Managing stress is like a game of chess. Very often, it requires a little strategy. Last week, we kicked off our four-part series on stress, reviewing your body’s natural alert system that helps you to adapt to change and challenges. This week, we’ll explore how you can manage stress, ensuring that your body’s alert system doesn’t become overtaxed, thereby increasing your risk of adverse physical and mental health effects—including any effect on your relationships, which we’ll discuss next week.
To begin, we recommend sharpening your awareness of your capacity to cope with stress. A stress journal is a great place to start. A stress journal can help you to identify the daily stressors in your life and ways that they’re addressed, revealing common patterns and themes that may be considered and changed. Keep a daily log of stress, including:
- The stressor itself
- How you felt, both physically and emotionally
- How you acted in response
- What you did to make yourself feel better
When it comes to children and teens, you must be particularly savvy about recognizing symptoms of stress that may otherwise be overlooked. Children and teens may not be familiar with stress and how to recognize it, but they may express other feelings of general distress such as worry, confusion, annoyance and anger. They may also say negative things about themselves, others, or their environments; examples include “No one likes me,” “I’m stupid,” and “Nothing is fun”. As parents, it’s important that you watch and listen for your child’s unique expression of stress, and in an effort to address your concerns, consider working with a doctor or mental health professional.
A doctor or a mental health professional can help you to build a “stress relief toolbox,” helping you to limit your exposure to the effects of persistent or overwhelming stress. Here are a few tools that you may consider implementing into your life:
- Take a break from the stressor. It may seem difficult to get away from a challenging project, a crying baby or our finances, but when you give yourself permission to step away from it, you increase the possibility that your perspective may change and you may approach a challenge differently. We don’t advise avoiding stress, but a little distance can help you meet challenges more effectively, ultimately.
- Exercise. The research keeps growing: exercise benefits your mind and your body. You reap long-term benefits by implementing a regular exercise routine, but simply twenty minutes of movement, such as walking, running, swimming or dancing can provide an immediate effect to your overall wellbeing that can last for several hours.
- Smile and laugh. Our brains, emotions and bodies are interconnected with expression of joy. We recently explained how laughter can be the best medicine; click here to read about it.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness practices, including meditation and mindful prayer, help the mind and body to relax and focus. It can help you to see new perspectives, develop self-compassion and forgiveness. When practicing a form of mindfulness, you can release emotions that may have been causing the body physical stress. Similar to exercise, research has shown that even brief meditation can yield immediate benefits.
- Get support. Call a friend, send an email. When you share your concerns or feelings with another person, it does help relieve stress. But it’s important that the person with whom you talk is trusted, understanding and validating, such as a therapist or counselor.
A mental health professional can also help you implement more individualized strategies for managing stress, such as helping you to avoid unnecessary stress, to alter challenges and situations, to adapt to stressors, including possibly accepting those that cannot be changed, and to better access support systems.
As we mentioned earlier, we’ll specifically look at managing relationship stress next week. If you’re interested in getting personalized help as you tackle stress, keep in mind that our therapists at TherapyWorks strive to make your experience as stress-free as possible, and our responsive support team offers convenient scheduling options, evening and weekend appointments, and contemporary privacy practices to make the details of treatment practically a piece of cake.