Everyone has stress—it’s a part of life.
Through using good coping skills, doing tai chi, exercising, taking a nature walk, playing with your pet, journaling or writing, symptoms of stress can be alleviated positively. Smiling and seeing the humor in life can help you laugh, while boosting your immune system, easing pain, relaxing the body, and reducing stress. There are numerous ways to handle stress positively and this article will begin to explore some ideas of how to recognize and deal with your stress levels.
Recognizing symptoms of stress is the start of becoming aware of the stress and where it is impacting you the most. Some symptoms include:
- Nail Biting (Body repetitive behaviors, skin-picking, hair-pulling, etc.)
- Social Withdrawal
- Over or under eating
- Teeth Grinding
- Jaw Clenching
- Decreased sex drive
- Indigestion issues
- Drug/Alcohol misuse
- Muscle Tension
- Sleeping Difficulties
Despite popular belief, not all stress is “bad” for you. The accumulation of too much stress and not managing it adequately is where stress can become problematic. The stress response is powerful to use as a tool, in which your body can increase the odds of overcoming huge obstacles. Many people do very well with stress, even at high levels, and others may not do so good with managing stress even at lower levels. Every person is unique in how they handle stress, but what matters is when it becomes too intense, lasts too long, or never allows a break from it.
Negative effects of stress can be reduced with positive social support, adaptive emotional management skills, including the ability to self-regulate, maintaining a healthy life balance, and attending to basic needs.
Ways to manage stress:
- Deep Breathing—When the fight or flight response is activated, breathing becomes rapid and shallow. It is easier to take deep breaths when the body is relaxed. If the body becomes too highly activated, it’s important to do deep breathing because it will reverse the fight or flight response and send a message to the brain to begin the process of calming down. Practicing deep breathing can help your body respond more efficiently and quickly to deep breathing in the future. Here’s an example of how to deep breathe.
- Breathe in slowly. Count in your head to make sure your inward breath lasts at least 5 seconds. Pay attention to the feeling of the air filling your lungs. Hold your breath for another 5 seconds (again, keep count). You don’t want to feel discomfort, but it should last a bit longer than an ordinary breath. Breathe out very slowly for 5 seconds (count!). Pretend you are breathing through a straw to slow yourself down. Repeat the breathing process until you feel calm.
- Imagery—Think about your favorite place, where you feel calm, safe, secure, and centered. Feel everything you would feel if you were actually there, what sights you see, what smells you smell, what sounds you hear, what feelings of touch you feel. Utilize all your senses to help soothe you. Our brain can create emotional reactions merely based off of our thoughts.
- Progressive muscle relaxation—During the fight or flight response, the tension in our muscles increases. This can lead to many somatic pains and injuries. Progressive muscle relaxation helps force your body back into relaxation. By tensing every muscle in your body from toe to head for 5-10 seconds, then releasing, you will notice a huge difference in feeling of how relaxed you are now compared to previously.
- Complete a mindfulness activity—utilize your vision to notice objects around you, utilize your hearing to hear the sounds around you, utilize your touch to notice what you feel around you, utilize your taste to savor that which sustains you, whether drink or food, utilize your smell to notice the smells around you.
- Soothe with your senses—Whether it be looking at aesthetically pleasing art or scenery, you can use your sight to see beautiful things. Soothing with your ears, can be to play classical music, or other sounds that are calming and soothing to you. Soothing with your touch can be a simple yet luxurious bath, or a warm fuzzy blanket to help soothe you. Soothing with your taste, can be taking a sip of your coffee, or a mint or piece of gum that you can really savor the flavor and enjoy. Soothing with your smell can be as simple as smelling flowers, or essential oils using aromatherapy.
- Mindful meditation
- Find a place free of noise or distraction.
- Sit down on a cushion or chair, sit up straight to allow for easy breathing.
- Turn your focus toward your breathing, notice the feeling of the breath entering your body and making its way to your lungs. Pay attention to how your body feels. Continue.
- Notice as an outside observer, not with judgment even if your mind wanders. Just bring it back to focus when you notice your mind wandering. If you have thoughts entering your head, just notice “I am having a thought”. If you are having feelings, just notice “I am having a feeling”.
- When your thoughts and feelings pass, return your focus to your breathing and body.
- Try to aim for 10 to 15 minutes as a beginner, 30 minutes for more experienced.
If you are having difficulty managing your stress, even after trying adaptive methods with no result, it may be time for you to search out a therapist to help with additional skills. At Clarity Family Therapy Services, we have trained and understanding therapists who can help you build the skills needed to adaptively deal with stress. Reach out if you feel you are having difficulties coping on your own and feel you need additional help.