Stress is inevitably a part of our lives. It’s a natural human response to address challenges or changes in life. Stress doesn’t have to be a negative. We can use stress as a motivator to complete our to-do list; it lets us know what is important to us, boosts our performance, and even helps increase our ability to remember and store memories. However, it can also negatively impact our daily functioning if left untreated.
As a therapist, some signs I watch for in clients to assess for stress are irritability, anger, impatient, feeling overwhelmed, nervous, anxiety, fear, racing thoughts, depression, feeling unable to participate in things that bring them joy, worried, and if relevant, increased mental health symptoms or exacerbated mental health symptoms.
Here are some of my best everyday tips and tricks to help manage your stress!
Practice Deep Breathing
Take slow, deep breaths to activate the body’s relation response and reduce stress. One of my favorite exercises to use with clients is a type of breathing called “Box Breathing,” where you exhale for 4 seconds, inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. This can be repeated as many times as you need and can be done anywhere (school pick-up line, at your desk, before bed, etc).
Engage in regular physical activity to release endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. But don’t put pressure on yourself to have an intense workout. A simple walk around the block or stretches in the morning or before bed can make a huge difference if done consistently!
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to help their body and mind recover.
Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps and prioritize them to avoid feeling overwhelmed. And don’t be afraid to delegate! I often see clients trying to do every task imaginable. You don’t win a medal for doing everything; ask for help when needed.
Practice mindfulness techniques to stay present and reduce racing thoughts. There are a lot of really great apps for meditation, and even YouTube has a lot of great guided meditations to use. Start slow; you don’t have to meditate for hours; try 3-5 minutes to start. I like to meditate before bed to get me in a calm space before I fall asleep. Still, some people like to meditate in the morning when they wake up or whenever they are starting to feel stress come on during the day.
Eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients to fuel your body and maintain stable energy levels. Again, don’t put pressure on yourself to change your entire diet. Can you add or switch one thing in your regular meal plan that is a bit healthier? Start small and simple.
Spend time with friends and family or engage in social activities you enjoy!
Learn to say no when necessary and limit your commitments to prevent burnout.
Pursue activities that bring you joy and relaxation, whether it’s reading, painting, playing a musical instrument, or something else.
Challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations to cultivate a healthier mindset. Sticky notes with positive affirmations hanging on your mirror may sound cheesy, but they work, trust me!
Laughter can reduce stress hormones and boost your mood, so watch a funny movie or spend time with people who make you laugh.
Reduce exposure to digital devices, especially before bed, to improve quality sleep. Social media can help with connection, but it can also feel isolating and lead us to play the comparison game. Your phone can set timers on your apps; I always recommend using a timer to help you keep your boundaries with social media.
If stress becomes overwhelming, talk to a friend, family member, or mental health professional for guidance.
Remember, different strategies work for other people, so finding what resonates with you and creating a stress management routine that fits your lifestyle is essential. Your stress management routine doesn’t have to be perfect; little changes over time can make a big difference. If you find yourself lacking in some of these areas, a therapist can be a great source to help you create a routine that works best for you.
Julia is an out-of-state provider at Therapy for Women, specializing in anxiety, depression, trauma, substance use, and parenthood. To learn more about Julia or find out if she serves your state, read her bio here.
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