Let’s look at how we can manage stress in ways that are effective, both in the moment, and also to build up our overall resilience and daily routines. In my last blog https://solutionsby.com.au/stress/, I spoke about how stress works and the impact it has on our mind and body, both short and long term.
If you have been stressed long term, it’s likely that your cortisol levels have increased, you will need to look at ways to bring them down.
It is not only important to identify what is stressing you, but to be aware when you go into a stress response. The “what” can be many things – work, financial, family, relationship, past unresolved trauma or reacting to social or global concerns, be a curious observer. Some of this is out of our control, and some we are able to change.
The first step is to identify the types of stress in your life, and then ask yourself, what you can realistically do to change each one.
Practising acceptance, forgiveness or detachment for things we cannot change is often necessary for some stressors. You may want to journal feelings out, find a healthy physical release or write a letter to someone that remains unsent.
For the things you can change, take action, or make a plan to change things within our control. This is where stress can be motivating. It may even be as simple as taking some time away from social media, not speaking with people who are constantly fearful or negative, limiting time with people who drag us down (if we cannot stop all together), find a workplace that is more resonant for us, with a better culture or work/life balance.
Not everything requires change or acceptance – sometimes we’ve just had a lot going on and are feeling a bit worn down, we realise we are experiencing high stress levels and overwhelm. We then need to do something to balance it.
By increasing our ability to manage stress, we allow ourselves an opportunity to cope better when under pressure, until the pressures are less intense or dissolve completely. By understanding what triggers our personal stress response, we can also begin to step out of the cycle more frequently, before further exhausting our inner resources.
As we become aware of what is creating our stress, we can create an action plan to minimise our stressors, where possible, and create a personalised self-care plan that shifts us out of our stress response.
In the meantime, here is a list of things you can start doing today – and before you find a list of reasons why you can’t (which I truly understand), commit to picking at least one and do it! Remember you are worth it.
Tips & Tricks to manage Stress
How you start your day is important
Whether you are an early riser or not, what you choose to do on waking can set the pace of your day. Take some you time before you take on the world. Avoid social media, e-mails and your phone altogether for as long as you can after waking. Give gratitude before you get out of bed.
Do something that makes you smile
Read a few lines of your favourite book, listen to music that makes you want to dance, play with your fur baby, whatever it is, you know what makes your soul sing and your heart smile – do it!
Eat a good breakfast, even if it’s light
A smoothie will suffice, give yourself a morning meal that is filled with nutrients that will help you function throughout the morning. Our neurotransmitters need fuel to create the chemicals that keep us feeling good, and what we eat is crucial here.
Go gently with caffeine
Trust me I love my morning coffee, but when you are stressed, wake up feeling tired. Caffeine places further stress on our adrenals potentially creating higher stress levels, anxiety or irritability. Caffeine can drain essential nutrients like our B’s and Magnesium that are crucial for feeling good. Green tea is a great alternative, it contains high level of L-theanine which has been shown to lower stress.
Make sure your body is getting the right foods and nutrients for gut health
Aim for fresh foods, healthy proteins and good oils, and embrace adding vitamins, minerals, herbs or other supplements that contribute to your overall health and energy levels. Your gut health is a huge contributor to your mental health, and a key factor to take into account when we are wanting to lower our stress levels.
Foods like green, leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, omega-3 rich fish and nuts, legumes and seaweed are all rich in nutrients that help our body maintain an ability to cope with stress.
Apart from the numerous health benefits of keeping our body hydrated, dehydration itself can cause an increase of cortisol in our body. Avoiding alcohol, coffee, smoking and sugar is also really important to maintain adequate hydrations levels.
Give your physical body some love
This may mean getting a massage, brushing your hair, correcting your posture or enjoying your favourite meal. Your body can easily be forgotten when your mind is filled with stress. It can be very grounding and soothing to move your attention towards your body and show it some genuine love and care.
Get to know your stress response, and start calling it out
The minute you become aware you are reacting in stress, stop. In this moment, get to know the part of you that flies into stress. It may be a sudden snap at someone after weeks of ignoring the signs of stress building. It may be a sense of despair or overwhelm or low motivation.
Whatever it is, recognise your own cycle and start to call it out, this is important. You can say “Hello stress, I see you are here, again.” “What do I need to do to, to see you visiting less often?” Keep it light and don’t get caught up in it. Learn to work with it. Most of all, don’t be surprised if your Stress Response comes back with an answer like “Get more sleep”. If it does, listen to your body!
Stress has a way of changing our priorities and focus, putting the things we really need to do to stay healthy (not all the things we say we have to do), at the bottom of the list. It may feel like a luxury to dance, swim or go for a walk when we have deadlines fast approaching or a people relying on us, but getting some movement into our daily life is highly beneficial.
If this can be combined with joy, it’s even more beneficial – it doesn’t need to be an intense gym session you secretly dread, but anything that gets your blood flowing and body moving will help.
It’s easy to forget the beauty of laughter when we are caught in a stress cycle. Making time to laugh, especially with those we love, can be a simple and highly effective way to neutralise stress and bring joy back into our life. Watch some comedy or call your favourite funny friend and laugh about the world together.
Stress often puts us in the middle of our negative thoughts with no clear way out. Creativity is an excellent way to shift our focus from over thinking about problems, into doing something enjoyable. It will draw on and strengthen other areas of the brain. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it’s the act of doing something creative that brings the magic.
Often stress arises from feelings we are unable to express, that cause loops in our energy and leave us feeling frustrated. We can’t always tell our employer what we want to, or a family member how annoying they have been lately. If it’s to do with another, a clear or gentle discussion may work. If not, you can write it in a journal, or a letter that isn’t sent.
If it’s to do with our own feelings, the same methods can work. If you are still needing assistance with expressing what you feel, there are many wonderful practitioners, courses and other avenues to help you to do so.
Phone a friend, mentor or loved one – or even better, go see one
While visiting has been harder than usual in our current climate, there is usually someone a phone call away who can listen or give us some input, or help take our minds off our own stress. Sometimes comparing stories can be great, or, deciding to share 5 great things past, present or upcoming to shift the focus. It may be as helpful for them as it for you to have a good heart to heart.
It’s important to give yourself permission to indulge occasionally. Sometimes the idea of a quick walk, working on our self or journaling just don’t give us the lift we need. Eat the whole tub of ice-cream. Run a long bath. Buy the shoes you have been wanting. Book a day at the spa. Or stay in bed and watch a movie, with your phone on silent – and don’t feel guilty for even a second, because it’s part of your self-care plan!
Getting away from reality is important once in a while. It may be a drive to the country, a weekend away or planning a larger trip. These things are challenging for many in the last few years, so it’s good to ask, “How else can I escape for a moment?”
This may be watching old movies, or reading a very far removed or light hearted book, anything that gives your mind a place to go from the current space. You’ll come back feeling refreshed every time.
Nothing beats a hug, or deeper intimacy, emotional or otherwise, with someone we care about. If this is something you can do, do it, and make time for it in your daily life.
Find an animal to hug
You don’t have to get a pet, you can borrow a friends, or visit someone with a big cuddly puppy. Animals have been shown many times to calm the human stress response, they will love the attention you lavish on them.
Take a Mental Health Day
It’s completely okay to say “Today, I’m not doing this”. Give yourself a break and know when to take time out. Explain to any other parties involved (if required) that today, you are taking a mental health day, and they will most likely be supportive.
Another great way to relieve stress, is to say “No”. Many people who become prone to burnout keep saying “Yes” when they need to step back and learn how to use the word “No”.
If the amount you have on is affecting your mental wellbeing, it’s important to learn this skill. It may take time, but it will give you time to do the things you want to say Yes to.
Always remember to fill your cup first.
Let nature show you the way forward
If you ever need a quick “pick me up”, nature has the answer. Watch the clouds go by. Look at the stars at night. Lie in the sun for a moment. Walk barefoot on grass or sand. If you can, go for a long walk or go camping. Spend as long as you can in nature, remember, it’s always around you if you need a refresh.
Count your blessings
Even in the most dismal of times, or when our stress levels high, we can take a moment to appreciate what we have. You don’t have to write it down, although a journal for these thoughts is a wonderful reminder of what is working.
Take moments throughout your day to look at what is working, and say “Thank you”, in full awareness of how great something in your world is. Don’t be afraid to thank yourself, and count the blessings that you bring to the world.
Try something new
Stress can make us feel trapped, we tend to go on autopilot when this happens. A good routine is helpful to everyone, but so is doing something new, exciting or different. Step outside of your comfort zone, it is not easy but worth it.
It may be trying a new recipe, walking a different way home or getting to know a new social circle.
Whatever it is, the newness of it can often help break us out of a recycling stress response and move our attention to somewhere that reminds us that change is always possible.
Get your sleep right
Sleep is where we allow our self to pause long enough to reset. A late night here and there is fine. When we constantly deprive ourselves of sleep, our energy levels dwindle and we may be overly reactive to stressors.
Setting a sleep routine is key to allowing our body to wind down. Being free of devices and blue light before sleep is also very important. Being able to rest and dream allows us to wake refreshed, and cuts out the need for relying on caffeine to “wake up”, saving our adrenals extra pressure.
Ask for help, know your limits
Last but absolutely not least, learn to ask for help. Many people can be resistant to doing this, out of pride or fear of being judged as not being able to cope and function on our own.
The thing is, humans have come from families and communities, collectives. We cannot be everything to everyone all the time, and some days, may not even be able to do the seemingly basic things for our self.
That’s when we need to reach out and get some assistance. It may be help with managing stress, or help with daily tasks to ease the pressure.
It might be asking our partner to help out a bit more, or talking to work about not doing overtime.
Whatever your situation is, ask for help if you need it.
Most of all…
Remember that stress is a natural part of life that can be managed like any other condition, and doing so will allow you to show up in a much bigger way for the things that matter to you.
Stress is usually temporary and goes away naturally. There are many methods for dealing with stress that have proven success. It is about trial and error, find out what works for you. Create you plan and stick to it.
You are in good company as you take the journey to lower your personal stress levels!