Don’t Stress! 8 Healthy Ways to Use Stress to Empower Rather Than Paralyze You
Learn how to let go of stress with these 8 strategies. Don’t let stress wear you down. Stress is a part of life, and it’s important to learn how to deal with it. When you’re stressed, it’s easy to feel powerless. But the truth is, stress can be a great motivator if you use it right. The key is to moderate it so that it motivates but doesn’t paralyze you. So instead of looking at stress as an enemy, consider it a potential friend. Let’s look at some ways to manage stress and use it to help you move forward, rather than keeping you stuck in one place or immobilized by fear.
1. Don’t Stress and Take a minute to breathe
Breathing properly is one of the most effective stress-management strategies there is, and it works quickly. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and relaxation” component, and helps counter your body’s stress response. Changing the way you breathe can help you relax and better manage stress.
Practice this technique:
Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit or lie down comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths to relax.
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose until your hand rises, then let it out in a slow sigh through pursed lips once it reaches its peak. Focus on how your body feels during this process — try to notice the movement of your chest rising and falling with each breath. Breathing should be slow, deep, and regular.
Repeat this exercise for about five minutes every day for several weeks until you feel comfortable doing it without too much effort or concentration.
2. Don’t let it wear you down and identify what’s stressing you out and confront it head-on
One of the most effective and healthy ways to confront stress is to identify the source of your stress and deal with it rather than run away from it. The latter just causes more stress because the problem still exists.
The first step to handling stress is to find the source of your stress, and then figure out how to manage it. You might need to ask for help from a co-worker or friend, or take some time off to catch up on sleep or just relax.
Is there anything that can be done immediately? Do you need more information? Are there other factors involved? Then put together an action plan: write down what needs to be done and when and by whom (including yourself). Stick with it and watch your stress levels drop.
3. Don’t stress and get moving
When you feel stressed out, it’s natural to want to take a break. But sometimes, stress can be so overwhelming that even taking a break isn’t an option. In these instances, physical activity including yoga, is a great way to manage your stress and get your mind off of things.
Physical activity helps relieve stress because it:
• Increases blood flow, which reduces anxiety and fatigue
• Decreases levels of adrenaline and cortisol (the hormone associated with the fight or flight response), which helps you return to a relaxed state
• Boosts “feel good” chemicals called endorphins that relieve pain and create feelings of calmness.
Try some of these activities if you need motivation:
• Take long walks outside in nature or on the beach. Walk slowly and mindfully.
• Go swimming or cycling outside if you have access to those resources nearby, or attend local yoga classes for some added mindfulness training techniques.
• Moving your body and breaking out of your normal routine can help break the stress cycle, especially if you step out into nature.
4. Try progressive relaxation or mindfulness
If you’re feeling stressed, try progressive relaxation or mindfulness. Progressive relaxation is a technique that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups to help reduce tension. It’s like massage therapy, in that it can be effective at reducing stress and anxiety.
Learn how to meditate to reduce your stress and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation is another great way to combat stress by focusing on your breathing and experiencing the present moment without judgment. Set aside 15 minutes each day for progressive relaxation or mindfulness meditation to see if it lowers your stress level. You can find instructions for how to meditate online.
5. Change your attitude about stress.
When you have a stressful day, remember that stress is just a normal part of life. It can be good or bad depending on the situation and how you approach it.
This is when your body and brain are working efficiently to help you deal with an emergency (e.g., running from a tiger) or doing something that requires extra effort (e.g., exercising). This type of stress helps you perform better at tasks by stepping up the production of adrenaline and cortisol, which give us energy and focus, respectively.
If this “good” reaction occurs too often or lasts too long without a break, you can become burned out. The key is to give yourself breaks from stress by stepping out into nature, meditating, or doing yoga.
Stress isn’t all bad. It can be useful, even essential: it can help you get things done when you’re trying to accomplish something big. Stress can also provide a sense of urgency that motivates you to keep going and see things through. Once you reframe stress in this manner, it becomes more of an asset than a threat. The key is to step away and give your body a break, so good stress doesn’t turn into bad.
6. Don’t stress and look at the big picture
If you’re feeling stressed, try to look at the big picture. Ask yourself, “What’s going on right now?” and then ask yourself, “What is this moment part of?”
Take a step back and consider how this situation fits into your life as a whole. You might be in an unpleasant moment or two right now, but it won’t last forever. If you feel like your problems are temporary, they may not seem so overwhelming after all.
7. Focus on one thing at a time
Learn how to manage your expectations. Start small and work your way up. Don’t try to do everything at once. If someone asks for feedback about a presentation, don’t immediately jump into giving them tips on every aspect of their performance. Instead, focus on one element that stood out in particular and offers advice based around improving just that area.
8. Practice self-care
If your stress levels are too high for too long, your body and mind will start to suffer. If this happens repeatedly, it becomes impossible for your body to recover its strength or energy levels before the next stressful event comes along (and there’s always another one coming).
To prevent burnout from becoming an issue in your life — and especially when dealing with high-pressure projects at work — practice self-care. Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet, prioritizing sleep, and taking breaks where you “get away from it all.” If work is stressing you out, take regular vacation days. Getting away from it all is a reboot for your brain and can help you be more productive.
Redefine stress as a source of empowerment rather than paralysis and take charge of your mental health. Stress isn’t all bad if you learn healthy ways manage it.