deep breathing for maximum benefit.
Get outside.Another way to find nearly immediate relief of stress is to spend some time in nature. Being in a natural environments delivers a host of benefits for stress management including lowering blood pressure, slowing heart rate, and easing muscle tension.
- No matter if you are stressed at school, work, or home, you can experience relaxation by taking a short field trip outdoors. Put your dog on a leash and walk around your neighborhood. Go for a hike. Take a swim in the nearby lake. Just get outside and enjoy the fresh air for a few moments. Your body and mind will thank you.
Take five.Sometimes, you may notice stress mounting when you keep at a difficult or frustrating task without success. Give yourself permission to take a break from a stressor. This can make all the difference towards lowering your stress and helping you devise a solution.
- Feeling stress overload? Take a quick, five-minute break and do something you enjoy. Consider deep breathing, phoning a friend, playing with a pet, or chatting with a coworker.
Developing Long-Term Stress Relief
Increase your social engagement.Interacting with others is one of the best prescriptions for stress relief. Research tells us that positive social engagement provides a sense of safety, thereby reducing the physical effects of stress such as shallow breathing or fast heart rate.
- What’s more, being social also generates hormones in your body that work to minimize stress. Of course, social engagement may not offer you the opportunity to change a stressful situation. It can, however, give you an opportunity to talk about it with another or distract yourself from the stressor altogether.
Stay physically active.Exercise is a wonderful way to improve physical fitness while also reducing stress. Cultivating a regular exercise habit can offer you a mental, emotional, and physical boost. Most doctors recommend at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.
- Getting your body moving produces feel-good chemicals in the body called endorphins. These chemicals are like nature’s very own stress relievers. Getting your heart rate up while exercising can improve your mood, deliver a dose of energy, and change your outlook about the stressor.
Enjoy a nutritious diet.You should listen to your doctor when he encourages a lifestyle of healthy foods and exercise. Together, the two can minimize risk of illness, elevate mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and increase lifespan. Be mindful of what you eat in order to see positive changes in the way you respond to stress.
- Your stress-reduction diet should include foods high in Vitamin C like citrus fruits that boost the immune system. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits can help stabilize your blood pressure. Foods high in magnesium like leafy greens and salmon are idea for minimizing headaches and fatigue as well as improving sleep quality. In addition, salmon is also beneficial due to it being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce surges in stress hormones.
- For in-the-moment comfort against stress, experience the calming effects of mint, chamomile, passionflower, and valerian root.
Sleep between seven to nine hours each night.Sleep is also significant in your stress-reduction plan. Unfortunately, the interaction between stress and sleep often resembles the chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon—it’s hard to tell which causes which. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase stress levels, which high-stress can cause insomnia and sleep disruption. Overcome the effects of stress on sleep by developing good sleep hygiene.
- The following strategies should be implemented for better sleep hygiene: retire and rise at the same times each day, create a “wind-down” routine of soothing activities to do before bed, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours before bed, shut off electronic devices that keep you awake, and enhance the comfort of your bedroom by lowering the temperature and using black-out curtains.
Journal.Depending on the unique circumstances of your stress, journaling can offer a variety of benefits. It offers an outlet for escape or emotional release to clear your mind. It also fights stress by allowing you to unload negative thoughts. Perhaps most importantly, journaling gives you a long-term platform to decrease stress and improve your response to it by helping you problem-solve.
- Start a daily journaling habit, if you can. If not, aim for a few times a week to sit down and write out your thoughts and feelings. If you notice recurring worries or concerns, try to come up with a feasible plan of action to resolve them.
Laugh more.Consider this permission to partake in any activity that results in laughter. Crack funny jokes with friends. Watch and re-watch the most hilarious YouTube videos. Or, curl up on the sofa and tune into a comedy film.
- Laughter has always been a cure for many ailments, stress included. It produces a relaxed feeling, soothes tension, and generates more endorphins in your brain.
Avoiding Unnecessary Stress
Unplug from technology occasionally.In a society that thrives on constant connection, spending some time disconnected may be just what the doctor ordered. Research shows that many people worry about potentially having an addiction to the smartphone, computers, and tablets, prompting them to set aside time to unplug.
- Unplugging can take you back to a slower time when you enjoyed more activities and engaged with people face-to-face. Since unplugging during the week may be challenging due to demands with family, work, or school, try turning off all technological devices for one Saturday a month.You’ll likely feel more relaxed, less pressured, and even more productive.
Overcome procrastination.If you’re a person who regularly saves important tasks or projects to the last minute, you could be worsening your stress response rather than helping it. Science tells us that people who frequently procrastinate have much higher levels of anxiety and stress. Also, contrary to popular belief, studies also show that procrastinators perform poorly, too.
- Reduce the stress in your life by beating your procrastination. One terrific suggestion for preventing the eleventh-hour rush is to divide large projects down into smaller chunks. Set your own personal deadlines for each chunk. Become a master of time-management.
- Other research shows that procrastination is connected to a fear of failure. By showing self-compassion and extending kindness to yourself you can minimize your delaying. Keep in mind that many people—millions, really—procrastinate and that you’re not the only one.
- Changing how you look at failure can also help. Reframe your attitude about failures by viewing them as opportunities to grow and become better in a given area.
Be flexible.You can create stress within yourself by being rigid in our thoughts and behaviors. Becoming more adaptable to change can naturally reduce the level of anxiety you feel because you won’t be so fixed on a certain outcome. Below are 4 pointers for adopting greater flexibility.
- Look at the bigger picture. Instead of getting hung up on a minor variable, think about how it plays into the whole. Is this really worth getting upset over? Will it matter in a month or a year?
- Consider others’ perspectives. Sometimes, you are inflexible because the only opinion you consider is your own. Make an effort to actively listen to and acknowledge the varying opinions of others. You may hear something that changes your previous beliefs.
- Modify your questions. If you always ask the same questions about a certain situation, the answers will remain the same. Discover new possibilities by opening your mind up to new questions. Ask yourself: “How can I look at this differently?”
- Experiment. Become more flexible by learning and trying new things. Take a new route home from work or school. Strike up a conversation with someone from a different background or culture.
Practice saying “no.”If you are constantly pushing yourself beyond your limits to meet the endless demands of others, you could be unconsciously making yourself stressed. Whether it’s reducing your workload or turning down a new role because you are already have other obligations, it may be time to look at your schedule and see how you can cut back.
- As a rule of thumb, only take opportunities that you believe serve you in some positive way, such as giving back to a worthy cause or helping you learn new and relevant skills. Have the courage to decline offers that add additional worry or take up too much of your time.
Practice positive self-talk.What you’re saying to yourself on a daily basis in response to stressors could be making your situation worse. Oftentimes, we have positive and encouraging things to say to uplift others who are stressed, but, inside our own heads, we are judging and criticizing. Spend some time observing your thoughts to bring more awareness of their content. If they are overly negative, swap them out with more positive, realistic statements like:
- “This, too, shall pass.
- “I feel stressed, but I have the power to make myself calm again.”
- “I am bigger than stress.”
- “I will get through this.”
QuestionHow do I actually reduce stress in the moment if I can't leave? I cannot meditate or "leave and breathe deeply for 5 minutes" while I'm actually in a stressful situation.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAt the very least you can breathe deeply in virtually any situation. Close your eyes (if possible) and just count your slow, deep breaths as you take them. Remind yourself, "This will pass," and "I can endure this." If you keep yourself relatively calm and avoid panicking, your situation will be vastly improved.Thanks!
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