Stress is a natural and very normal part of everyday life. But some days are inherently more stressful than others: you have a job interview, you know your schedule is going to be busy, you have a crowd of guests for a holiday meal, you get the idea.
And the current backdrop of negative global news (inflation, war, political strife and climate change) has put Americans’ daily stress levels at alarming levels, according to survey data.
“Many of us find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed by our increasing tasks and responsibilities in life; juggling heavy workloads, household chores and childcare responsibilities,” says Monica Vermani, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Toronto and author of Deeper Well-Being: Overcoming Stress, Mood, Anxiety and Trauma.
Often, it’s when we take on the stress of others and let their stress overwhelm us that we begin to feel out of control, adds Gail Saltz, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NY Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell School of Medicine in New York. and the host of How can I help? iHeartRadio podcast.
Peta-Gaye Sandiford, a licensed mental health counselor at Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York City, agrees that even mental health professionals (including herself) should work to manage stress and prevent it from becoming overwhelming on busy days. “There’s a lot to do to make sure I’m always there and doing my best while fulfilling my other responsibilities,” she says.
Here are the stress busters that Vermani, Sandiford and others swear to prepare for before the days when they know the list of stressors can roll off the board.
1. Don’t skip self-care
While this may seem like the last thing you want to do — or have time for — on busy, busy days, it’s also important to maintain self-care routines on these days as well. We start feeling stressed because our activity levels (what we do) exceed our energy levels, Vermani says — and self-care is all the things you do to fill your cup and replenish those energy levels. energy.
Maybe it’s a walk outside, cooking a nourishing dinner, writing in a gratitude journal, or dancing to pop music. All of this can help recharge your energy, adds Sandiford. “Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of someone else.”
2. Schedule 15 minutes of fun
Include an element of joy in daily activities; something that brings you pleasure and interest, and keeps you connected to yourself.
Whether you categorize it as “fun” or “self-care,” engaging in any activity you enjoy and trust will relieve stress, Sandiford says. Running, biking, nature walking, listening to music, and painting are some of her favorite activities, and she devotes at least 15 minutes a day to one of these activities, especially on the days she predicts will be difficult.
3. Set reminders to check breathing
When stressed, Vermani notices that she can go an entire day taking only shallow breaths. So she sets a reminder in her calendar between clients to pause and take deep, nourishing breaths. It’s a good daily habit, but it’s especially important on days when stress levels rise, she says.
You can try taking a few gentle, full breaths in for a count of 4 and exhaling slowly for a count of 6; then just notice how you feel. This style of deep, rhythmic breathing calms the sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, nervous system, which helps the body feel less anxious in the moment, according to research.
4. Have an affirmation ready
Brooding over thoughts of being unable or unable to handle a situation causes stress, Vermani says. To counteract rumination and reduce the stress response, she repeats a positive affirmation – some call it a mantra – to encourage feelings of being capable and able to handle the demands of the day.
Here are some of her favorite simple affirmations that “are a great source of strength, grounding and resilience,” according to Vermani:
- I can do it
- I’m capable
- i am worthy
- I am safe, healthy and protected
When you know a day can be stressful, start it strong by repeating one of these affirmations first thing in the morning.
5. Plan ahead to avoid overcommitting
Some of the most common triggers for emotional outbursts are feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. Dr. Saltz says part of his strategy for not letting those feelings get him down is to plan as much as possible in advance so as not to overstretch or overcommit.
“Instead of committing to something because I think it’s what I ‘should’ do, I aim to plan what I feel is manageable. If I’m hosting a dinner party, for example, I might make it a potluck so I’m not responsible for every course,” Saltz says.
“A lot of my anxiety comes from walking on the catwalk despite feeling like it’s not what I want to do,” she adds. Making an effort to avoid overwhelming situations before you get there (or spot them early enough to change course), means she’ll feel less stressed and frazzled along the way, she says.
6. Have a 5 minute relaxation practice in their back pocket
Haley Perlus, PhD, a sports and performance psychologist in Denver, likes to practice deep abdominal breathing when she finds herself in stressful situations. She places her hands on her stomach and inhales and exhales slowly and deeply.
“When I breathe in, I focus on the feeling of my stomach expanding. When I breathe out, I feel my stomach contracting. I like to remind myself: control my breathing, control my stress. It brings me back to center and momentarily distracts me from the stressor and brings me to a place of perceived control in both my mind and body,” says Dr. Perlus.
Mind-body relaxation techniques are among the best stress relievers, says Perlus. And plenty you can practice in a minute (or a few) whenever you feel overwhelmed.
When she has a full five minutes, Perlus says she likes to find a quiet place to lie down, breathe deeply, and try to clear her mind to allow her to transition into more peaceful emotions.
7. Remember your personal strengths
When she finds herself on the brink of catastrophizing and imagining worst-case scenarios, Vermani tries to turn the script around by replacing a negative thought with a more precise and adaptive thought.
To put this into practice, Perlus likes to remember her strengths – and she leads with them. She knows she’s a good listener, so in situations where she anticipates conflict or is worried about getting her point across, she focuses on that skill rather than the possible battle ahead.
“When I lead with strength, I give myself the best opportunity to feel confident. Confidence tends to reduce anxiety and helps me lead on the right foot,” says Perlus.
8. Ask for help
Saltz says much of her stress is related to “anticipation anxiety,” rather than the day or the event itself. So when she notices anticipatory anxiety rising, she lets those around her know that she needs extra support.
“It will literally relieve the burden of all the tasks that need to be done while making me feel emotionally lighter mentally and emotionally,” says Saltz.
Vermani surrounds himself with people and resources that can help him manage his stress levels, support him in his negative thought patterns, and help him reconceptualize the good among the bad. And yes, those people include his own mental health care team.
Sandiford echoes that sentiment, adding, “Therapists need therapy, so I connect with someone who can help me process all of my feelings in an environment where I feel validated and supported.”
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