Managing stress can feel like a never-ending battle. It is so prevalent that the American Psychological Association conducts a Stress in America survey each year to identify specific ways stress impacts our daily lives.
Incorporating self-care strategies like sleeping well, establishing a morning routine, exercising regularly, and investing in your personal relationships create reserves to draw upon when stress hits. But some days, being proactive just isn't enough, especially when you're blindsided by surprise deadlines, an accident, or other unforeseen circumstances.
While it may seem like there are areas in your life where stress is constantly lurking around every corner, keeping these few simple tools at your disposal will help you keep that stress at bay.
01. Either Act On or Press Pause on Your Worry
When you are under stress, it can feel like you just can’t stop thinking about the million things on your to-do list or the worst-case scenario. Give yourself a break from the anxiety by forcing yourself to problem-solve rather than staying stuck on the problem.
If you're in a crisis—you lost your wallet or can't find a new roommate to resign your lease—ask yourself, “Is there something I can do about my worry right now?” If you can, take mental action against the worst-case scenarios in your mind: replace your ID and credit cards or send out an email blast to everyone you know. Otherwise, schedule your worry for later. Worrying doesn't actually accomplish anything but drains you mentally, emotionally, and physically. Instead, take note of your worries and opt for a practical approach.
02. Change Your Scenery
Feeling overwhelmed can feel like being trapped. If you sense a wave of stress, stop it in its tracks by physically getting out of your current surroundings. Research shows that being in nature can lower cortisol levels. Take a walk around the floor, visit a friendly coworker for a quick chat, or, better yet, go outside for some fresh air and a brisk walk. A change of scenery can immediately soothe a rough fight-or-flight response while giving you a fresh perspective.
03. Listen to Music
Music is a deceptively powerful and easy tool to stop stress in its tracks. I often recommend to my psychotherapy patients a playlist on Spotify called Most Relaxing Songs Ever, According to Scientists. Including an eclectic range of artists like Enya, All Saints, and Adele, this playlist has songs that research has proven to have a physiological calming effect. So when you feel your heart rate or blood pressure start to rise, pop in your earbuds, find a comfortable chair, and take an 8-minute stress-relieving music break.
04. Schedule a Non-Negotiable Time Out
Take a mental break. Harvard Health suggests ten to twenty minutes of deep breathing, while the American Institute of Stress recommends twenty to thirty minutes a day. Add it to your calendar and treat it as sacred. I can say that, from personal experience, even a three-minute break makes a difference. It only takes a few minutes to calm down and return your heart rate to a normal pace. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll use my favorite deep breathing app, Calm, for fifteen minutes. Afterward, I immediately feel refreshed and recharged. When stress calls, we can all set aside a few minutes for a mental time out. It's more important to take this daily mental break than to focus on an exact amount of time.
Armed with these quick strategies, you can stop stress before it gets the better of you. You have the power to take control of life’s challenging moments. Don’t let stress run the show.
Photo Credit: Elissa Voss Photography