We’ve all had those days when everything seems to go wrong. Mismatching socks, hair that doesn’t want to stay down/up, spilling your morning coffee, forgetting a meeting that started 30 minutes ago, traffic lights that turn red at the first sight of you, and much more. Such days usually only last a day and after a good night’s rest, you wake up to a new day and in better spirits.
But what if things continue to go awry and the stress increases, putting you in a chronically stressed state?
Taking myself as an example, I’ve experienced a whole host of atypical stressors for the past few months. The snowball of stressors started off as I had dinner with my family. No, it’s not drama with the in-laws, but my mother suddenly told us that she felt sick and within a few seconds, her eyes turned back only showing white and her skin immediately turned a cold purple as she violently convulsed and gasped for air in my arms. Many thoughts raced through my mind as I held my mother while everyone was screaming for her. Luckily, I knew enough CPR to get her breathing while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. But because my mother has no health care coverage, even more stress and worries come into play.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, another stressor was waiting to jump out at me. Late at night, while I was working on some projects, I heard a loud crash right outside my window. Peering out, I saw that someone had crashed into and totaled my parked car along with my neighbor’s car. If this wasn’t bad enough, having to deal with the insurance company puts salt on your wound and your eyes for good measure.
Yes, there are still more things that contributed to my stress level the past few months, such as my bank failing and a vendor at work refusing to complete an order worth $XX,XXX, but I’ll spare you the details. Instead, let’s talk about why stress management is important and how we can reduce stress when we step in life’s poop.
Why Manage Stress?
All stress is not created equal. When I hear the word stress, my first reaction is a negative one, but I became informed about good stress, known as ‘eustress’ from Tim Ferriss’ best seller, ‘The Four Hour Work Week.” Eustress is the normal short-term stressors we encounter that improve our performance, capabilities and are considered beneficial. Examples of eustress are things like the excitement that comes with scoring highly on a test, getting a raise at work, being praised, etc. But when negative stress, called distress, becomes constant over a long period of time, this burden becomes chronic stress. Chronic stress can contribute to a whole host of problems ranging from minor ailments to major illnesses, both mental and physical. Examples of distress include difficulty with your manager at work and family concerns or problems outside of your control.
Fortunately, stress can be managed in a variety of ways that suit your personality and situation.
Stress Relieving Tips
Hang Out with Close Friends and Family – As Stacey (WB contributing writer) mentioned, we all have a need to belong. Try increasing the frequency you hang out with your friends and family. Go out for dessert or a cup of coffee and enjoy your time with them. This will help you escape the stresses for a few hours and by the time the stresses resurface, you’ll be in a better state of mind to help you constructively cope with problems.
Smile – Just the simple act of smiling has been documented to improve your mood. Try it out, smile and hold it; feel that beautiful energy radiate throughout your body. I’ll be the first to admit how difficult smiling is when you’re stressed, but hold the smile for a few seconds and ‘know’ you’re making a change in how you feel.
Go for a Jog – Exercising has been proven have many benefits beyond that of simple physical fitness. Go out for a quick jog and release the stresses of the day and let your endorphins give you the ‘feel good’ you need. The key is to get your body moving and break a sweat. FYI: It also boosts your brainpower too!
Make Sure You’re Keeping a Healthy Diet – Keeping a healthy diet in times of stress is difficult. When I’m stressed, I become lazy and end up at the nearest fast food joint. Although this might seem like an easy way to save time and satiate your hunger, continue on this path and we’ll end up seeing a whole host of other problems that becomes a cycle of declining health and increased stress levels. One solution to unhealthy snacking is by keeping fruits within reach and snack foods behind cabinets, or better yet, nowhere inside your house. By keeping the snacks out of sight and away, you’ll be less likely to reach for it when the craving hits.
Breathing – We’ve all heard it before. Deep breathing helps you relax and exhale the stress away. It’s because it works. Deep breathing can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and will help you calm down and regain composure. Try slowly breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds and exhaling slowly for 10 seconds through your mouth. When you breathe, just as many vocalists and musicians do, expand your lungs downward and use your abdominal muscles to exhale smoothly.
Pretend to Feel Good – Pretend to feel good? What good is pretending when you’re stressed out of your mind? Just like how creating a smile on your face will improve your mood, pretending to be in a better mood will help you out of your slump.
Change Your Perceptions – How do you perceive your stress? If you see your stress as the end of the world, you’ll end up doing more harm to yourself than if you were to perceive your stress in a different light. Can your situation be seen as a learning opportunity? As bleak as it seems, are there positive things that can come out of the situation?
Take Some Time Off of Work – A lot of stress is rooted in our work environment. Being confined to our workplace for 8+ hours a day isn’t natural. Especially in stressful work environments, it is even more important to regularly take time off work to refresh both your body and mind. Instead of taking one long vacation each year, if your job permits, why not take many shorter breaks? I usually take 2 days off at a time, making sure to include the weekends for a nice 4-day getaway.
Avoid Environments that Trigger Stress – Do certain environments bring about stress? Most may say that their workplace does, but are there certain places that bring about traumatic memories? If possible, try avoiding places that trigger such stresses until enough time has passed.
Remember, stress is not the same for everyone. Something that may stress you out may not bother the person next to you. Likewise, some of the tips above may or may not work for you, but pick and choose the most effective and beneficial stress relievers for you. Bye to distress!
Do you have any stress relief tips? What works for you? What doesn’t?