By Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
In my last post, I discussed Stress Management in terms of practicing the “4 A’s.” In this post, I will be discussing the other essential components of stress management (if you missed the initial post on the effects of chronic stress on your health, I encourage you to glance at that when you get the chance).
Need immediate de-stressing? This article will show you some instant ways to relax.
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Make Time For Fun and Relaxation
As stress builds up and you get busier with life obligations, it’s often easy to forget about your own needs. Therefore, one critical component of stress management is the prioritizing of “me” time. Remember– nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll already be in a better place to handle life’s stressors.
➢ Schedule in leisure time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule–even write it down on your calendar–even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
➢ Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The very act of laughing has a therapeutic effect on your body and mind.
➢ Do relaxation techniques on a regular basis. Activities such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate your body’s relaxation response—a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the Fight or Flight stress response. In subsequent posts, I will be introducing you to several relaxation techniques—ones that you can do in the comfort of your home as well as ones you can do anytime.
➢ Do something you enjoy everyday. It can be anything small or big; the point is to always have something relaxing in your day to help you recharge.
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Create a Stress Relief Toolbox
The purpose of the Stress Relief toolbox is to ensure that you always have something enjoyable to do… regardless of the situation. Your Toolbox can be as simple or as creative as you wish it to be; it could simply be a written list of activities that you enjoy doing or a jar with slips of paper with various activities you can draw from. Having trouble thinking of things? Start by picking a few of the following…
Examples of Stress Relieving Activities:
Go for a walk
Spend time in nature
Call a good friend
Sweat out tension with a workout
Write in your journal
Take a long bath
Light scented candles
Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea
Play with a pet
Work in your garden
Get a massage
Curl up with a good book
Listen to music
Watch a movie
Categories of Stress Relief Tools:
Once you have made your toolbox, tell yourself that you will do one of those things everyday…regardless of how busy you are or how you feel. By doing this, you are forcing yourself to prioritize self-care, and I guarantee you will notice a difference.
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When you’re stressed, the last thing you may feel like doing is getting up and exercising. But physical activity is a huge stress reliever— it releases endorphins that make you feel good, improve sleep, raise self-esteem, and relax muscle tension. In fact, physical activity is one of the most effective stress management techniques out there.
While just about any form of physical activity can help melt away tension and stress, rhythmic activities (such as walking, running, swimming, cycling) are especially effective. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it.
Stress Relief Tip:
The act of exercising can be even more therapeutic if you practice mindfulness while doing it. What this means is that you make a conscious effort to pay attention to your body and all the sensations you experience as you’re moving. For example, try focusing on coordinating your breathing with your movements, or pay attention to how the air or sunlight feels on your skin. Adding this mindfulness element helps you break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that often accompanies overwhelming stress.
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Utilize Time Management
Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and are running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused.
➢ Break projects into small steps. If a large project seems overwhelming, make a step-by-step plan and use the Action Planning Technique to make short-term, achievable goals for each step. Focus on one manageable step at a time, rather than taking on everything at once.
➢ Delegate responsibility. Believe it or not, many times you actually don’t have to do it all yourself—whether at home or at work. Let go of the desire to control or oversee every little step. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll be letting go of the unnecessary stress which will make a big difference in the long run.
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Connect With Others
Unlike stressors that trigger your body’s Fight or Flight response, meaningful face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts this effect. Being with a friend or a loved one is like nature’s natural stress reliever and mood booster. So no matter how busy you become, make it a priority to connect regularly—and in person—with your support system.
In a subsequent post, I will discuss tried and true relaxation techniques that you can do anytime, anywhere. In the meantime, I encourage you to start incorporating the above stress management skills into your days. Remember—you have nothing to lose….except that stress in your life. 😉
Want to keep this information handy for future reference?
Below is a printer-friendly handout with all these tips and more!