Stress. It's one of the primary concerns clients present with in my counseling practice. We live in a fast-paced, busy world, and stress is all around us. A little bit of stress can be helpful - if you are worried about your grade in history class, it might motivate you to study. If you worry about getting charged a late fee, it might motivate you to pay your bills on time. But sometimes, the amount of stress we face is enough to overwhelm our usual ability to cope. Distraction (or avoidance) can help reduce stress in the moment, but it doesn't relieve the source of stress, and can contribute to a build up of more intense stress later on. Here are some long-term stress management techniques you can do to help decrease feelings of stress on an ongoing basis:
Sleep. There is a direct correlation between sleep and stress levels. If you do not get adequate sleep, your stress level increases. And when you feel stressed, it is difficult to sleep. Adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Children and adolescents need and average of 9-10 hours per night. Practice good sleep hygiene to help with this. Want some tips? Check out this handout from the Center for Clinical Interventions.
Healthy Diet. Try to avoid emotional/stress eating. Junk food and processed foods take more energy for your body to digest, which can lead to negative changes to your mood energy. There are a lot of conflicting messages out there regarding what is healthy, so if you aren’t sure, consult with your doctor or a dietitian.
Stay Active. Exercise helps you release negative energy from stress, and also releases “feel good” chemicals in your body. Walk, jog, run, swim, play a sport, take an exercise class, or any other activity that will help keep you active. The American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps per day. Phones and other devices can track your steps to help you meet your personal goal.
Relaxation Activities. Get a massage. Practice Yoga. Go to the spa. Take a warm bath. Search for phone apps or YouTube videos that have guided breathing, guided meditation, guided mindfulness activities, or guided progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Some of my favorite apps are 10% Happier Meditation, Calm, Headspace, and Better Me Meditation.
Assertiveness. Respect yourself and those around you. Speak up for yourself with clear messages that do not disrespect the other person. Your feelings, wants, and needs matter just as much as someone else’s. Holding things in will increase stress and could lead to resentment. If you want more tips on communicating, check out this handout from the Center for Clinical Interventions.
Positive Thinking. Make a list of the things you are grateful for, or what is going well in your life. At the end of each day, try to identify at least 3 positive things from that day. Challenge negative or skewed thinking patterns and instead think about your situation with more balanced perspective. This can be difficult to do, especially when emotions are intense, but a counselor trained in CBT, DBT, or ACT can help you with this.
Goals. Spend time setting goals and working toward goals that are in line with your personal values and what is most important to you. If you are working towards someone else’s goals for your life, it could lead to discontentment. If you are unsure what your values or goals are or have trouble taking steps to work toward your goals, a mentor or counselor can help you with this.
Support Network. Identify at least 3 people you can go to for support. Spend time strengthening relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends/family for help (they can’t read your mind). This doesn’t mean you are needy or weak. Interdependence (when it’s a two-way street and people help each other) is healthy!
Time Management. Use a daily schedule, calendar, or to-do list to help you manage your time and decrease avoidance/procrastination so responsibilities don’t pile up and lead to more stress. If you have taken on too much, try to let something (or things) go. It is important to take care of yourself and give yourself a break.
Thought Field Therapy. If you’ve tried all of these methods, and still feel overwhelmed or stuck, you might consider Thought Field Therapy (TFT). TFT involves tapping on certain acupressure points (located mostly on your hands and face) to move a stress-inducing thought from the bottom of the brain (where the automatic fight, flight, or freeze stress response comes from) to the top of the brain (that is able to use logic and solve problems more rationally). TFT is a quick and effective method of calming distressing emotions. In 2016, it was added to the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (which means it’s legit). If you want to see how TFT works, check out Dr. Robert Bray’s video demonstration here, or schedule an appointment with a TFT trained practitioner.
Which of these techniques do you think will help you manage stress? If you know someone who is struggling with stress or anxiety (and who doesn't know someone?), be a part of their support network, and share this post with them.