learn how to manage stress and chill out like a pro

Learn how to manage stress and chill out like a pro

Stress. That dreaded word that we hear more and more. We know that too much is bad for us. We know it’s associated with chronic diseases, reduced immunity, poor sleep and weight gain. Unfortunately, that only seems to make the stress even more stressful!

What’s the solution then? As the research suggestions, mindset and planning is critical:

  1. Remind yourself that stress is not inherently bad. In fact, moderate stress helps people to perform and feel better. Wow, there can actually be an upside to stress!!
  2. Train yourself to manage it effectively. This article covers strategies and tips to turn yourself into a ninja at managing stress.

A perceived stressful event results in the stress response – the body adapts to deal with the stress: heart and breathing rate increase to pump that blood around the body, energy stores are mobilised and the stress hormones are free flowing. The body priorities survival and conserves energy for the less immediately vital processes, like digestion and reproduction.

When this stress response becomes over activated, it simply isn’t good for you. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol are associated with many chronic diseases, weight gain and ill health.

However, some stress, in the right dose, can be great. Think about physical stress when you’re working out. It can be a stress trying to lift heavier weights or run at a faster pace. But once you’ve done it, as well as it feeling amazing, you know that you can do more. You grow in your strength, stamina, endurance, capabilities. Think about when you’ve had to learn something new. Again, it can be a stress, especially when it’s not straight forward! But once you’ve learnt it, you grow in sense of mastery, capabilities and confidence and feel bloomin great!

So firstly, reframe the way you see stress. If you see it as something positive, your experience will likely be more positive. Additionally, if you see it as something you can deal with you’re likely to feel more in control and therefore actually perceive there to be less stress. How you feel, your overall mood and wellbeing will influence your experience of stress. Ever noticed how when you’re feeling on top of the world, stresses barely seem to occur?

Train yourself

Most things we do in life, we practise. Whether that’s brushing our teeth or learning things at school or in our job. However, stress isn’t one of them. Yet it is something that affects all of us and is pretty complex. We all handle stress differently, we all respond differently, and the type of stress may affect us differently. There are 4 components to becoming a pro at managing stress:

Reducing / eliminating stress

If it’s not necessary, don’t do it. Learn to say no! Often stress is associated with a perception of lack of time. Therefore, eliminate anything you don’t need to do. Secondly, stress can be associated with doing activities or spending time with people that we don’t really want to. Here is an opportunity to either reframe the way that you look at it and commit to making a choice to do it, or, if this really isn’t something you want to do, then why do it?!

Relaxation

The mind and body are connected. If the body isn’t relaxed then the thinking won’t be relaxed, and vice versa. It’s helpful to build in regular practises to check in on relaxation levels. Hourly, daily, weekly. Every hour or so, try checking in on your breathing and see how you’re feeling. See what your breathing is doing and focus on 10 deep breaths in and out. Then do a 2 min body scan from head to toes. Are you holding any tension that you could let go of? Then finally check in with your emotions. Observe what’s going on. Take a deep breath in and out. And let it go.

Daily, what are you doing that gives you joy? Chances are if you’re in a joyful state you’ll be relaxed. Whether it’s painting, playing the piano, playing football, knitting…… what are you doing on a regular basis that makes you feel good and relaxed? If you’re not sure what you enjoy, no worries – think back to earlier times in your life, perhaps when you were a kid, and what you enjoyed then. There isn’t anything stopping you from doing this now. Even if you can’t implement this on a daily basis, make it a regular part of your week.

Thought management

Firstly, assess whether it is external or internal factors contributing to your stress. Are you stressed because of your to do list, or are you stressed because of the pressure you are putting upon yourself to produce your own idea of perfection on every item on your to do list? Sure, just because it’s an internal stressor, it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. However, it can be changed by your own response. Awareness is the first step. Meditation is a great tool for learning to become the observer of your mind.

Secondly, become more aware of what you choose to focus on. As Tony Robbins says, “where focus goes, energy flows”. Shifting your perspective, shifts your experience. Instead of focusing on what you have got to do, how about focusing on what you’ve actually accomplished? And force yourself to list at least three things! How do you feel now?

Managing your thoughts is critical to your successes.

Stress Prevention

Ever noticed that it’s quite hard to feel less stressed once you feel stressed? Planning and mitigating stressors can massively assist with this! Yes, it may take an extra five or ten mins at the beginning and end of the day, but prevention is best. Preventive, proactive approaches are shown to be most helpful for stress management (1).

Stress Prevention strategies

Make a daily plan

5 mins a day is all you need to write 3 clear objectives. Not only will this help you to be focused, productive and efficient, but you can return to this at the end of the day to remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished and/or need to do the following day.

Make a weekly plan

Take a little longer and make a plan for the week, say every Sunday. You are making the choice for what you are choosing to prioritise whilst planning your week. You know what to expect for the upcoming week and how to prepare yourself.

Mindset

How you experience your time ultimately comes down to how you choose to perceive it. Now you’ve created your plan, embrace it. Not only accept your plan, but fully commit to it. You have made the choice to do this. Remind yourself that you are choosing to do these things.

Equip yourself

You need to know which tools you have to both manage and prevent stress. Usually they are similar things and tend to be along the line of doing things that you enjoy. By practising what you enjoy on a daily basis, you equip yourself to be in the best position to deal with any stressors! Check out the ideas below.

Daily meditation practise

The research is all there, with meditation been shown to reduce perceived stress – as well as reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms, sleep disturbance and improve quality of life, in addition to physiological benefits (2). Stillness can sometimes feel incredibly challenging, however the challenge is to learn, grow and develop through it. There are loads of great apps out there to give a go. Try it. Challenge your ideas of what meditation actually is, remain open minded and have a go.

Gratitude

Again, the research is all there. A daily gratitude practise is shown to improve mental health and wellbeing (3). If it feels forced at the beginning, keep going. Keep practising. It will become more instinctive. You can always find something to be grateful for. What about your breath? Being alive?

Yoga and tai-chi

Yoga and tai chi are shown to reduce mental and emotional stress (4). definitely can help you focus your mind and also connect your mind and body (5). Sometimes life can be frantic and it can be good to bring a bit of balance in. It’s a great opportunity to connect with your breath and your being as well as mastering something new.

Walk

Getting outside and moving is always helpful for reducing stress (4). Enjoy that fresh air!

Nature

If you can’t get outside for whatever reason, bring any nature in. A plant, some flowers or some herbs. Bringing attention to some form of nature can be grounding and nourishing and take you outside of your own thoughts and stress.

Move your body

Again, the research is all there! Regular exercise significantly improves mood, health and wellbeing (6). It makes you more resilient to stress (6). When you’ve got those weeks that are stressful, it’s even more of a priority to schedule in your workout. If time is your excuse, you can create 10 mins to turn on a YouTube HIIT workout or choose a 10 min workout from your Nike App or turn on your timer on your phone and try this AMRAP: 50 high knees, 10 burpees, 30 air squats, 10 press ups.

Music

Turn on your favourite playlist or take out the recorder! Music is a great mood shifter.

Connect

When we connect with others, we release hormones which reduce anxiety levels and improve stress levels. Can’t see someone in person? Make a call or FaceTime them. If no one is available, how about reaching out to a friend/family member/ someone you haven’t caught up with for a while, to find out how they are?

Some other ideas

Reading, cooking, baking, disconnecting from your phone/computer/social media, taking a shower/bath, lighting some candles, curling up, deep breathing, tidying etc.

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References

  1. Epstein (2011) Fight the Fraz.
  2. Innes (2014). Meditation as a therapeutic intervention for adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease – potential benefits and underlying mechanisms
  3. Emmon (2013). Gratitude as a psychotherapeutic intervention.
  4. Jin (1992). Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress.
  5. Chong et al. (2011). Effects of yoga on stress management in healthy adults: a systematic review.
  6. Dugmore et al. (1999). Changes in cardiorespiratory fitness, psychological wellbeing, quality of life and vocational status following a 12-month cardiac exercise rehabilitation programme.