Simple and Effective Ways to Manage Your Stress
By: Genevieve May
“Stress is the trash of modern life that we all generate. But if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” - Danzae Pace
Life in our modern world is fast paced and always moving forward. With so many demands placed on us, we can become easily overwhelmed, drained and unable to cope. When we become too focused on getting through our to-do list, it is easy to toss our “trash of life” aside into a pile and say “I don’t have time for this right now. I’ll deal with it later.” Our “trash of life” pile begins to grow and grow and before we know it, spills out all over the areas of life we so desperately tried to keep “clean.” When we are no longer able to push our “trash of life” stress aside, we end up feeling lethargic, unmotivated, distracted, and are finally forced to ask the question “how in the world did I let things get this way?”
But what if our stress pile didn’t have to overflow before we started sifting through the stacks? What if there was a way for us to sort and manage them as we went along, allowing us to feel empowered and proud of ourselves rather than emptied and drained?
The good news is that feeling empowered to manage stress is possible for everyone! Knowledge is power, and the first step to taking control of our stress is to understand what it is and how it shows up in our minds, bodies and souls.
Let’s break it down.
First, it is important to note that stress is a normal part of life - everyone experiences it.
Second, it is important to be aware that there are actually two kinds of stress: positive (also known as eustress) or negative (also known as distress).
So, how can we tell the difference?
Positive stress (or eustress) is thought to be beneficial. Eustress helps aid in performance and provides just enough motivation to stay focused on the task at hand. For example, this is what you might feel leading up to an interview, exam or a presentation. Another example might be planning a wedding. This can be a time of both joy and excitement and stress and exhaustion. But, ultimately, eustress creates just enough of a push that allows for an experience that is positive overall.
Negative stress looks quite different and can cause both short-term and long-term effects. Some examples can be the death of a loved one, filing for divorce, losing a job, and legal problems. Negative stress can result in poor coping skills such as unhealthy eating habits, poor boundaries, and lasting trauma. As a result, we might find ourselves feeling more isolated, alone and misunderstood, unable to access our healthy coping skills.
Stress begins in the brain. Confronting stress, whether positive or negative, produces the same biological response. A part of our brain called the amygdala senses danger and sends a distress signal to our hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like the command center of your body. This signal activates your adrenal glands (which sit right on top of your kidneys) to produce thousands of chemicals, one of which is cortisol, AKA the “stress hormone.” This hormone is moved throughout your body through your bloodstream to your organs. Your heart begins to beat faster, your vision narrows, your breathing becomes fast and shallow, your muscles tense, and your body prepares to react to the threat. This happens so quickly that you could jump out of the way of a speeding car before you even realize what you are doing. Within 30 minutes, once danger has been removed, our bodies return to their normal state. Amazing, right? This process is essential for survival and is an inherent part of all mammals.
On the other hand, when negative stress occurs over long periods of time and is not managed, the level of cortisol builds up and keeps the body in a stress state, which ultimately causes damage to our physical health and mental health. Remember, the stress reaction is meant to be short-term to ensure survival in a dangerous situation. We are not meant to be in a stress state permanently. So this is where we have the opportunity to learn how to take control.
When our “life trash” pile is so large and overwhelming, we might find ourselves feeling unsure of where to start. So to reduce your overwhelm, I have provided four simple ways you can practice stress management now:
Breathe: Taking slow, steady deep breaths has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. Not sure if you are doing it right? Try “four square breathing.” With your index finger, trace a small square on your leg as you breathe in then out for four counts. Continue tracing the square as you breathe out through your mouth.
Color: Search the web for a free printable coloring page such as a mandala or an inspirational quote. Really take the time to intentionally trace each line and enjoy every color.
Walk: Grab a friend, a pet, or just yourself and take a mindful walk through nature. Pause for 10 seconds as you focus on the environment around you and allow your sense to be filled.
Stretch: Try a free yoga video. These are super easy, short videos that are meant for beginners.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to sort your “life trash”. We understand that life is messy. If you are finding it difficult to sort it alone and need someone to help you get started, our therapists are here to help. Through mindfulness-based strategies and a strengths-based approach, you can be on the road to feeling empowered to manage and navigate your personal stress. Book your free 15 minute session with Genevieve here.