When your stress levels are high, using healthy coping skills can help you reset and relax.
Stress is part of everyday life. But constant and high levels of stress can have adverse consequences and make it difficult to function.
Research has shown that stress can affect the body, leading to
Finding and practicing healthy ways to cope with stress can help you reduce its impact on your daily life and the chances of it affecting you in the long term.
It helps to look within and check yourself daily by naming and recording your thoughts and emotions, says Tanya J. Peterson, a certified counselor and mental health educator based in Oregon.
Peterson adds that pausing when you’re feeling distressing thoughts or emotions can help turn off your fight, flight, or freeze response and calm you down.
Doing this activates the part of your nervous system that signals the body to rest and digest, Peterson says.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it is impossible to avoid or eliminate it.
Peterson recommends trying to accept the presence of your stress. But “that doesn’t mean giving up or resigning oneself to stress and problems,” she adds.
By accepting stress, you can stop fighting it. Fighting stress and trying to push it away does not get rid of the stressor. It can even make you more stressed.
Accepting the fact that you can expect a certain amount of stress in your life can help you cope more easily when life throws a curve ball at you.
Meditation is another valuable strategy for coping with stress. Mindfulness exercises or meditation can help you relax and allow you to approach your negative thoughts and feelings from another perspective.
Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and creating an empty space in your mind. Or you can try guided sessions using meditation apps or videos.
Ultimately, the goal is to relax and refocus.
Peterson also recommends putting some distance between yourself and your stress. “Remember that you are experiencing a specific thought or feeling, but it does not necessarily represent your permanent reality.”
Ask yourself, “What else is going on at this time?” said Peterson.
What else can you focus on? Is there anything else you can think about besides what is causing you stress?
Distancing yourself can also mean temporarily distracting yourself from what is stressing you. That doesn’t mean bottle it up and forget it, though.
This may involve setting aside small times when you take a break from the daily tasks, chores, and stressors of life. Or it may include removing yourself from the situation that is stressing you out.
For example, if the news worries you, take breaks from social media or limit your consumption to only a few times a day or week.
You don’t need to completely ignore the news, but it may not be healthy for your stress levels to scrutinize or absorb everything that’s going on in the world.
Give your body the tools to deal with stress when it comes your way. Peterson says some of these healthy habits involve:
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends including a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your diet. He also recommends avoiding substances, such as alcohol, that can negatively impact your ability to manage and cope with stress.
A healthy habit also includes doing something you enjoy. You don’t have to completely change your lifestyle to improve your ability to handle stress. Small changes can make a big difference.
Meditation can involve breathing exercises, but you can focus only on deep breathing if you’re having trouble clearing your mind.
Deep breathing exercises can help slow your heart rate and calm you down when the world seems to be spinning too fast.
Share your worries and fears with people you trust.
Talking about things that stress you out can help you unload and feel less overwhelmed.
According to the APA, having a strong support network can improve your ability to cope with stress.
Providing support to friends and family also has benefits. It is essential to ensure that you and those around you give and receive support. One-sided relationships can end up causing you more stress than relief.
“Rather than simply seeking to reduce [stress]divert your attention,” Peterson says.
It doesn’t mean getting rid of stress by having fun. Instead, Peterson suggests, replacing your stress involves taking small steps to add more of what you want to your life.
For example, would you like to have a better work-life balance? It might be helpful to make an action plan to schedule more family time.
Or maybe you want to have a more dynamic social life. Consider spending less time worrying and stressing about your limited social circle and finding ways to connect with others.
The progressive muscle relaxation technique aims to release tension throughout the body.
To do progressive muscle relaxation, use the following steps:
- Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths.
- Starting with your toes, tense each muscle in your body for 5-10 seconds, then release.
- Work up your body to the muscles of the face and head, contracting and releasing each group of muscles in turn.
Stressful times and events happen to all of us. And experiencing high levels of daily stress can be overwhelming. Finding ways to cope with stress can help you fight it head-on.
But if stress is a daily occurrence, not getting better, and causing symptoms of anxiety or depression, it might be time to consider talking to a mental health professional.
If you’re constantly worrying about everything and can’t let go of your anxious thoughts, you might want to seek professional help.
If you’re not sure where to look for mental health support, consider checking out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist page.