In an age where technology is advancing rapidly, as are we with it, it can be easy to run on auto-pilot most days. That kind of conditioning catches up with us, when we’re finally burned out and crashing from too many meetings, schedules, and priorities.
Stress washes over us like a tidal wave, and we’re left scrambling to pick ourselves up in the same order as before. What causes even more undue stress in that moment is our tired inability to cope in ways that are healthy and effective, long-term. According to the latest statistics from the American Institute of Stress, the largest portion of caused stress comes from job workload. To that extent, 65% of employees stated that workplace stress was responsible for significant issues, such as eye-strain, difficulty sleeping, and other physical impairments, like carpel tunnel symptoms and low-back sensitivities from sedentary office settings ((The American Institute of Stress: Workplace Stress )).
In such instances, we’re quick to jump to fast solutions, like too much caffeine to keep energized, and poor self-care habits at home, such as lack of motivation to eat healthy or exercise. Our coping mechanisms turn into bandaid-type fixes that don’t teach us how to deal with stress in ways that promote health and well-being, long-term.
The following list recommends coping skills that take us out of our reactive state, and into a mindset that is more aware of our stressors. This awareness is a key step into developing controls that will help you not only deal with stress, but do it in a way that continues to promote healthy habit patterns.
1. Conscious Breathing
When we become stressed, we tend to lose touch with our conscious breathing awareness. In other words, we hold our breath, or fall into shallow breathing. This, in turn, affects the body on a cellular level, and kicks on the sympathetic nervous system, which primes us for reaction. Unfortunately, many of us tend to stay in this reactive state for long periods of time, constantly jumping at or running after tasks, sensations, and more stress.
What’s worse is that consistent shallow breathing not only causes more tension in the jaw, neck, low back, and other body areas; but it also significantly reduces a certain type of white blood cell that is responsible for warding off diseases, infections, and inflammation ((Headspace: How Shallow Breathing Affects Your Whole Body )). Our breath is literally keeping us healthy and alive.
When facing a stressful situation, a good practice is to pause and return to your breathing. Long, deep breaths in and out have shown to promote a sense of calm and re-centering, necessary for returning to the issue at hand with a clearer head.
Ensuring that your breath fills your belly and your lungs is vital in promoting diaphragmatic breathing that will not only ground the body, but also the mind.
Tune into the below video for an animated breathing exercise if you get caught up in a stressful situation:
Sometimes, we just need to write down our feelings and sensations in the moment, as we’re experiencing them. Journaling has long been a practice many have turned to for its healing benefits.
Similar to a diary, journaling is a way of writing down our thoughts and getting them out of our head; more importantly, that release is beneficial in cutting off the overthinking cycle of thoughts that keep us disconnected from our bodies and our environment.
You can either keep the journal entry and revisit it later, once the stressors have been resolved; or you can crumple it up, burn it, or tear it up, and notice the surrender in that manner.
Here’s a how-to guide on journaling: Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)
One of the best ways of getting out of our head when dealing with stress is to instead, come into the body.
Exercising is a powerful tool in redirecting our energy into something that is not only healthy for us, but also distracting. Moving the body floods our system with endorphins, which are natural painkillers that help with mood, sleep, and reducing irritability.
Finding the right exercise for you is entirely open to what stressors you’re facing. For example, running is a great option if you’re feeling angry or pent-up with frustration. On the other hand, yoga could be a beneficial suggestion if you’re feeling lethargic and tense, and need some grounding, re-energizing, or relaxing.((Mayo Clinic: Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress))
Here’s a nice demonstration on stress-relieving Qigong exercises:
Sitting down in silence might not sound like your idea of managing stress, but so much of our stress stems from the thoughts that we have in our mind. Naturally, it would make sense to tackle that stress head on, all pun intended.
Meditation can be done anywhere and anytime, and all that’s required is a set number of minutes to simply close your eyes and tune into your breathing. There are many apps that offer guided meditation sessions for anyone who is a beginner or just needs support on their meditation journey.
You can also take a look at this Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day).
5. Technology Disconnect
Everything we do is powered by the Internet, so much so, that without it, we often feel uneasy and disconnected. Ironically, too much of social media or checking work emails while at home is disconnecting us from ourselves.
Consider taking tech-breaks throughout your day, whether it’s taking a 30-minute lunch break without your phone, or going home from work and unplugging. Use the free time to do what brings you most joy in that moment – maybe a cup of tea outside!
Or try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.
6. Think This, Not That
This is a powerful practice and skill to develop that will rewire your brain and the thinking patterns we often fall prisoner to in stressful situations.
How many times have you gotten upset at something and made the situation worse by going down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts? Most of us!
By becoming aware of these negative thought patterns as they come up, we can instead, choose better ones. Positivity and coping skills are a practice ingrained over time, and it comes from choosing better thoughts and patterns from the stressful ones we’re used to.
Watch Mel Robbins’ video below as she explains this concept, and gives simple tips on implementing this in your life:
7. Simplify Your Morning Routine
So many of us want to get as much done as possible in any given day. It’s natural to want to cross every item off of our to-do list, but not doing so often causes us more stress and worry, and for what?
Simplifying your morning routine gives you more headspace to prioritize tasks in a way that doesn’t feel crowded and overwhelming.
Try preparing kids’ lunches (or your own) the night before, or laying out your clothes or work items before you head to bed. In the morning, sit down with a list of things to do that you can write down, instead of trying to remember everything as the day unfolds.
Starting your day off in a way that works for you will help you manage stressors better: 15 Ways to Simplify your Morning Routine and Have a Great Morning
8. Affirmations and Mantras
Mantras are words or phrases that are repeated often to bring about concentration, focus, and present moment awareness.((The Chopra Center: What is a Mantra?)) When you’re faced with a stressful situation, reminding yourself of this word or phrase can bring you back to a sense of grounding and peace, so that you can re-approach the problem with a new sense of clarity.
9. Getting More Sleep
Our society is notorious in celebrating work done on meager hours of sleep. We’ve come to idolize people and their abilities in being able to pull all-nighters and complete their work with little to no rest. Unfortunately, this is also creating more stress in our life.
Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night is crucial in setting up a foundation of effective and healthy performance the next day. Not only will we wake up brighter, happier, more rested and ready to take on the day; but our cognitive abilities will be restored to deal with any stressors in ways that are healthy, safe, and effective.
10. Eat Wholesome, Balanced Meals
When we’re under stress, we tend to go for fast food that is readily available, but not necessarily healthy. So much of what we eat contributes to how we feel, and in turn, how we control the rest of our day, stressors included.
Ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar and fats not only affect our mood, but our gut, as well. When the balance between good and bad gut bacteria is off, inflammation is quick to follow, as are a slew of gut-related diseases.((Harvard Health Publishing: Gut Feelings: How Food Affects Your Mood))
We can’t stave off stress on a system that’s deprived of healthy nutrients, which is more of a reason why balancing your plate with enough dark-leafed vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, and protein is a must. Learn How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You.
Also, don’t forget the water!
11. Be Assertive Instead of Aggressive
Stressful situations can expound frustration, and leave us feeling more aggressive than we’d like to be. Maybe we snap at our colleagues or family members, or lose our cool at the meeting or in an argument. These instances can leave a mark that is often difficult to reverse, once the stressors die down.
Learning how to be assertive instead of aggressive is a fine-line balance, and one that can help you speak your truth and get your point across, all the while keeping emotions in check and under control.
12. Know What To Control and What to Release
By nature, we like to control outcomes, situations, and sometimes, others. In stressful situations, pawning after that desire to control can often give us more hardship than we’d like.
Knowing when to let go of a situation, conflict, or person can be a powerful practice in alleviating that stress. It can also benefit you in being able to distinguish when and how to release what no longer brings you reward, joy, or purpose.
We’re not meant to control everything, and accepting that can be a truly liberating experience.
13. Open Up to a Friend, Colleague, or Family Member
We’ve all heard the phrase, “no man is an island.” That’s even more true when we’re going through a hard time. Often, we like to isolate and face our struggles head-on, only emerging after we’ve resolved the problem and come out victorious.
However, there is support and vulnerability in opening up to someone you trust. It allows you to put down your burden, not for anyone else to fix, but to simply quit carrying it around in silence.
Opening up that channel of communication and confession also puts you in a beautiful position to receive feedback and perspectives that you might not have considered before.
14. Learn to Say No
There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we want to do, let alone to take on more from others who invite us, ask us, or suggest to us.
Learning when and how to say no can vastly release the burdens of needing to meet other people’s expectations. It can also open you up to focusing on your own tasks and priorities, which may decrease in size once you cut out the tasks you’ve taken on from others.
15. Make Time for Fun
Even though stress comes from many things and in many different shapes, it also stems from our lack of incorporating fun into our lives. By doing this, you can cut the stressors at the core, distracting yourself from what pains you to connect to something that brings you joy!
Think of activities or hobbies that you haven’t done in a while, or have always wanted to try. Make it a priority to schedule this activity soon, and then go and enjoy it fully! Notice how you feel when you give yourself permission to play.
Stress is a part of life. With so much to juggle in any given day, we’re aligned to meet stressors around every corner.
How we react to them, however, is entirely in our control. There are coping skills that we can practice that will put us in a better position to deal with stressful situations that keep our health and well-being prioritized and strong for years to come.