Ah stress. That pesky little thing that many of us seem to not be able to get a handle on. Whether you’re stressed from trying to get your kids out the door and to school on time, working to meet a deadline at work, finances or preparing for coronavirus, we can get so stressed that we feel like we are drowning. This is a topic that I personally struggle with and am always looking for ways to ‘zen out’.
April is Stress Awareness Month and this is a cause I can definitely get behind. According to The American Institute of Stress: About 33% of people report feeling extreme stress, 77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health and 73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health. There are (obviously) a lot of different reasons we get stressed — many of which are out of our control.
We’ve all heard the quote “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Here are some tips to help you manage what gets thrown your way.
Let it go
If you find yourself stressing over something that you have very little control of, in the words of Frozen — “let it go, let it goooo” (apologies if this song is now stuck in your head). But truly, if we are unable to control something that is causing us stress, those curveballs that are thrown our way, shift your mentality and trust that whatever the outcome is, you will be able to get through it. Little things like not checking your bank account before you get to sleep at night can help you to get a better nights sleep if finances are causing you stress.
We live in an older house and one of the little nuances that comes with it is the water temperature. At least three times per week I find myself enjoying my shower only to have someone flush the toilet in the other bathroom, causing my glorious alone time in the shower to lead to physical stress as I stand under a freezing cold stream of water. I have started making a gratitude list, especially when situations like this arise. So now instead of yelling out at whoever forgot to not flush while someone is showering, I start listing things I am grateful for like having water to shower whenever I want, having nice bath products to be able to use in the shower, etc.
Gratitude lists work for pretty much any situation. If you focus on what you’re able to do or get to do on a daily basis, it causes a complete mental shift in whatever you’re facing.
This goes along the same lines as letting go. I remember the time where it seemed like I had everything under control — the laundry, the house, work, commitments, being SO organized. But I’ve had to let go and ask for help (although I still can’t let go of the towels being folded a certain way, ha!). So now when I open my closet after asking my husband to help hang clothes as I fold the rest, I take a deep breath knowing that I will have to thumb through every hanger because gone are the days of having shirts organized by sleeve length, or dresses and skirts having their own section — and it is ok.
If you’re finding yourself in that perpetual feeling of hoping things calm down ‘after this week’, give yourself permission to delegate tasks so you can find more time to do the things that bring some calm into your day.
Breathing is one of the best things to focus on in stressful situations. A friend of mine recently introduced me to the 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath.” It involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. This breathing pattern aims to reduce anxiety and can also help you get to sleep. I have used it countless times when I am finding myself wound up with stress or anxiety and after 4 or 5 rounds of doing this, I feel so much more calm and relaxed.
You can also learn to meditate or use resources like the Calm app (there is even a free trial!).
Exercise produces endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improves the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Aim to move throughout your week. The latest guidelines suggest 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Find something that makes you happy. If running isn’t your thing — find a local class to go to. Being around others in a fitness atmosphere can be so fulfilling and fun.
Finding ways to reduce stress can be a little bit of trial and error, but hopefully, these tips can help you to find some calm in your day. And as always, if you are having trouble coping, reach out to someone — a friend, partner, licensed mental health counselor. You don’t have to hide, there are so many people out there who want to help you.