Everyone can, and probably will be, effected by stress at some point in life. You might be surprised to learn that some of the medical, emotional, or behavioural issues you have are actually related to the amount of stress in your life.
Anything from your mood and irritability to the amount you sleep and even whether or not you can lose weight can come down to your stress levels. While you might not be able to completely remove all stress triggers from your life, it really comes down to how you manage stress that you can’t predict or prevent.
One of the most legendary figures in history had this to say about stress and emotions:
“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing everything with logic. If words control you that means everyone can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”
Sometimes, life makes it difficult to “allow things to pass.” You may feel like every day is a list of things that you can’t seem to get through, or it’s possible you think that life is an endless battle against your anxieties. There are numerous studies right now about why the rates of anxiety and stress are so high.
Basically, when it comes to stress, you’re not alone. There are many ways to handle the stressful ins and outs of everyday life. These tactics have been supported by various studies and therapists who have shown that people with stress simply need to communicate to themselves what they are feeling. Oftentimes, you can use logic to see how your own stress is really just hidden fears and anxiety ganging up on you.
Let’s learn about some of the daily habits that can help you manage stress, from journaling and exercise, to learning about meditation.
Part One: What to Do to Manage Stress
The first thing to do if you are dealing with stress is to learn about what you can do to help manage your stress. Later on, you will learn more about what to avoid in order to reduce the risk of stress.
Here are some excellent daily habits to start doing now that can help with your stress levels:
Do you ever write to yourself? You may think that’s something that young folks do, but everyone has their own unique ideas, thoughts, feelings, and questions. What if you could write down the things that you hope for or the things that you wish for? What if the stress you feel is just stuck in your head?
Journaling is a good way to get to know yourself better. You can start in small doses of 1 to 15 minutes, just free form writing about what’s on your mind. Perhaps you want to describe a moment in your life that was perfectly happy or maybe there is something really troubling you that you want to get out.
Your journal is a completely private place where you can detail whatever is happening right now. For those dealing with intense stress, it may help to write out your fears and concerns in chronological order. You may start to see a pattern or even develop an idea of how to handle those stresses just by writing them down.
Once you start journaling, you can go back and read what you wrote. How could things be different? What if you woke up tomorrow and those stresses were completely forgotten? What would you do instead? You should always try to argue against those stresses, so you can build confidence in taking action and developing goals. You can write these down too, and eventually, those stresses won’t seem as critical as they were before.
There are thousands of videos that are dedicated to helping you breathe better, focus your mind, and relax. However, you can practice basic meditation on your own to manage your stress every day. Sometimes, the best time for meditation is right when you wake up, especially if you feel the urge to keep sleeping to avoid the day.
You can find out all about Mindfulness and Meditation in the Courses section of Active-Rest where you will find specific courses on this subject plus actual guided meditations.
How to Begin a Basic Meditation
The first thing you should do is get into a comfortable position. You may want to sit in your favourite chair or just try sitting on the ground with your legs crossed. You should be able to completely relax in this position while not falling asleep. This often involves keeping your back and shoulders straight so you maintain an active posture.
Once in a comfortable position, close your eyes slowly. You don’t want to tighten your face. The goal is to relax every part of your body. Sometimes people stretch or shake out all of their limbs before they settle down to meditate.
The next step is to clear your mind. Stress tries to distract you with bad thoughts and concerns all the time. This is one of the most difficult parts of meditation, but with practice, you can shut off those thoughts.
Tip: Having trouble clearing your mind? You can try this simple mind trick: Close your eyes and picture that you are sitting in a room with four white walls. This place doesn’t recognise current time or events. It’s just the place inside your mind where you are completely free to be just yourself, at peace, and at rest. You don’t need to think about anything in this place, because it won’t affect the white room. It’s a place completely devoid of stress and belongs outside of your traditional existence.
It’s likely that several thoughts will try to push through your meditation. Each time, you can simply acknowledge and “shush” them back into the ether. The goal of meditation is to get to a point where you don’t think about any stress for a long period of time. Some people can go for a minute and others can meditate for hours.
Meditation takes practice, but the longer you meditate, the easier it will be to clear your mind. If you want to set a timer or listen to music, you can use a guided meditation video or several meditation apps dedicated to helping you relieve stress.
Exercise helps you improve your physical condition, and you can also fight obesity, heart issues, diabetes, back problems, and other diseases. Humans need exercise, but there are a lot of conveniences in today’s world that make it seem unnecessary. In fact, why would exercise affect your mental state?
Well, studies have shown that exercise improves focus and increases dopamine levels. You get a little rush from completing an exercise, and it makes your body feel good to work muscle groups and use up your stored energy. If you are constantly feeling tired because of stress, then it’s almost imperative that you start an exercise routine. Your mind is probably tricking you into a lazy state because of fatigue.
Just 20 minutes of exercise per day can help you alleviate stress. There are even a few exercise routines developed specifically for reducing anxiety and getting through fatigue. Here are a few we like best:
- Try the 5 x 30 approach: Walk, jog, dance, or bike three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
- Burn calories indoors with this routine: 40 jumping jacks, 30 squats, 20 crunches, 10 push-ups. Track your progress.
- Commit to your exercise goals by setting small daily dedications, such as “I will walk for 20 minutes today” or “I will do 40 jumping jacks before dinner.”
- Create habit chains for exercise, such as this one: “Wake up. Go for a walk. Do squats and crunches. Shower. Eat breakfast. Drink green tea. Put on your favourite outfit.” Wouldn’t that be a better way to start your day?
Forming healthy exercise habits takes time, but most of all, you have to want to feel better. Part of managing your stress with exercise is hanging on to those feelings of relief and happiness after the workout that make it all worth it. By focusing your mind when you work out, you’ll start to forget why you were stressed in the first place.
Sometimes you just need a break. Whether it’s going for a walk or putting your headphones on to listen to your favourite band, you just need to pull yourself out of the hole. Everyone is different, so not every hobby is going to match up with your personality. Here is a list of hobbies that have helped others overcome stress.
Perhaps one of these will work:
- Create your own comic about your life. Make light of the issues you’re facing by drawing out characters and scenarios with people in your life. You can keep them all private in your journal if you like.
- Start up a new book. You probably have a list of books that you’ve been meaning to read.
- Pick a trail and hike it. There’s nothing more calming than being in the wilderness sometimes. You’re surrounded by nature, enjoying fresh air, and focusing on your path, instead of your worries.
- Try a new age colouring book and get creative. Adult colouring books started a few years ago, and now there are thousands of themes.
- Start cooking for yourself. Whether you want to try a subscription box or love to bake, you’ll get an incredible reward for your efforts: delicious food that you made. There’s a sense of pride in creating dishes from scratch. There are hundreds of great recipes within Active-Rest for you to use.
- Adopt a pet. If you are feeling alone in this world, there are plenty of dogs out there who would love to be your friend. If that’s too high maintenance, try adopting a cat. Animals provide comfort, warmth, and companionship, and studies have shown it can alleviate stress and PTSD. Make sure you can look after them though properly. It is a long term commitment.
- Start painting every day. Even if you think you’re not an artist, you can let the brush and paint tell your story. The goal is that you focus on a separate canvas than yourself, painting out your feelings and thoughts.
Constantly checking electronic devices is a significant reason for stress. That makes sense considering that emails, texts, social media, and other notifications are all messages to our brains about something. Could it be that you’re waiting on bad news?
The best way to deal with this is to just unplug. Spend time turning off your phone every night before bed and reading a book instead. There’s nothing that can’t wait, and while it may seem like everything is an emergency, this is one of the biggest reasons that you could be suffering from anxiety.
Parents are having a tough time managing their children’s addiction to technology, and it’s causing a lot of mental stress. Whether it’s checking messages constantly or playing games that keep you wired all night, long-term smartphone use can lead to extremely negative effects, like anxiety, ADD, and ADHD.
If you find yourself constantly checking your phone or email for messages, then you are actually causing more stress to your mind. Instead of focusing on your phone and notifications, take a time out and plan a day where you don’t do anything with your phone.
Think it can’t be done? The best way to find out is to challenge yourself. Once you start believing in the things you can do, the better you’ll feel overall.
Part Two: What to Avoid to Manage Stress
There is no shortage of reasons to feel stressed out. From family obligations to work deadlines, stress is something you experience daily. The purpose of stress is to serve as a natural response to how you interact with your surroundings. However, if not managed properly, it can be the cause of unwanted but expected health issues. Illnesses ranging from headaches to cardiovascular and heart problems often come as a result of not properly managing stress.
So, how can one stay away from it? You cannot. But what can be done to handle it is to change certain habits that increase stress in your life. You would be surprised how simple things we do every day contribute to the pressure you experience. With a little will power, you can stop these unhealthy ways and start reducing stress from day to day.
Here are a few things you can avoid.
Caffeine and Stimulants
There is nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning to get the day started. But too much of anything can be detrimental. Caffeine is the go-to stimulant to stay alert, notably in the workplace where it is always readily served to keep workers on their toes.
Coffee gives you a surge of adrenaline and can often instantly boost your mood, but once it crashes, it will leave you wanting for more to recreate that rush. This causes your level of cortisol (the hormone responsible for response to stress) to rise and stay high, not giving your body a chance to regain normalcy. This disrupts your sleep, your energy depletes and therefore causes you stress.
Another example of a stimulant is the cigarette. The irony is people usually turn to smoking thinking it will help them relax but it actually does the opposite. Biologically alone, your body has to work harder. Your lungs have to pump more oxygen throughout the body which increases your heart rate. This has been said to trigger anxiety, which is a form of emotional stress.
Maybe reducing your coffee intake or your cigarette breaks can be significant to reduce stress.
The point is moderation is key.
Lack of Daily Routine
You cannot entirely have control over your day no matter how much you plan. There is always something bound to come up. On the flip side, not having a set routine can leave you unprepared and vulnerable to happenstance. Having to figure things out on the spot can be stressful especially if time is not on your side.
This is not to say that there cannot be room for spontaneity in your life. But structure helps to minimise stress where your mental energy is not constantly operating in fight or flight mode. Your physical stamina is also not spent having to respond frantically to a demand it was not ready to meet.
Try to make a plan to get a better idea of what you expect to happen throughout your day.
Procrastinating and Running Late
Procrastination is definitely the biggest culprit for stress. As we mentioned earlier, time may not be a luxury if you are undertaking a huge project at work, for example. But waiting last minute, like working on a week project the day of the deadline or the night before will definitely leave you feeling the pressure.
Procrastinating is a form of self-sabotage. You will be met with self-doubt, anxiety and be rushed. Not reaching your desired results will leave you feeling inadequate. Giving yourself more time to accomplish a set goal or complete a task, however mundane, will allow you margin to correct errors. It will also give you a chance to make appropriate adjustments along the way.
The best course of action is to schedule your plans as close to completion as possible.
Overbooking Your Schedule
On the other end of the spectrum, being too busy is the other reason why stress is so prevalent in modern society. From the moment you wake up, you are met with a slew of to-do lists. Whether you go to work or school, it seems like there is a never ending lineup of chores and activities piling one of top of the other.
What makes it worse is when you realise the many tasks left with an unchecked box. The more you think you do, you find out there are more things that need to be done. Stress is then experienced by feeling like you are drowning and helpless.
Asses your schedule and scale back on the things that can be done by prioritising them and spreading them out over the course of a few days, week or month.
Lack of exercise
Exercising is a stress reliever, which is why we are mentioning it twice. That is just how important it is, but it doesn’t have to be something you feel forced to do. You can make it fun.
When you don’t exercise, you are not allowing the body to release the compounded chemicals and waste buildup in the body. You may think you might not have time or that exercising would be too tiresome for an already weary body. Biologically, exercise releases endorphins in the bloodstream that helps to reduce pain, promotes strength and improves sleep. Which are all great ways to relieve stress.
There are exercises you can do from the comfort of your own home. Walking is always a highly recommended and effective way to clear your mind and relieve stress. Another one of choice is swimming, which is fun to do in itself. Jogging, power walking, all good options as well and they don’t require you to own equipment or have an expense.
Incorporating 30 minute segments of exercise a few days a week will make a difference in your tolerance for stress.
Not Getting Enough Rest
Sleep has become obsolete and this unfortunately causes health issues. Insomnia is a high ranking sleep disorder where people are now forced to sleep with the use of medication. It also creates a vicious cycle: not sleeping causes stress, you take medication to induce sleep, when the medication for sleep wears off, the side effects kick in and triggers stress.
Making time to get a decent amount of sleep does wonders against stress. In fact, not resting is also responsible for not allowing you to release tension. Scheduling some rest and relaxation time to recuperate from too much activity in your day is an excellent way to cope better with stress.
Not Caring for Yourself
There is a rise in the ideology of self-care due to an outcry for not having time to properly care for basic physical needs. This is expressed from people mainly with busy lifestyles. As discussed earlier in this article, having down time is not considered a reasonable option because there never seems to be enough time to do that. But it is becoming a must, given that not taking care of yourself leads to lack of self-confidence and self-neglect.
Today, a growing number of cases of people who suffer depression, most time unknowingly, is happening because of not making time to rejuvenate themselves. Mothers who are home with their little ones are mostly vulnerable to this form of stress, not finding and eventually not even looking for time to set aside for themselves.
It is important to do things to help you restore your own well-being. Whether it is a long soak in the tub or reading a good book, schedule time to care for yourself will allow you to shed stress.
Failing to Communicate
This is probably the most overlooked cause of stress. Not being able to articulate your needs. Other examples could be not being able to address a problem arising in your relationship with your partner and holding it in. Not being able to express your true feelings honestly and directly whether it is to your parents, your boss or a significant other. All these are cases of not expressing directly the things you may be feeling that will leave you stressed and eventually possibly have you lash out in an unlikely manner.
Many times, one of the first matters a therapist addresses with their clients is if they have voiced their concern to the other party involved. Ofttimes, the answer is no. You can see so many talk shows on television where couples, for instance, are encouraged to speak their needs to their spouses which result in them feeling relieved from a burden they have been carrying for a long time.
You must have, or at least develop, the habit of being clear and honest about your feelings and thoughts. Keeping things inside and suppressing your emotions are contributing to psychological tension that will manifest itself physically through ailment.
Finding the help you need to speak freely – in an adequate, appropriate manner preferably – will help eliminate stress.
The fact remains you cannot hide from stressful situations. Life will happen. The best thing to do is research tools to make stress manageable from day to day. You can start with this list and see what you are doing that you may need to get rid of to alleviate stress. You can also seek out the help of a professional life coach to help plan a more personal agenda for you.