Stress comes in all shapes and sizes. From planning a wedding, to losing our job, everyone has felt the effects of stress at some point in their lives in one way or another.
Stress, of course, isn’t just a mental experience: 77% of people report that they experience physical symptoms as a result of stress. This can include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, tooth-grinding, and more serious health effects such as cardiovascular disease.
April is National Stress Awareness Month, and while stress is unavoidable in day-to-day life, learning coping mechanisms to prevent and manage it can go a long way to improving our health, mental wellbeing, and overall quality of life.
In this article, we’ll focus on both short-term and long-term stress relief strategies that you can use to build resilience in your life.
Short-term stress management techniques
Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed, upset, or anything in-between, these stress management techniques are great because:
- They’re free
- They can be performed anywhere
- They don’t take a lot of practice to master, and
- They offer immediate relief
Meditation offers both short and long-term benefits including stress relief, increased focus, and mood regulation, and there are lots of different ways to meditate that you can try.
Meditation strategies can be relatively simply and include:
- Repeating a mantra as you take slow, deep breaths
- Focusing on the sights, smells, and feelings around you
- Allowing thoughts to pass through your mind without dwelling on them, or
- Counting beads, your breaths, or other sensory experiences
Essentially, anything that helps “ground” you in the present moment and regulates your breathing can count as a form of meditation and help you reduce your stress in the moment.
Use guided imagery
Think of guided imagery as though you’re taking a “mental vacation” from your current situation. This can be accomplished in a few ways, including:
- Imagining yourself in your “happy place” (sitting on a beach, at a cabin in the woods, or somewhere that helps you feel peaceful and at ease)
- Listen to a guided recording where someone walks you through a peaceful scene
- Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful scene, focusing on the sensory experiences you would feel if you were really there
Try processive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves relaxing all the muscles in your body one by one, or in groupings.
To start, take a few deep breaths and practice tightening and relaxing the muscles in each part of your body, starting with your forehead and moving down to your toes. This should result in a feeling of relaxation that sweeps through your body as you release the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety.
Over time, you’ll learn to recognize tension and tightness in your muscles and be able to relax them more easily.
Take a walk
Research shows that walking promotes the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that stimulate relaxation and can improve your mood.
Taking a walk also allows you to enjoy a change of scenery, which can get you into a different frame of mind as well as enjoying the benefits of exercise.
Walking can also help us release muscle tension. By getting into your correct walking posture and form, you un-knot those muscles and put them to work.
Looking for more in-depth techniques to manage your stress levels? Our short self-paced course is a great place to start. Click here to learn more!
Long-term stress management techniques
Short-term strategies are great for handling anxieties and stress as they pop up in the moment, but following these tips will help you avoid stress and deal with challenging situations in healthy, positive ways:
Eat a balanced diet
Studies have shown that eating a poor diet can cause us to react more strongly to stress.
Emotional eating or choosing high-sugar, high-fat foods might make us feel good at the moment, but refined carbs like potato chips and cookies can cause blood sugar to spike.
Then, when blood sugar crashes, so does our mood — leading to increased feelings of stress and anxiety.
If you find yourself feeling stressed on an ongoing basis, consider reevaluating what you eat and focus on including healthy choices like avocados, eggs, walnuts, and leafy greens, which support mood regulation and improve energy.
Work on your self-talk
Positive self-talk is supported by research to help cope with stress and anxiety. Harsh self-criticism, self-doubt, or always jumping to the worst outcome mentally makes it more difficult to handle stressful situations.
In order to reduce the effects of stress on daily living, we need to learn to talk to ourselves in a more realistic, compassionate way. If you find yourself saying things like “I’m stupid” or “I can’t handle this,” make a point to respond to yourself by saying “I’m smarter than I give myself credit for,” and “I can handle anything, even when things feel overwhelming.”
Studies have shown that people who express gratitude have better mental health, lower stress, and a better quality of life.
Gratitude helps you recognize all the things you have to be thankful for. Whether that’s being grateful for a sunny day, being thankful for your caring family and friends, or reflecting on your ability to do your favorite hobby, focusing on the good things in your life can be extremely empowering.
Manage stress more effectively
Finding the best stress management techniques can take time and practice, but it’s important to keep looking for tools and processes that can help manage life’s ups and downs. A great place to get started is with our self-paced course on managing stress.
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