Written by Lynn Ponton, MD
Stress hits us all in life, and while a little stress is good — it keeps us focused and motivated — too much of it and it can grind our lives to a complete halt. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out, you may become paralyzed and unable to do much of anything.
Just as bad are unhealthy coping methods to deal with stress. Turning to food, alcohol or drugs often just turns one set of problems into another that can balloon out of control. It’s better to avoid those unhealthy coping mechanisms from the start, and find good ways to keep your stress under control.
There are many ways to tame your stress and keep it at bay. Here are 20 tips to tame your stress today, and keep the stress monsters at bay.
- Perform diaphragmatic or “deep breathing” exercises.
- Lie face down on the floor and begin breathing deeply and slowly, with your hands resting under your face. Do this for five minutes.
- Sit in a reclining chair. Put a hand on your abdomen and a hand on your chest. As you breathe, make sure the hand on your abdomen is moving up and down rather than one on your chest. If the hand on your abdomen is moving you are breathing deeply and slowly.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation or “deep muscle” relaxation. Progressively tense and relax each muscle group in your body. Learn the difference between muscle tension and relaxation.
- Meditate. Use visualization or guided imagery to help you learn to be one with your thoughts. Sit quietly with your eyes closed, imagining the sights, sounds and smells of your favorite place, such as a beach or mountain retreat.
- Exercise regularly or take up yoga.
- Consult a psychologist about the use of biofeedback.
- Make time for music, art or other hobbies that help relax and distract you.
- Learn to identify and monitor stressors. Come up with an organized plan for handling stressful situations. Be careful not to overgeneralize negative reactions to things.
- Make a list of the important things you need to handle each day. Try to follow the list so you feel organized and on top of things. Put together a coping plan step by step so you have a sense of mastery.
- Keep an eye on things that might suggest you’re not coping well. For example, are you smoking or drinking more, or sleeping less?
- Keep a list of the large and little hassles in your day versus the major stressful events in your life. This helps you focus on the fact that you’re keeping track of and managing those as well as you can.
- Set aside a time every day to work on relaxation.
- Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, junk food, binge eating and other drugs as your primary means for coping with stress. While they can be helpful once in awhile, using them as your only or usual method will result in longer-term problems, such as weight problems or alcoholism.
- Learn to just say, “No” occasionally. It won’t hurt other people’s feelings as much as you think and is simply a method to be more assertive in your own life, to better help you meet your own needs.
- Get the right amount of sleep. For most people, this is seven to nine hours a night.
- Cultivate a sense of humor; laugh.
- Research has shown that having a close, confiding relationship protects you from many stresses.
- Don’t run from your problems! This only makes them worse.
- Talk to your family and friends. See if they can help.
If these tips don’t help, or you’ve tried a lot of them with little luck in better taming the stress in your life, it may be time to consider taking it up a notch. A mental health professional — such as a psychologist — can help teach you more effective methods for handling stress in a healthy way in your life. Such psychotherapy is short-term and time-limited, with a focus on helping you better deal with stress.
Remember — we do have control over the stress and choices we make in our lives. It sometimes takes a little practice and effort to put some of these techniques into play in your life. But once you do so, you may be pleasantly surprised at the positive benefits you’ll receive.