Stress is an inevitable part of life, but how you manage it can make a difference in your overall well-being.
Stress can push us to perform at peak levels or it can serve as a stumbling block. Too much stress can also hinder our ability to perform at our best. However, by learning how to effectively manage stress, we can make improvements to our overall quality of life. Here are a few strategies that may help you leverage stress and create more serenity.
1. Plan for prevention
We often think about stress management as purely reactive. By creating a daily and/or weekly plan to control stress, you can build up your ability to manage stress before it happens.
2. Build a buffer
A healthy lifestyle is a great defense against stress. Studies show that by creating a healthy lifestyle, stress buffering (how much we can handle) improves. When lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep, healthy eating and regular physical activity are in place, your body and your mind are better able to handle stress.
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3. Know your red flags
When we experience stress, our bodies and minds show the signs. By increasing awareness of your stress signals, you can be more responsive when stress happens. Knowing your early warning signs is the first step to actively engaging in stress management.
4. Identify your stressors
Active stress management starts by taking a close look at all of the things that cause stress in our lives. While this may sound straightforward, sometimes the outcome is surprising. By taking a closer look at our habits, we may identify situations and conditions in which we can exert more control, thus managing stress more effectively. For example, you may be aware that traffic is stressful, but you may not have connected the dots on how chronically leaving the house five to 10 minutes late is contributing to greater stress.
5. Focus on what you can do
When we’re stressed, we often get caught up in things that are beyond our control. Instead of focusing on circumstances that you can’t change or influence, direct your energy toward what is within your power to change. Start by thinking about how you can manage your time differently, set short-term goals that move you toward what you want and take steps toward improving your self-care routine.
6. Kick back and relax
By participating in relaxation activities, we turn down the sympathetic (stress) response by stimulating parasympathetic (relaxation) response. Find activities that are deeply relaxing to you and incorporate them into your routine. Meditation, journaling, listening to music, visualization and stretching are a few examples of relaxation activities.
You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. In fact, some research suggests that it has benefits to the cardiovascular system and mood. Find a friend who has a knack for telling good jokes or watch funny cat videos on social media — whatever makes you laugh is your best medicine.
8. Have face time with a friend
Face-to-face interaction counteracts the sympathetic response, reducing our stress naturally. Connecting with a friend and sharing any challenges you may be facing can be deeply calming and it may strengthen the bond between you. Building and maintaining a network of friends can also improve your resilience when life’s stressors build up.
9. Take a deep breath
When all else fails, take a deep breath. Deep diaphragmatic breathing turns on the parasympathetic response by stimulating the vagus nerve. Breathing deeply can be a great strategy in an acute moment of stress because you can do it just about anywhere. Try taking slow, rhythmic belly breaths at a rate of about five to six breaths per minute to deepen your relaxation.
When you take steps to manage your stress, you are also taking steps to improve your health and quality of life. Additionally, you can improve immune function, focus and boost your energy. Remember, just a small investment in creating serenity can result in big returns for your health and happiness.
by Marissa Marchioni, OTD, OTR/L
If your stress is getting to a level you are unable to handle and nothing else is working, reach out to your primary care physician for help. If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800)USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.