Author: Angela Lisle, M.A., L.C.P.C.
Stress doesn’t always have to be an unwelcome stranger on your wellness journey. In fact, it can be any event that requires a response or an adjustment, like a pothole on the road of life. Because of this, stressors can actually positively motivate us to change when we learn how to navigate them in a healthy way.
At Noom, we believe you can not only survive, but even thrive, when you learn to better care for your mind, body, and soul during trying times. To help you get some practice finding detours along this crazy path called life, we’ve compiled a list of 6 evidence-based tips regarding how to manage stress or reduce it when necessary. But first, let’s review some basic facts about chronic stress. What is it, and why is stress management so important for your long-term health?
What is stress?
The stress reaction is a healthy, normal part of staying alive. When you deal with a stressful event, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which causes a cascade of physical reactions. This is simply your body telling you that the situation needs to change. The stress response helps you think and act quickly, so you can escape danger.
But when your stress level stays high for an extended period of time – i.e. chronic stress – then you start to run into problems. Excessive stress has been linked with many serious health issues, including weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety, heart disease, and high blood sugar in people with diabetes.
For all these reasons, it’s essential to make stress relief practices a part of your daily life! Here are our six favorite ways to do just that:
1. Experience and process your emotions
Stress can often make you feel trapped and afraid, which doesn’t usually help you make the best decisions. One of the most important stress management skills is to get out of the labyrinth of your mind is to accept and express what your senses are trying to tell you.
Mindfulness based stress reduction techniques can be an exceptional method to be more aware of your feelings, as this study indicates. Activities such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, body scans, guided imagery, and breathing techniques can be greatly beneficial when managing stress as well. Try these techniques out at a time when you are less stressed, and it can often make it easier to utilize them in real life situations.
You can also call upon expressive tools you enjoyed as a child. No matter your skill level, you can still draw, write, and even dance your feelings out! On the other hand, sometimes just talking about your feelings with someone else helps to relieve some of the acute stress you’re feeling.
Reach out to a loved one or your therapist for some extra stress management tips or make a playlist to help you work through some of those sentiments that are bubbling up. Your preference for how to manage stress doesn’t really matter but giving a name to the elephant in the room can be an indispensable instrument of self-care.
2. Guide your thoughts where you want them to go
You may feel lost or like someone gave you the wrong map for this trek when pressure begins to mount. In actuality, you may have actually been holding the map upside down and viewing your situation from an unfavorable perspective the entire time.
Because of this, it can be essential to change how you think about a stressor that you experience. The more you practice staying positive and using self talk to cheer yourself on, the more you build that foundation to not only manage stress but also to push on toward your goals in a constructive manner.
Something as simple as saying, “Oh well! I did my best, and I can try again tomorrow”, can be immensely powerful when the hits keep on coming. If that doesn’t seem doable in the moment, try encouraging yourself as you would a loved one, as you can extend yourself the same mercy that you would to anyone else. You deserve some tender loving care too!
3. Plan out your path
When life is stressful, it might seem like there simply aren’t enough minutes in the day. So managing your schedule in an effective manner can be another great option to reduce stress.
If you are struggling with where to start, make a to-do list and prioritize things. Ask yourself: what absolutely must be done right away, what can wait a bit, and what is more of a want than a need? If this also seems like a struggle, it could help to revisit those tools and techniques mentioned above to see if mindset is part of what is tripping you up.
Perhaps most importantly, take some time to communicate your needs with others who are along for the ride and feel free to ask for directions from someone who has been on this voyage before you. Setting healthy boundaries, reaching out for help when required, and delegating can create opportunities for growth not only for you but also for others in your world as you learn how to manage stress.
4. Keep on moving
When we get tired and the trip seems rough, sometimes you just need to stop and rest for a bit. But that doesn’t mean you should dwell there indefinitely. Keep on moving: emotionally, intellectually, and physically!
A new study indicates that along with sleep, moving more (especially light physical activity) assists not only with stress but also with mood and weight. Who couldn’t benefit from a little improved mood and decreased stress right now, especially if it helps you with your weight loss and wellness goals?
Taking a walk where you live or doing some yoga can be amazing ways to bundle relaxation, mindfulness, and exercise. Tai Chi and qigong can help you center yourself while getting in some movement as well. You don’t have to be a yoga master or a martial artist to benefit from these tools. Just give physical exercise a try and see if your mind and body respond!
5. Find adventure and spirituality in nature
Stress may seem like it sucks all the pleasure and peace from life. But as you learn and grow, you may begin to realize that stopping to smell the roses along the way occasionally can keep you from straying off the route as far in the long run. For example, having a simple gratitude practice, like listing 3 things each day that you’re thankful for, can help to make you feel better by focusing on the positives in your life rather than so much on what is not going well.
Research finds that as little as 10 minutes a day outside in nature can have positive benefits on both mood and stress levels. It takes so little time to improve your outlook and how you respond to stress, and you don’t lose anything in trying!
Taking a short break in your day to soak up some sun and find some joy might also increase your productivity as well as decreasing your stress levels. You could even bundle this time with your light activity if you are extra busy to feed your brain, hold space for your heart, and connect with your spirit all at once.
For instance, try going for a short walk outside while you listen to an inspirational podcast. You might not be able to have it all, but you can certainly do your best to enjoy it all as you practice how to manage stress!
6. Build a healthy sleep routine
When you are feeling stressed, a good night’s sleep may feel very far away. On the other hand, making some simple changes can go a long way to reaching toward a night-time nirvana.
Having regular bedtime rituals can be key in this process, especially when time is short and your mind and heart won’t shut off. Managing your caffeine intake, alcohol, and screen time can be very smart methods to work toward some relaxation at bedtime as well.
You may even want to include some of your other de-stressing techniques as you wind down. For example, journaling a negative thought, feeling, or task that you struggle with during the day can be a great way to visualize setting those problems aside metaphorically for the time being. Bedtime can also be a wonderful spot in your schedule to practice relaxation skills and activities to get in a more tranquil mindset as things come to a more natural close.
Need more ideas for how to handle stress and still focus on your goals? Noom can help!