In the interest of good health, we’re always told to shield ourselves from contagious germs and colds. We wash our hands, sneeze into our elbows, cover our mouths when we cough. But emotional stress prevention isn’t always as simple as that.
Emotional stress is a condition that impacts more women than men. And like the flu, it’s the type of bug that no one wants to catch. Of course, stress, like germs, is a normal part of life. But when a person also doubles as an external source of stress, protecting yourself from its impact on you is imperative.
Like most healthy habits, learning how to do this takes practice and time. And while we can’t control everything or everyone in our environment, we can definitely regulate how we handle the curveballs thrown our way.
01. Know your own triggers.
Self-awareness allows you to recognize the unique set of behaviors and personality traits that make you who you are. By acknowledging your emotional reactions to certain situations, you can round up the herd of stressful feelings.
The key is to identify when you are most susceptible to the energy of other people. These moments of susceptibility will differ from person to person and can be anything from having an “off” day or simply not getting enough shut eye. Maybe it’s the few minutes after waking up or getting home from work. Perhaps it’s around “that time of the month” (we’re looking at you, PMS). Whatever it is, being conscious of your emotional state day to day is a game changer.
Noticing how you respond to stress is also as vital. According to Mayo Clinic, this is a significant component of successful stress management. Once you are aware of how you react, you can take the necessary steps to manage stress accordingly. This might mean going to bed earlier or taking a moment to meditate to boost your mood. It could be as simple as taking a solo lunch break at work. It boils down to being aware of how you handle situations, listening to your own feelings, and protecting yourself from others' toxic vibes.
02. Identify who stresses you out.
In the bustle of daily life, we cross paths with so many personalities, traits, and behaviors. It’s likely that we’ll come across someone who becomes—you guessed it—a source of external stress. This can be anyone from a micromanaging boss to an overbearing friend.
Predictably, their auras can be contagious. The phenomenon is explained by the theory of emotional contagion. According to Emotional Contagion: Studies in Emotional & Social Interaction by Elaine Hatfield, John T. Cacioppo, and Richard L. Rapson, all you need to do is witness negative mannerisms or facial expressions to stimulate corresponding emotions, such as fear or anger.
Thankfully, recognizing the source of stress can change this. Do you tense up at the thought of seeing your in-laws? Try meditating and getting extra sleep the night before you know you'll see them; it increases your likelihood of showing up with a clear head. If your boss makes you anxious, de-stress at your desk just before your meetings with him or her. The same techniques work for chatting with a needy friend or family member.
By paying attention to how certain people make you feel, you can handle each interaction in a healthy manner. It’s the proactive and personal way to tend to your nervous system’s natural reaction.
03. Get physical.
The key to guarding yourself from external stressors isn't just in your mind—the way you treat your entire body effects how you take on what life throws at you.
According to the American Psychological Association, the key to battling stress is psychological resilience, the mental capacity to adapt to stressful situations with a clear, level-headed mind. Frontiers in Psychology reports that psychological resilience primes the mind for a more stable approach to outside circumstances. Increased psychological resilience also yields pro-active coping strategies, such as seeking support or practicing a hobby. This lessens the chance of taking on unhealthy habits for handling stress, like smoking cigarettes or overdoing it on caffeine. It all comes full circle.
Fortunately, boosting psychological resilience isn’t rocket science. It all comes down to the common health trifecta: diet, exercise, and sleep.
Practicing healthy eating habits is a start. Focus on staying hydrated, eating whole grains, and getting those fruits and veggies in. Indulge in moderation, saving sweets and alcohol for special occasions. Nurture your gut bacteria by consuming probiotic-rich foods; it can help lower depression and anxiety, according to a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. We really are what we eat.
Physical activity is another proven way to amp psychological resilience. A mere thirty-minute workout three times a week can make a huge difference. After just one session, you’ll feel a surge in confidence and happiness. Hello, post-workout high! By exercising regularly, those immediate benefits will become long-term tools for fighting stress.
It’s also essential to allow your mind to chill out from time to time. This is where adequate shut-eye comes in. One study shares that getting enough sleep doubles as a protective factor for burnout. Aim for a nightly fix of seven to nine hours of sleep each night; your mind will thank you.
Managing stress is more feasible than eliminating interactions with others or cutting toxic relationships. This is especially true if someone is part of your workplace or family. By accepting that we can’t change others, we can focus on tending our mental health, taking care of our bodies, and finding inner peace.
Photo Credit: Olivia Leigh Photography