Today, we’re joining the APA in honoring Mental Health Month. One of the aims of Mental Health Month is to bring awareness to the importance of taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.
Stress touches everyone. It’s a tangible part of our days. But it doesn’t have to dismantle our lives. The key is to cope with stress effectively. And, thankfully, this is something each of us can learn. Once you find practices that resonate with you, you can tuck them into your personal wellness toolbox for use at any time.
Below, Kathryn Tristan, author of the book Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living, shared her tips for alleviating stress and enhancing your well-being. You’ll also find a simple test at the bottom to help you quickly assess your stress level.
1. Take three deep breaths.
When we’re stressed out, we tend to take small, shallow breaths. Or we even hold our breath. Of course, this only exacerbates anxiety. We feel faint, lightheaded, tense and tight. Taking slow, deep breaths, however, soothes your sympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation. This can lower blood pressure and heart rate. And it can reduce stress hormones.
2. Stretch your body.
Stress tends to weigh heaviest on our bodies. Stress is a bad headache, a stiff neck, tense shoulders and all-over tightness. Tristan suggested loosening taut muscles by moving and stretching your body.
3. Repeat a calming phrase.
Find a phrase that rings true for you, which you can say in stressful moments. Tristan gave these examples: “All is well,” and “This, too, shall pass.”
4. Engage in an enjoyable activity.
Build fun, fulfilling and rejuvenating activities into your daily schedule. Bike, hike, garden, paint, play, read, dance, attend museums, see a movie, get a massage or take a walk around the block.
5. “Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.”
Remember that whatever you pay attention to grows. So if you focus on all the things that are stressing you out, they’ll only get bigger and bigger. Instead, try to focus more on what’s meaningful, positive and supportive. “Visualize things going the way you want and feeling happy about it,” Tristan said.
6. Focus on right now.
Although planning for the future is helpful, when you’re stressed out, it turns into fretting and overwhelm. That’s why Tristan underscored the importance of focusing on the present, moment to moment.
- “At any given moment in the day, simply stop, take a deep breath, and notice where you are, notice what is happening [and] take it all in.
- Imagine a big brick wall popping up that blocks you from thinking of anything but what’s right in front of you.
- Get in tune with your senses: Take a walk, feel the ground beneath your feet, smell the flowers in the air, listen to the birds chirping. You will decrease your anxiety and increase your joy by learning to focus on now.”
7. Cultivate gratitude.
Tristan calls this tip the “five-minute mental marinade.”
- “Place both hands over your heart and close your eyes.
- Slowly take five very deep breaths.
- Think of five things that are right about your life and for which you are grateful.
- Focus on someone you love or something you love to do and marinate in that feeling a few minutes.
- Take five more deep breaths, open your eyes and enjoy feeling totally refreshed!”
One of the best things you can do to relieve stress is to identify the root of the problem, brainstorm realistic solutions, and take action. The above techniques help you calm down, clear your head and gain perspective, so you can problem-solve successfully. They’re also a great way to take care of yourself.
Stress Test: How Stressed Are You?
Tristan shared the following stress test, which is featured in her book Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living. Score 3 for “often;” score 2 for “sometimes;” and score 1 for “rarely.”
- Do you feel edgy and impatient?
- Do you overreact?
- Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep?
- Are you upset when things don’t go perfectly?
- How often do you feel worn out or fatigued?
- Do you feel there is never enough time to get things done?
- Do you have trouble relaxing when you have free time?
- How often do you get stress-related headaches?
- Do you eat or drink too much?
- Are you forgetful or have mental gridlock?
This is how to interpret your results:
10-14: low-level stress
15-20: moderate stress
21-30: high Stress
Check out these additional pieces on easing worry and stress and taking better care of yourself.
- 3 unique exercises to stop worrying
- 3 practices to calm an anxious mind
- Self-care strategies to change your life
- How to start meditating
- How to stop feeling guilty about practicing self-care
- Finding time to nurture yourself