What is stress?
Stress can be defined as something that leads to a feeling of overwhelm, anger, frustration, and other emotions caused by external and internal factors. In our modern world, stress is common. It’s important to find coping mechanisms that work for you when life stressors and circumstances happen.
What Causes Stress?
When we think of stress, the first thing that comes to mind is often stressful times, negative thoughts, depression, and high cortisol. However, there are also positive things in our life that can contribute to stress, for example: a new career or a newborn baby. While some things in life aren’t predictable, we can increase awareness and prepare ourselves for the events that are.
Life changes are a huge contributor to a broad range of emotions. For example, someone that is moving across the country to a new state. There’s the excitement and overwhelm from a new adventure, but concern and fear due to a lack of structure and not having the same support system.
Most of us have experienced a role change at work and jitters on our first day. A great example of positive and negative stress is when you find yourself stressed without a job, and then dealing with the stress of new responsibilities. Our workplace can also cause stress if you are lacking the proper work-life balance, guidance, or clear expectations.
Family obligations are something most humans have to learn to navigate and balance. You may experience some level of stress around planning for family events, caring for a sick loved one, or running your children to practice after work. Whether it's growing up or creating your own family, setting boundaries can also cause internal and external stress for some.
When you aren’t getting enough sleep you’re more likely to not be productive during the day, unmotivated to workout, and generally fatigued. There are also studies showing that a stressful work week can lead to increased restlessness, and cause more sleep difficulties. This can quickly lead to a vicious cycle if you don’t put a plan in place to improve your routine.
What is Positive vs. Negative Stress?
When discussing stress, you may hear the words eustress and distress. Eustress is a positive form of stress, while distress is a negative form.
It’s not that simple though -- each person handles and perceives stress differently. When someone is stressed, we imagine scenarios such as divorce, financial stress, job loss, a new home, marriage, loss of a family member, a new job. It’s very important to remember that negative and positive stressors can also be caused by internal thoughts, habits, and behaviors.
How Can I Manage Stress?
It's important to find healthy coping mechanisms that work for you to help manage your stressors. People respond differently to methods that help manage stress. Take time to explore the tips listed below and begin incorporating them into your daily routine.
1. Prioritize the Things that Really Matter
Prioritizing the things that matter most to you will allow balance in your life. If you currently struggle with prioritizing these things, think about the top 10 things or people that bring you joy and create a feeling of fulfillment. Failure to prioritize the things that really matter to you can lead to chronic stress in life.
2. Make To-Do Lists
Making a to-do list is a great coping mechanism for managing daily stressors. One thing that can increase your productivity and the effectiveness of making to-do lists is by having a “brain dumping” session. You can incorporate a “brain dumping” session in the mornings by listing all the tasks and things that are on your mind. Now, prioritize these from most important to least important. Once you’ve done this, focus on the top 3 and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are completed.
3. Avoid Multitasking
Do you find that your brain or browser constantly has multiple tabs open? If you feel overwhelmed during your day at work or at home, we recommend being mindful of your multitasking tendencies.
Here are a few recommendations to limit multitasking at work and throughout the day through technology:
- Explore the “focus mode” on your iPhone and set designated times to complete tasks you need to get done without phone calls, messages, or notifications coming through.
- Try out certain extensions like Blocksite, which blocks distracting sites on your computer, or Momentum that prompts your focus for the day and offers a simple home page.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is necessary for you to function throughout the day feeling refreshed. It’s recommended that you sleep for seven to nine hours every night. Those of us that struggle to get this many hours may feel feelings of stress, depression, irritability, and impaired judgment.
Many Americans struggle with this and research shows that the more stressed you are, the more your sleep will struggle. If you want to start working towards improving your sleep, start by increasing your sleep by 60-90 minutes per night. According to The American Psychological Association, this is the amount needed to see Americans happier, healthier, and safer.
5. Eat Well
Chronic mental and emotional stress can lead to heart disease, depression, high blood sugar, increased blood pressure, anxiety, and more. We must focus on improving the coping mechanisms for stress and limiting the effects that stress has on our bodies.
Research shows that those that consume more fruit and vegetables have ten percent lower stress levels than those who don’t. This is likely due to the fact that fruits and vegetables provide our bodies with the proper nutrients needed to function at their best. The American Heart Association recommends consuming four servings of fruit daily and five servings of vegetables.
6. Be Mindful
Many sources online discuss how we make an average of 35,000 decisions daily. Although these decisions differ in the level of importance and effect they have on our life, they can lead to feeling overwhelmed and what we often refer to as decision fatigue.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to monitor your thoughts, focus on the present moment, and decrease your body’s response to stress. There are many studies that have been reviewed by the American Psychological Association showing a decrease in anxiety, depression, addiction, smoking, and overall stress. There are great apps that can be beneficial for your mental health and feature daily and on-demand meditations like Headspace, Peloton, Calm, and many more.
You may have also heard of mindful eating, this allows you to focus on the food you are eating, how you feel, the taste, smell, and more without coming from a place of judgment. One of the easiest ways to start implementing mindfulness around food is by eliminating all distractions while eating.
7. Take Breaks
Have you ever gone on a walk during your work day and felt recharged after? Taking breaks during the day can be a very healthy coping mechanism for stress. When under pressure to meet a deadline, you may find yourself skipping your lunch break or eating at your desk.
Breaks at work can allow time to recharge, refocus, incorporate physical activity, or be provided social support from coworkers. Try taking a 15 minute break at work to increase your productivity, decrease your stress levels, and prevent burnout.
8. Spend Time Doing What You Enjoy
Are you guilty of letting the days slip away and before you know it, you haven’t been able to go do any of your favorite things? You might find yourself craving a day to explore, paint, hike, snowboard, or get a facial.
We all have things that leave us feeling rejuvenated and capable of conquering the world. It can be a weekend trip to the mountains or a walk around the block in the middle of the day for sun exposure. It’s important to schedule these things into your schedule and use them as a tool for stress management. So, here’s your sign to go sign up for that class, activity, or trip you’ve been placing on the back burner.
9. Confide In a Loved One
We all need someone to confide in when we are dealing with emotions. You may find yourself calling a certain individual when something good happens, and another person when you are dealing with depression or negative thoughts.
You should always keep a mental or physical list of those you can turn to for social support. If you don’t have one of these individuals yet, search for a therapist you can build a relationship with and confide in.
10. Find Solutions to Your Stressors
It is no secret that having coping mechanisms for handling your stress is beneficial but it’s equally, if not more important to find a solution to the root cause of your stress. Stress stems from different sources in our life and can be brought on by ourselves and negative thoughts.
Coming from a place of awareness will allow you to notice when you are feeling stressed and identify what the trigger was for this feeling. Make a list of these triggers and identify key moments that could lead to this feeling. Is there something you change about your routines, response, habits, or lifestyle to decrease the trigger?
It’s also important to remove any judgment you have around seeking help -- having an unbiased individual help you is a great option.
11. Get More Exercise
Exercise offers a broad range of benefits, one of which is improving your mental health. Physical activity can help boost your self esteem by pushing past limits, being consistent, and even having a support system around you in group settings. Research shows that you can achieve a few hours of feeling calm after only 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Exercise can also be a great part of your stress management plan by offering you a break from your stressors throughout the day. While working out, your body also develops a better response to stress, thanks to the hormone changes that happen during physical activity.
When Should I Consult a Mental Health Professional?
Your mental health should be taken seriously and made a priority. There doesn’t need to be a reason or breaking point before seeking a consultation with a Mental Health Professional.
We recommend building a relationship with a practitioner and taking a proactive approach to your stress management plan. There are many various options when it comes to pricing, setting, and specialty. In recent years, there has been a conscious effort by providers to ensure mental health is affordable and available to everyone. You can get started by using Google or a local directory to find a person or virtual Mental Health Professional.
What Happens If I don't Use Coping Mechanisms for Stress?
We have covered multiple coping mechanisms for stress, but what happens if you don’t deal with it? Living in denial of your stress can lead to chronic stress and potential health concerns. Why live a life filled with negative thoughts, overwhelm, and stress?
Of course, we can never make stress non-existent but it’s beneficial to have tools that can help you navigate through stressful events and perceived stress.
Can Chronic Stress Harm your Health?
Stress is a trigger for many diseases and can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. Whether you live in an environment that is stressful or have a high stress job you are at a higher risk of developing health concerns.
There are numerous studies that show chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, high blood sugar, sleep troubles, frustration, irritability, fatigue and so much more -- that's why it's crucial to have your coping mechanisms for stress handy.
The Bottom Line
Stress comes from many places and is felt by each of us differently. There’s many levels to stressors and the impact that they can have on our lives. It is important to minimize stress and identify triggers to have an effective stress management plan.
We are big advocates of optimizing your health and wellness. That’s why we stress the importance of limiting our stressors, seeking professional help, and understanding coping mechanisms for stress.
Kayla Newnam See all the author’s articles