Stress is a part of our everyday lives, whether it’s caused by something minor like oversleeping or a major event like losing a job. To some extent, it can even be useful as it spurs us into action and in some cases makes us much more efficient; for example, when you have a deadline looming at work.
But too much stress can be dangerous, and even fatal. Short term problems can include sleeplessness, stomach upsets, and headaches, but if it’s left unchecked it can lead to heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal problems, and a variety of mental health issues such as depression.
Stress itself is unavoidable, so it is vital to arm ourselves with ways to recognize it before it becomes a bigger problem, and methods to deal with it quickly and efficiently. These stress management techniques will allow you to manage it naturally, and once learned, these methods will stay with you for life, meaning stress need never be a problem again.
1. Turn the Noise Down
It’s funny how, when our stress levels rise, surrounding sounds suddenly seem to be much louder and add to the chaos in our minds. Try eliminating ambient noises – the office radio, for instance, or the TV at home – and if there is a lot of chatter going on, take yourself away from it for a few moments. This will allow you to slow your mind down and take stock without all the additional interference.
For longer-term stress management, though, having quiet time should become an integral part of your day. Switch off your phone, turn the TV off, and find a quiet place to just ‘be’. Letting your mind become still will go a long way towards bringing everyday stress levels down.
2. Manage Your Time
Time management is a crucial tool in your stress-busting toolkit and one that can change your life. Being able to compartmentalize your day will help you to complete tasks efficiently and afford you more time for leisure or simply relaxing. Try these tips for getting the most out of your day:
- Take stock of your time. When you look at how you spend your time honestly, you will be amazed at how many minutes and even hours are wasted doing things that could and should take half the time. Spend a week keeping track of where your time is spent, logging every activity, to see where your time is used efficiently and where it’s being wasted.
Once you have a clearer picture, you will be able to move things around to ensure you make the most of your day.
- Allocate each task a certain amount of time and stick to it. For instance, if your first task of the working day is checking your emails, allow yourself, say, 30 minutes – set a timer if you need to – and don’t go over that time. Once the time is up, move on to your next task.
- Plan your day. Before you switch off for the day, allow yourself a few minutes to plan the following day’s tasks. Write them down, allocate them a time allowance, and put them in order of importance.
Most people are more productive in the mornings, so assign the biggest and/or most critical jobs for the first few hours of the day to ensure you get them done and out of the way before you start to flag.
- Break jobs down into smaller tasks, and complete them one by one. Large tasks can seem daunting, but by breaking them down into manageable chunks, there is less stress on you and you will be able to complete each one more efficiently.
- Don’t let interruptions disrupt your work. Of course, there will be interruptions in your day – phone calls to answer, doors to open, deliveries to sign for – but always make sure you come back to your task and finish it before starting on your next one. Leaving jobs half-done can ramp up the stress levels, which will render you less efficient at doing subsequent tasks.
- Look at your schedule and make changes if necessary. If you find that you just don’t have enough time in the day, think about getting up earlier, or sacrificing your weekend lie-ins for a few extra hours, or using TV time for something more productive. Utilizing your time more constructively will alleviate the stress of rushing to fit everything into your hectic days.
- Be single-minded. It’s easy to get distracted by one thing when you’re working on another. If you’re the kind of person who will check emails in the middle of completing a spreadsheet, or making a phone call when you’re vacuuming, make a concerted effort to stop. Those jobs will still be there when you have finished the task in hand.
3. Be Assertive
If you’ve ever known the feeling of wanting to ask something, at work, or home, but you’ve been too nervous or afraid to make your request clear, you will know how much stress that can create.
Learn to be assertive by using some of these tactics:
- Keep the focus on you by using phrases like ‘I need…’ rather than ‘you always…’. That way, you are avoiding blaming someone else, which will put them on the defensive.
- Stay calm and don’t raise your voice. Assertiveness is not the same as aggression.
- Don’t apologize for whatever it is you’re asking for. Just state your request calmly with a simple ‘I need time off/help around the house/a babysitter’ and leave it at that. Trying to justify yourself for a perfectly reasonable request will tie you up in knots.
- Breathe. Trying to be assertive when your breathing is shallow and you’re nervous won’t work, so take a few moments before you make your request and practice some deep breathing. This will work like a mini-meditation and calm you down.
(Read this: 51 Self-Confidence Building Quotes)
4. Choose a Distraction
Sometimes the only way to ease stress is to forget about it, which sounds easier said than done but it is possible. Watch a movie, read a book, go for a long walk, or call a friend and just get out of your headspace. This can give you valuable time in which to slow down, get your thoughts in order, and come up with a solution to your problem or situation.
Meditation is a skill that everyone should master because the difference it can make to your life is incredible. By deep breathing and focusing your thoughts onto one thing, the often chaotic thinking that is caused by stress can be eliminated.
You can meditate anywhere – in the park, at your desk, or anywhere that you’re not going to be disturbed, but until you’re used to meditating it is best done at home. Even better, clear a corner of your room and use it as a dedicated space with candles, incense, and anything else that makes you feel relaxed.
There are many guided meditations online, and these are wonderful for inducing a deep sense of relaxation and calm using guided imagery. Once you get used to meditation then you will find it easy to achieve at any time, but for beginners, guided is the way to go.
6. Use Affirmations
The brain is a curious organ because it can’t tell fact from fiction – whatever thought is in your mind, the brain will perceive as a reality. Use this to your advantage at times of stress by thinking positive thoughts.
Affirmations can be general or aimed at one particular area of your life, but they are always positive and always spoken or thought of in the present tense – as if it is already happening.
Here are a few examples:
- I am relaxed and calm
- My mind is slowing down
- Calmness washes over me with every breath I take
- I am calm and relaxed in every situation
- I treat stressful situations as challenges
- I have everything needed to handle this situation
- I am confident in my abilities
- There are things I cannot change, and that is okay
- I choose to deal with this situation calmly because I know it will pass
You can use one or more of these affirmations whenever stress begins to build or repeat them every morning to get your day off to a positive start.
(Read this: 30 Day Positive Affirmation Challenge)
7. Perform a Body Scan
Body scanning is a technique that is used in many relaxation methods, from hypnotherapy to meditation. It’s a highly useful tool to have and is an effective way to understand the mind/body connection.
Find a quiet place where you can sit or lie comfortably, and take a few deep breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth.
Once you have slowed your breathing, use your mind to picture every part of your body in succession, and then mentally release any tension from that part of the body. For instance, start with your head, ‘feel’ any tension there, and then let it gently disappear. Move on to the neck and shoulders and do the same, until you have released all tension from head to toe.
Not only does this help you to relax, but it also focuses the mind on something other than the stressful situation you are in.
It might sound silly to remind you to breathe, but when you are stressed you tend to take shallow breaths which can be detrimental to both body and mind.
Shallow breathing creates a vicious circle – stress causes shallow breathing, and shallow breathing creates stress, keeping you in a perpetual state of anxiety. This type of habitual breathing can bring on panic attacks, and even more worryingly, make you susceptible to serious illness by lowering the white blood cells that are essential for our immune systems to work.
To practice deep breathing, lie on your back and place one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest. As you breathe in, keep your chest still and use your breath to make your tummy inflate. On the exhale, allow the tummy to pull back in, ensuring both your chest and shoulders stay relaxed and still.
Practice deep breathing every day, and before long it will become a habit that will not only enable you to better deal with stress but will also leave you healthier, too.
9. Get Moving
You don’t have to slog it out in the gym to gain stress relief from exercise. Almost anything, from running to weight-lifting to yoga can give you the same release thanks to the production of endorphins.
These happy hormones not only dull pain and act as a mild sedative (which will help you sleep), but they also lift the mood, a phenomenon known as a ‘runner’s high. Useful for warding off depression and anxiety as well as stress, exercise can also increase feelings of self-esteem, and the good news is, even a brisk walk – on your lunch break, for instance – will produce these same feelings.
Exercise also acts as a kind of meditation, keeping your mind focused on the task at hand rather than the stressful situation you are trying to resolve.
(Read this: 24 Motivational Quotes to Get Your Butt Moving)
10. It’s Good to Talk
Many people shy away from the idea of talking to a therapist, but the good news is, talking to anyone about your worries is a stress-reliever in itself. When you keep things bottled up they multiply until you can’t even think straight, but when you talk them through with a friend or family member it’s easier to put them in some kind of order.
Besides, getting another person’s perspective can often provide you with an angle you couldn’t see yourself because they can take a step backward and look at the problem from the outside.
11. Write Your Worries Down
If you can’t talk to someone else about the situation, it can also be useful to write it down. Just allow yourself to write whatever comes to mind – your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and obstacles, which takes the dilemma out of your head.
Putting pen to paper can also mean the difference between sleeping and not sleeping because you are effectively giving your worries somewhere else to go. Keeping a worry journal by your bed can also allow your jumbled thoughts to become more ordered, and allow you to find a solution before you go to sleep.
12. Learn to Say No
Agreeing to something you don’t want to do can cause resentment as well as frustration at yourself for not being able to say no, but it can be a really hard habit to break. Learning how to set boundaries is an essential way to prevent stress from building up unnecessarily.
For instance, if you had planned a Friday night in with take-out food and a good book, and your friend asks you to babysit, agreeing to the favor could completely spoil your own much-needed ‘me time’. Saying no to people isn’t being mean, it’s necessary for your peace of mind.
There are ways of saying no, though, which can make it easier for the other person. Of course, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, but these phrases can make it feel nicer for both of you.
- ‘Let me think about it and let you know.’ This gives you time to decide if you want to say yes or no without being put on the spot.
- ‘I’d love to but I can’t’. Saying no in this way tells them that you’re disappointed too, so you’re not saying no just for the sake of it.
- ‘Sadly I’ve already got plans.’ This shows them that you empathize at the same time as saying no.
- ‘I can’t make Friday but how about Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday instead?’ If you genuinely don’t mind helping them out but are just really looking forward to your Friday night in, offering to do it on another occasion leaves the door open for them to ask you again.
Saying no is an absolute necessity at times, otherwise you risk burnout and spreading yourself too thinly. It’s okay to guard your own free time, and anyone who cares about you will accept that and understand.
13. Take a Bath
There’s a reason people go to the spa when they need a break – it’s much needed time spent on themselves, which is something we should all do more often. But if you haven’t the means or the time to head for a health resort, turn your bathroom into a sanctuary instead.
Protect your space by informing housemates or family that you do not wish to be disturbed, then light some candles, pour a glass of wine, and ease yourself into a deep, hot bath infused with luxuriously-scented products.
Lavender is well-known for its relaxing properties, and if you use bath salts which also include Epsom salts, you will be able to detox and ease aching muscles at the same time. However, this is your time, so choose your favorite scent – whatever it is – and luxuriate in the soothing warmth for an hour or so. Read, listen to music, or simply meditate the stress away.
Managing stress is an absolute must, whether the source of it comes from work, family, or just everyday living. Work your way through these suggestions, or pick one or two that resonate the most with you and come back to the others later on.
(You may also like: How to Relieve Stress When You’re Seriously Stressed Out – 9 Easy Tools)