If you’re looking for positive ways to deal with stress, know you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that people are experiencing increased stress levels from a variety of factors, year after year.1
But before you can employ various strategies to cope with stress, it’s smart to get a handle on what it actually is. Stress is the brain and body’s natural response to a challenge or danger. On a biological level, stress affects our bodies through hormone surges meant to improve our chances of surviving the stressors in our environment. These so-called stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline) help put the body in what is popularly known as fight-or-flight mode.2
Continue reading to explore some of the common causes of stress and some tips for managing stress effectively.
A Stressful Life: Identifying The Top Potential Sources Of Stress
This basic definition isn’t in any way conclusive, and researchers continue to refine what being stressed out truly means. However, The American Institute of Stress has pinpointed the most common specific sources of stress:
- Problems at work (or lack of work-life balance)
- Financial troubles
- Health concerns (chronic illness, health scares)
- Relationships (death or divorce, unresolved feelings over problems with friends and family, lack of social support)
- Inadequate nutrition (poor eating habits, too much caffeine and sugar)
- Lack of proper sleep3
Physical And Mental Effects Of Stress
And while everyone has different stressors, stress (and the lack of coping skills) can take a toll on your physical and mental health. The common effects of stress may include:
- Digestive problems
- Sleep issues
- Moodiness (irritability, anger, and/or sadness)4
Given the complexity of stressors or stressful stimuli and our physical and mental response to it, it’s clear that looking for effective ways to reduce stress is important. Here are some ideas you can try.
Dealing With Stress: Diet, Exercise Routine, And Sleeping Habits
It may be possible to better manage stress by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising more, and getting quality sleep.5
Eat A Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet
While it’s all too easy to resort to snacking and stress eating, experts recommend sustaining a consistent and balanced diet to help see you through the blood sugar spikes and dips brought about by stress hormone surges. You may be able to do this by:
- Preparing a healthy breakfast, incorporating protein, fruit, and vegetables
- Having wholesome snacks on hand to beat cravings in between meals
- Cut back or eliminate caffeine and alcohol from your diet6
There is also a suggestion to increase your intake of foods rich in B vitamins, which may get depleted in times of stress. B vitamins help keep your energy and immune system up. These foods include salmon, broccoli, whole grains, nuts, eggs, and barley.7
Get Regular Exercise
As for exercise, there is a whole body of research showing how physical activity could positively impact stress reduction. Regular exercise may help you:
- Regain focus and sharpen problem-solving skills
- Improve sleep, which may help you deal with stress as well
- Stabilize mood8
Even with limited time to hit the gym or work out, you can still get your body moving in simple ways. Here are a few ideas:
- Attend a weekly yoga class
- Take your dog for a walk
- Go on weekend hikes with friends or family
- Take a brisk walk around the block during your lunch hour or after dinner each night
- Walk or ride a bike whenever you can instead of driving
Dealing With Stress And Mental Health: Practicing Self-Care And Finding The Right Social Support
When your brain and body are in a continuously stressed-out state, researchers believe it can give rise to stress-related mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.9
Practicing self-care is one of the ways you can possibly reduce the mental effects of stress and induce a more positive attitude and outlook on life.10 Here are some ways you can take a few minutes each day to relax, focus on yourself, and release negative thoughts and feelings brought about by a stressful situation:
- Soaking in a warm bath with a good book
- Performing a special skin care routine, like applying a hyaluronic face mask or dry brushing in the shower
- Reading a chapter of a good book while diffusing some soothing aromatherapy oils
- Going on an energizing walk
Social support, on the other hand, is one of the most ideal stress-coping mechanisms established by researchers.11 Having the support of the right people in times of stress could improve your resilience and negate its potential ill effects.
Here’s how you can get the social support you need:
- Build a network of people you like and trust. Be active in the community, volunteer for a cause or advocacy, or join the neighborhood gym.12
- Expand your hobbies or skill set by joining classes and meeting like-minded people who share your passions.
- Maintain relationships with friends and loved ones. Reply to messages and show up for them when you can. Be the presence you’d like them to be for you in your time of need.
A Note On Nixing Negative Self-Talk
One phenomenon that contributes to stress is what is known as negative self-talk. You might not have heard of the technical term before. But you may be familiar with that nagging voice inside your head that always seems to put you down, aggravating an already toxic situation or contributing to negative feelings.
The voice that blames you for perceived failures, those thoughts that center around you not being good enough or doomed to fail, and those ideas that negate you and erode your self-esteem – these are all markers of negative self-talk.
When you give in to it, this type of self-talk can impact your coping abilities when it comes to a stressful situation.13 Experts suggest trying to reframe this toxic way of thinking by talking to yourself and becoming more goal-directed instead – challenge these thoughts that bring you down and instead use them to push you to become better.14
Turn Your Stress Into Success
These tips and ideas are all healthy habits to either form or relearn. There’s much to be gained from stress management by giving your body the nutrition and rest it requires and the chance to move, plus implementing positive strategies like self-care, adequate social support, and simply being kinder to yourself.
If you still find it difficult to manage your stress levels or if your stress is affecting your quality of life, seek professional help. Your doctor may have additional recommendations to get you back to feeling like yourself again.