If you frequently feel stressed out, congratulations, you are part of the human race. We’re hardwired by evolution to experience stress. Hunger, desire, excitement and agitation are all forms of stress that compel us to act. The drive to survive is an itch that you can never fully scratch, and the status quo is insufficient at best. We know this as the human condition. Our approach to dealing with stress should be about management, not elimination. Reclaim your mental health with these seven strategies for managing stress.
Remember the Big Picture
Part of dealing with stress is keeping our struggles in perspective. While focusing on the present is incredibly rewarding and is an effective coping mechanism, keeping a long-term view is beneficial. You don’t keep your car in the lane by looking at the ground underneath; you stay on track by looking where you want to go. The next time you’re trying to deal with stress, ask yourself how much your present concerns will affect your long-term happiness a week, a month, or several years down the road. It’s not easy to do in the moment, but with practice, you can learn to face temporary concerns with a healthy amount of detached objectivity.
Don’t Neglect the Present Moment
Focusing on the present is an effective strategy for dealing with stress. Once you see the big picture and what you want to accomplish, the scale of a complex goal can be daunting. When you’re overwhelmed, focusing on the current task can reduce the stress you feel when taking on a challenging project. Sometimes, you need to see the big picture. Sometimes, you should focus on the present. These aren’t absolute rules, but tools to deal with stress.
Exercise, Eat Well and Sleep
A powerful strategy for reprogramming your response to stress, exercise releases endorphins that promote feelings of well-being. Exercising in the morning, your body’s equivalent of making the bed, creates a feeling of accomplishment that helps you deal with stress all day. Increasingly, research shows how a balanced diet promotes a healthy gut biome affecting your body chemistry at the level of mood regulation, enhancing your ability to deal with stress. Finally, get enough sleep. Nothing else will help if you aren’t sleeping well.
De-stress in Ways That Support Your Goals
We’ve all taken refuge in our favorite ice cream, or hit the bars with friends after a difficult week. Indulging in food, alcohol or becoming comatose in front of the TV can be enticing. If you’re like most people and regret usually outweighs your temporary satisfaction, try to replace those indulgences with positive ways of dealing with stress. Exercising, practicing a hobby with friends, meditating, reading for pleasure, keeping a journal, dancing or going to a comedy club are all positive ways you can de-stress.
Focus on What You Can Control
The problems of the world are important. Simply watching the news can be stressful, and no one wants to feel apathetic. However, if you’re stressing out about things that are outside of your control, you’re wasting energy. Focus on what you can control and your ability to address larger problems will grow.
Keep an Actively Positive Outlook
Staying positive doesn’t mean ignoring the things that cause you stress. It means recognizing that a positive outlook might be a crucial element in getting what you want. It means being proactive in your approach to problem solving and welcoming challenges. Don’t get discouraged; being positive takes practice!
Taking Responsibility is a Wonderful Thing
All debate about determinism notwithstanding, taking responsibility for your life just feels good. Nothing feels worse than being manipulated by forces out of your control. We’ve all been there: stuck in a loop of thoughts replaying the ways people in our lives have added to our difficulties. We also know how little those thoughts have helped us to bring positive change into our lives. The point of taking responsibility isn’t to absolve others of theirs; it’s to empower ourselves. You’ll be amazed at how taking agency over your own life will impact your ability to deal with stress.
As much as we all share the common experience of stress, nobody has lived your life. Sometimes, stress can feel a little overwhelming. Recognizing that everyone experiences it doesn’t reduces the importance of dealing with stress in our lives.
Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’re in the fortunate position of benefiting from time honored advice informed by modern behavioral science to help us learn how to deal with stress and take control of our own well-being.