Everyone has experienced stress and will continue to experience stress. The stress you might have felt from reading that statement is a result of psychological stress, one of the four basic sources of stress (more on that in a bit).
What exactly is stress?
While often cast in a negative light, stress is essentially the byproduct of any change that requires adaption. Changes that require you to adapt can include positive life events like falling in love, a promotion at work, or starting a new exercise program. However, some stressors in life, like constant demands for your time, can feel unmanageable and negatively influence your wellbeing.
While daily stressors, like deciding what to eat for dinner, can feel simple to handle on their own, stress has a cumulative effect—even the little things and the stress they cause all adds up. Unmanaged stress can be like death by a thousand cuts and puts people at risk for numerous of health issues like anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, heart disease, and weight gain.
The 4 Basic Sources of Stress
The four basic sources of stress are environmental, social, physiological, and psychological.
Environmental stressors include the weather, traffic, pollution, and pollens.
Social stressors include competing demands for your time, interpersonal relationships, and financial concerns.
Physiological stressors include nutrition, sleeping, and health concerns.
Psychological stressors include the brains interpretation of complex changes that are real or imagined as dangerous or not threats.
What You Can Do to Manage Stress
There are endless creative and fun ways to manage stress. Here are three techniques that you can try today to get you started on managing your stress!
1. Body Awareness Journal
The first step to managing your stress is to recognize how your body reacts and holds on to it. The body remembers even when the mind might forget or not know. For instance, if you are a sleep eater, you might not cognitively remember eating a whole container of ice cream, but your physical body remembers and will breakdown and utilize those calories.
For this exercise, it is best to get a journal that's small and easy to carry around. If you have never listened to your body, it will be challenging at first to notice what your body is saying. If your body has nothing to say, this is actually informative and good to note. It might mean that your body has been ignored for so long it has forgotten how to speak. Like learning a new language, give yourself patience and just be a witness to your experience.
Start by journaling three times a day: when you wake up, mid-day, and right before bed. You can start by writing just a sentence or two (e.g. “Woke up at 6:30 am with my left arm feeling numb and some stiffness in my neck.”) Do not worry that what you are writing is “perfect,” this tool is to help you learn the language of your body and build awareness in your body.
2. Notice the Breath
Breath is a fundamental part of life and often ignored or taken for granted. Breathing is part of the autonomic nervous system. In translation, we do not have to think about breathing for it to happen. This is a good so we do not have to spend every conscious moment reminding ourselves to breathe.
The autonomic nervous system splits into two systems commonly referred to as fight-flight-freeze and rest-digest. Chronic stress puts the body in a stuck state of fight-flight-freeze. Luckily, it is not possible for the body to be both tense of relaxed. Therefore, noticing the breath and slowing the breath helps the body shift into rest and digest mode. This is an extremely valuable tool because it is free, accessible at all time, and easy to use.
For this exercise, try simply breathing in air through both nostrils and exhale air out of the mouth. Try this 5 times at your own pace. To add on, try inhaling for a count of 3 and exhaling for a count of 6. After you are comfortable with that breath count, try inhaling and exhaling through just the nose. After a few more weeks, if you would like, try alternate nostril breathing, known in yoga as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
3. Make 'Me Time' a Non-Negotiable
One of the best ways to manage stress is to make time to take care of yourself. A common reason people do not take care of themselves is that they are the last thing on their care list. Your brain is exhausted by the time you think about taking care of you.
You might have the conscious awareness that taking time to read will make you feel better, or that you want to go to your favorite yoga class but actually doing something for yourself feels impossible. This is due to a phenomenon known as decision fatigue, where in essence, you run out of mental steam to make any decision and the decisions you make deteriorate in quality. For example, this is the reason why online shoppers make more impulse purchases at night.
Do yourself a long-term and long-overdue favor and schedule in a minimum of 15 minutes for you every single day. This can be broken up into three 5-minute check-ins if needed. Whatever it is, make it a daily dose. Take it in bite-sized pieces to make it a habit.
If you realistically only allot yourself 5 minutes a day, own that time as completely yours. The hope is that you notice you deserve 15 minutes of time and that you have permission to take a break. Reframe this time as your “me time” with no guilt or strings attached. While not all schedules allow this, try making it a routine where every day at the same time is you time!
Stress, known as eustress, can be good and motivate you to follow your dreams. However, chronic stress, an unmanaged and constant stress, is harmful for your overall wellbeing. Some other simple options to manage stress include progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and meditation.
If you have any recommendations on how you manage stress, please feel free to share them below, we would love to hear from you!
Image credit: Kate Swarm