This is the third in a series of blogs about stress and looks at effective ways of managing stress. If you search online for stress management tools, you will come across a huge variety of suggestions. These include progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, emotional freedom technique (sometimes called tapping), guided imagery, diaphragmatic breathing, transcendental or other types of meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction. All these are all evidence-based techniques, fairly easy to learn and practice and can produce good results.
The World Health Organisation particularly recommends these techniques for managing stress: Grounding , unhooking from difficult thoughts and feelings, acting on your values, being kind and what they call “making room” (noticing and naming how you are feeling and engaging in a different way with the thought or feeling that is bothering you.)
In this blog I will focus on recommendations around changing our behaviours in ways that help us to manage stress more effectively:
1. Try to eliminate the stressors, or to change how you view them
Whether or not we experience an intolerable level of psychological stress depends on the intensity of the situation and also the person experiencing it. How we perceive and think about a stressor can also make a big impact on how we respond. It’s not always possible to escape a stressful situation or avoid a problem, but we can try to reduce the stress we are feeling. Evaluate whether we can change the situation that is causing us stress, perhaps by dropping some responsibility, relaxing our standards or asking for help.
2. Cultivate social support
Study after study shows that strong social support can improve our resilience to stress. When we are experiencing difficult times, we need to be aware that our friends and family can be supportive in different ways. Some may be good at listening and offering advice, if needed. Others might excel at practical help, like bringing over a home-cooked meal or covering an hour of child care.
Giving support to those around us or in our community can also increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions. It also helps to make sure our relationships stay in balance. A friend who requires support but never gives it in return may increase stress levels!
3. Good nutrition and exercise
There is no need to make radical changes here but a diet high in a variety of nutrients can both protect health and provide more physical energy to deal with challenges. Avoid using substances such as alcohol or high amounts of caffeine in order to cope, as they do not solve the root of the problem and can have serious health effects.
Exercise can not only improve sleep, it can directly combat stress, including the impact of stress on the immune system. Adding physical activity needn’t be expensive or complex – you don’t need to join a gym or have a personal trainer: A brisk 20-minute walk or a dance session in the kitchen can do the trick.
4. Protect your sleep
Daytime stress affects night time sleep and this in turn can affect both cognition (motivation, the ability to focus) and mood. Try to have a consistent sleep routine that allows time to wind down before bed time. This might include meditation, breathing exercises or just reading a book in the hour or so before sleep. and relaxation can help with insomnia. Try to avoid screen use in the late evenings as light from screens can suppress the sleep hormone melatonin (and checking social media may ramp up your emotions.)
5. Seek outside help
If you feel overwhelmed and self-help and support from those close to you isn’t enough, look for a counsellor who can help you learn how to manage your stress effectively. He or she can help you identify situations or behaviours that contribute to your stress and then develop an action plan to change the stressors, change your environment and change your responses.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!