When you feel stressed, it's uncomfortable. Physically and emotionally just. plain. uncomfortable. Like, I'm going to crawl out of my skin and scream. Ok you get the point. We all want quick and easy ways to feel better, am I right?
Most people that I've met in my work as a therapist have already tried so many things and one of the most common things that I hear in my practice is, "I've tried EVERYTHING. NOTHING works. That's why I'm here to see you". While I don't doubt that my clients have tried all the tools in their toolbox, I have some tips that may make stress reduction and management more effective. Here are 5 EASY (I promise they're easy) ways to manage your stress in the moment.
1. Being in the moment. Put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, turn off the music. Do you hear that? *Crickets* What a rare opportunity. When you feel stressed, chances are you are also overstimulated. Our world moves fast and our attention is completely divided throughout the day. Whether you are at work, school, or home you're torn between moving from one task to the next, often only half-completing tasks. Slow it down. This isn't a meditation practice per se, but rather allowing yourself the gift of doing nothing, it's a mindfulness activity. You DO have time to do nothing. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever you are able to do. Your tasks will be there when you're done. In these moments, just notice the world around you. Do you hear a breeze? Do you see the shadows hit the walls from the light shining through your windows? Maybe you hear your family in the other room. This moment is for you.
2. Breathe. I'm not trying to be facetious here. When you feel stress or anxiety, one of the most common symptoms is shortness of breath. It may not be as obvious as experiencing a panic attack where you feel as though you cannot catch your breath, although this can happen if the anxiety gets serious enough. You may not even notice it's happening until you take a deep inhale in. Breathing is an automatic human survival mechanism for most healthy people and it can also be controlled and adapted voluntarily. Pretty cool. Effective breathing techniques for stress reduction actually take practice and control. Let's try it.
You can try this exercise sitting in a chair or even lying down on your back, whatever is more comfortable for you. Take a deep slow inhale in through your nose for 4 seconds. Fill your lungs with air and notice your belly pushing out. It helps to visualize your belly pushing out as this really helps you get the most air capacity into your lungs. Now hold your breath in for 3-4 seconds. And slowly breathe the air out of your lungs through your mouth, letting your belly sink back in 1, 2, 3, 4. Try this technique 4-5 times in a row and then notice how your body and mind are responding.
3. Ask for Support. Ok, maybe this one isn't easy. It takes a lot of strength to ask for support
. When you are stressed, chances are you have a lot going on whether it's tasks that need to be completed, or life circumstances stressing you out. Jobs, family, social pressures, high standards, medical issues - life is stressful. And you don't have to do it all on your own. Being "strong", "working through it", "getting over it", "sucking it up" may be a temporary solution that can lead to increased stress, resentment, anger, or feeling that you're going to collapse.
What is in YOUR control? What can be changed? Thinking tends to become more rigid as stress increases. For example, "I have to do EVERYTHING", "NO ONE can/will help me". If your feeling stretched at home because you are taking on cleaning the house, making dinner, changing diapers, feeding the dog, grocery shopping (you get the idea), what can be delegated? Does everything have to be done right now? No. Asking your Partner or family members to help out can really take some stress off. At work if your employer has unrealistic expectations of deadlines, projects, task completions, can you ask other co-workers for support? Or can you talk to your employer about what is realistic for you? You do have options, it just takes a little slowing down and thinking some things through. Other options are to seek help from a therapist, physician, hotline, a neighbor. And remember, if you ask for help or if help is offered - take it, accept it.
4. Be kind to yourself. With so much pressure in the world to achieve, be "perfect", be "independent", to do it all, practice kindness toward yourself. When I hear my clients say, "I should've done this better", "I can't do anything right", or "I have so much to do, I'll never get it all done" I can see the sadness in their faces. If you had a friend or family member who was overwhelmed and breaking under the pressures of stress, what kind words could you say to them? What would it take to say those words to yourself? Be gentle to yourself. Use compassionate words. Talk to yourself (it's ok to say this out loud) "I'm feeling stressed out right now, and I know that things will get better". "You're being hard on yourself, you're doing the best that you can". "I need to take a moment to re-charge". "Take it easy".
5. Laugh. Things sure don't seem funny when you're stressed do they? Of course not, there's too much that needs to be done, you think I have time to laugh!? I get it, life throws real curveballs sometimes and it can really be hard to see the silver lining during the challenging moments. If you can change your present mood, even for just a moment to laugh - ok even crack a smile - you would be surprised at how your stress levels and mood are impacted. There is actually research out there that suggests if you hold a pencil lengthwise between your teeth to "force" a smile, people perceive things as more humorous and smiling may help reduce a person's stress response. Pretty cool right? (Go ahead and try it).
The key to all of these techniques is to practice them. Practicing these 5 things with some regularity can really help reduce the signs of stress. Take control of that stress, don't let it control you. You deserve to feel better and I hope you believe that.