Psych Corner: How To Find Relief When Life Feels Overwhelming

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Stress has a way of sneaking into our lives and making life more complicated. Sometimes, stress comes from school, sometimes it’s work, and other times it’s our relationships that trigger stress.

But the good news is that you can do something about that stress. You have control over your response to it, and there are many easy, practical ways to keep stress to a minimum.

How Stress Affects You

Before you can start using some of the stress-fighting strategies described below, it’s important to understand how stress affects you and why it’s important to lower stress.

When you experience a stressful event like a fight with a coworker, or a sick family member, you body activates its stress response. Your heart rate increases, your breathing become quicker, your muscles tense, and you mind feel like your mind is going in a million directions at once. Your body is preparing itself to react to the situation.

However, if you aren’t able to return back to feeling calm once that situation is over, that experience of stress starts to wear on your body. And when you experience stress over and over again during an extended period of time, you start to feel run down, exhausted, and irritated. So it’s very important to stay ahead of stress and minimize the chances of it having a negative effect on you.

Know Your Stress Sources

One important step in managing stress is to identify your sources of stress. For example, if you are in school, you might have several assignments due at the same time. You might start to feel stressed when you start to think about how you are possibly going to get all of these assignments done. In this case, your stress trigger would be your school work and so you would want to focus on finding ways to help reduce the stress you experience when it comes to doing homework.

Or, perhaps your child is going through a difficult period where they are constantly challenging you. In this case, your stress trigger would be your child’s behavior. Work can also be another source of stress as can your relationships (family, friends, or significant others). 

Identifying your stress triggers can help you know when to use your stress-reducing strategies

Choose Your Strategies

Stress-reducing strategies are activities and exercises that counter the negative effects of stress on your body. Remember how, when we experience stress, our muscles tense, our breathing gets quicker and more shallow, and we find it hard to focus? Stress-reducing strategies encourage the opposite to happen.

Exercising is a great stress-reliever whether it’s going to a walk around the block or hitting the gym for an intense workout session. Exercise helps to stretch out those tense muscles, clear your mind, and release feel-good endorphins. The wonderful thing about exercise is that you don’t need any expensive equipment. You can go walking or running outside or find free videos online.

Another easy way to help you calm down when you are stressed is to practice deep breathing. Deep breathing helps to reduce muscle tension, increase oxygen flow, reduce your blood pressure, and fight the effects of stress. Deep breathing is simply:

  • breathing in slowly through your nose while expanding your belly so that your lungs fill up
  • holding that breath for a few seconds
  • then breathing out slowly through your mouth.

FYI, practicing this when you are calm and not under stress can help you use it more effectively when you do eventually experience stress. There are also helpful (and free) apps out there which can guide you in deep breathing and relaxation.

Another important part of managing stress is surrounding yourself with supportive family, friends, and mentors. Your support group can help you notice patterns that trigger stress that you might not notice. They can also be there to listen when you need someone to talk to about what’s bothering you and they may even help you come up with solutions to your problems that you hadn’t even thought of. You can also combine two stress-relieving strategies into one by inviting a friend to exercise with you.

Sleep is also an important part of minimizing the effects of stress. Studies have found that stress increases when amount and quality of sleep decreases. In other words, when you aren’t sleeping well, you are more likely to experience the negative effects of stress.

So try to aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night. To help yourself fall asleep more quickly:

  • keep your room as dark as possible
  • avoid bright screens before bed (phones, tablets, TV)
  • try to go to bed the same time every night
  • establish a nightly bedtime routine that includes calming activities like reading, prayer, or journaling. (You can read more tips from Harvard University here.)

These are just a few of the easy ways that you can help keep the effects of stress to a minimum. Give them a try and you might find that those stress triggers that bothered you so much don’t have such a strong effect on you.

Julia

Julia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who is passionate about building and strengthening positive relationships by applying the latest research to everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter at Julia_M_Hogan. (Her articles are not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment.)
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