By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services
If you’re at the point of understanding that you are facing problems with stress and are ready to make a change, this is the article for you. So many of us go through life unaware of the high levels of chronic stress we experience. Even more people have this awareness, but are so used to living “under pressure” that making a commitment to eliminating stress seems impossible. In this post, we will explore a few simple things that you can do to help mitigate the negative impacts of stress.
You Might Be Feeling Stress, But Stress Isn’t Who You Are
One of the most important things we can do when faced with a stressor is to remember that whatever is happening, it is happening outside of us. This doesn’t mean that everything that stresses us will literally be outside of our control – in fact, many stressors are the result of choices we make or may be caused by internal issues, such as health.
When we say that stress is external, it means that whatever is happening in our lives, we don’t allow that to change our personhood. Stress might squeeze us, mold us, and impact us, but we can refuse to let it alter who we fundamentally are. By keeping this mindset, we empower ourselves to fight back against stress.
We All Feel Stress in Different Ways and I Know Mine
I once had a teacher who explained how he felt stress – as a tightening of muscles from his toes to his knees. He shared this because it seemed like such a strange place to “hold tension,” but for myself, this was an awakening – the first time anyone had articulated the impacts of stress on the body. I realized that I was holding stress in my body without any awareness of it. By paying attention to my body and watching for my personal signs of stress, I could actually do something about it, in the moment.
Where do you hold your stress? Is it in the neck, head, or shoulders? Lower-back? Do you feel the impacts of stress on your internal functions (digestion, leg cramps); or, does it appear outside as well (such as through sweating)? If you’re not sure, the first step is to pay attention to your body when you are experiencing a stressful moment. How does your body feel? How does your functioning change? Once you have this knowledge, use it! When you feel the indicators of stress in yourself, take a moment to step away from that feeling, acknowledge it, and intervene.
I’m Stressed! How Do I Feel Better?
Now we’re at the fun part of stress management – what to do when we are experiencing this feeling. Everyone feels stress differently, so it makes sense that we all need different ways to cope with it. Below are some general tips for “in-the-moment” stress reduction:
- Take a time out: A tried and true method for children that works for adults too. When stress starts to feel overwhelming, take a moment for yourself. Breathe, meditate, and rest until you feel a bit more in control.
- Exercise: Research has shown again and again the positive benefits of exercise on stress levels and mental functioning. A great technique is to go for a brisk walk while clearing your mind of the stressor.
- Analyze and understand the stressor: This is one of my favorite techniques. For many of us, we may suddenly feel stress for no apparent reason, or there may be multiple things going on that are causing this feeling. One extremely effective technique is to take a moment to reflect on what is actually causing the feeling. Was this an event? A memory? A fear about the future? Once you’ve identified the stressor, analyze it: What about this stressor is in your control? What isn’t? What can you do about the issue today, tomorrow, next week? For the things out of your control, can you let that worry go?
As discussed in our prior article, chronic stress has the potential to create a multitude of negative impacts on our health and functioning. The above outlines some of the basics of starting a stress management plan. While this is a great start, truly effective stress management entails a bit more – working to make the lifestyle changes necessary that minimize as-needed stress reduction techniques. As you start on this journey, consider journaling or noting how frequently you find it necessary to intervene with your stress. This will help identify patterns and frequency of stress for further work down the road. In the meantime, focus on starting this work. For a great summary of this article, check out the video below!