Living is inherently stressful, but how we manage it will determine the number and severity of the stress related symptoms we experience. Many people don’t recognize the symptoms or choose to ignore them. Stress related symptoms can be broken down into four major categories. These include:
- Sleep disturbance
- Change in appetite
- Muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Weight change
- Decreased sexual interest
- Increased substance (i.e., alcohol, drug) use
- Social isolation
- Conflict with others
These symptoms are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and you need to pay attention to them. Symptoms that are ignored ultimately lead to much more serious health problems. To reduce both stress related symptoms and the chances of developing these serious stress related disorders, try the following strategies.
Deep Breathing – When you are under stress, you tend to breathe both more quickly and more shallow. Taking slow deep breaths will induce the relaxation response. Breathe in and out to the count of four or five and you will begin to feel a sense of relaxation fill your mind and your body.
Other Relaxation Techniques – These include progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, deep muscle relaxation, imagery training, biofeedback, and self-hypnosis.
Develop a Calm Focus – Focus on something in your environment that is pleasant, beautiful, or calming. This could be something visual such as a painting, tree, or flower or it could be something that stimulates your other senses such as a pleasant smell or taste. Experience fully whatever it is you are focusing on.
Focus on the Positive – A lot of stress is created by focusing on the negative in the world around you or in your own life. Train yourself to look for the positive. For example, take inventory each day of what went right, rather than focusing on the problems you had or mistakes you made.
Reduce or Eliminate Stimulants – Two of the most commonly used stimulants are caffeine and nicotine. If stress is an issue for you, then reducing or eliminating these substances from your body will go a long way toward reducing your stress level.
Be Realistic – Lots of stress comes from trying to control events or people you can’t control, or by not controlling those things within your control. If the stressor is under your control, develop a plan to overcome it. If it is not, learn to accept it rather than experience the frustration comes from trying to change it.
Positive Affirmations – What we say to ourselves has an impact on our stress levels and our perception of being able to cope. Change those aspects self-talk based on fear or anxiety rather than fact. Replace them with realistic self-statements and practice daily positive affirmations.
Live in the Now – Much of our stress is created by living in the past or worrying about the future. Develop a ”one-day-at-a-time” mind set, since you can only really control the present anyway.
Keep a Journal – Instead bottling up your feelings and thoughts express them in a journal, which will provide a sense of relief and could serve as the first step in a more problem-solving process to resolving underlying issues.
Laugh – Laughter is considered one of the best medicines for stress. Seek out humorous books, TV shows, movies or life situations that will bring humor into your life. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and your mistakes.
Get Support – One of the best ways to combat stress is to develop and rely on a support system. Whether family, relatives or friends, talking to any of these people is a great way to minimize stress.
Health Eating – Although most people today realize that our diet has a big impact on our physical health, fewer people are aware of how much it affects our resistance to stress. Eating a healthy and well balanced diet is like giving ourselves an immunity to stress.
Manage Your Time – A major source of stress for many people is being over-committed limiting the time available for rest and relaxation. Develop a reasonable schedule, which includes both productive activity and fun or relaxing activities, can significantly reduce stress.
Be Physically Active – Exercise and other physical activity can both significantly reduce stress and prevent the negative effects of stress. Exercise releases endorphins into your blood stream, which produces a natural ”high” that leaves you calmer and less stressed.
Find Solitude – Time on your own is an important strategy to manage your stress. This is particularly true if your day is filled with a lot of contact with other people.
Confront Rather Than Ignore – As a short-term solution to stress, many people simply try to ignore life problems. Unfortunately, problems you ignore tend to get worse over time Problem-solving is a skill that develops with practice, so refine your skill.
Take Control – Learn to express your feelings, values, and beliefs openly and honestly, in a way that respects the rights of others. This particularly applies if you have difficulties saying no to other people and become overwhelmed with tasks that you don’t really want to take on.
Slow Down – As society’s pace continues to increase, step back and slow down the pace of your life. Slowing down can actually increase our performance and enjoyment of the work we do.
Spirituality – Developing a spiritual life can help reduce stress in a number of ways. Spirituality can help you deal with some of the more existential questions about life. As well, prayer or meditation can have a relaxing effect on the body.