This is a great question especially as we are now experiencing such high levels of stress and anxiety as a society. Stress can be addressed many ways and definitely needs attending to before it has major physical and emotional impacts on the system such as fatigue, back pain, ulcers, hypertension, headaches & migraines, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, low immunity and of course the general ‘can’t be bothereds'!
First, things that don't work: Having an alcoholic drink to take the edge off. This can lead to multiple physical impacts on the system but ultimately it will only lead to drinking more alcohol. Having a cup of coffee as a time-out. One cup a day may be ok as a time-release however if you are consuming four or more cups of coffee a day you are putting more stress on your internal organs than you realise.
Some people use what is commonly referred to as ‘retail therapy’. This leads to impulse buying which often leads to financial difficulties and also feelings of guilt. Overeating is another common inadequate form of stress management. For obvious reasons overeating leads to major health and self esteem problems. We often crave sweet foods, such as chocolate or lollies, when we are stressed. Some research has explained that this prompts the body to release endomorphins which dull pain. They therefore have the potential to act as a buffer against stress however long term this will cause other health problems.
Smoking has obvious detrimental impacts on your health and gambling which is another common form of stress management can lead to financial difficulties as well as interpersonal problems and emotional distress.
So, what does work. Firstly assessing what are the major causes of your stress is a good start. While we can't prevent the demands of our workplace, acknowledging it as a stressor may help you start to look at where you can make changes, tiny changes to start with that might help.
Things like giving yourself a finish time at work. A time when you close the computer down, turn off the lights and actually go home is a big change for some people. Sometimes looking at workloads and seeing what can be delegated to someone else to do is a good idea. Remember that when you delegate, let go, you don't need to be hovering over someone else to make sure they do it well or the way you would do it. Otherwise you may as well not delegate.
Personal or family stressors are common. Sometimes it is essential to work out what you do control and what you don't control. Worrying about loved ones especially children is common. Using a good sounding board like a trusted friend or professional to work out if it is realistic to worry or what strategies you can try to intervene can help.
There are huge links between physical and mental health and so eating well, drinking water, cutting down on sugars and introducing some form of physical activity is great. The physical activity needs to be regular and aerobic in nature. So going for a walk (not a stroll), running, bike riding, swimming can make a big difference. This exercise should help improve your sleep.
If sleep is a problem practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques before bed helps as well as establishing a regular bed time routine and reducing the number of electrical equipment in your bedroom. Regular meditation not only relaxes you but also helps you watch your thoughts so that you don't get caught up in thought jumping, or rumination or catastrophising - when your thoughts take to you to the worst case scenario.
Laughter is a great stress buster. So get with friends and have a good laugh. This usually provides immediate relief and can be more beneficial than a massage or a hot bath. Laughter takes us out of ourselves. Teaching us not to take life too seriously, that life does have a lighter side if we are open to seeing it. Pets, hobbies and nature can often provide great relief as well.
The ultimate stress buster is to stay present. Be aware of when your mind is taking your focus and attention away from what you are actually doing at this very present moment and taking you back to another time that was upsetting or demanding on you. Practice, or get help, to understand Mindfulness practices that will keep you present and give pleasure to everyday activities and relationships.
If you find you have consistently applied most of the above and your stress is still climbing you may need to get professional support. A good psychologist or counsellor will be able to help you unpack what is causing you stress and how to deal with it when it isn't there in front of you but still pushing around in your head.
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