What is stress? Answering that question for yourself is the first step toward better stress management. Simply put, stress is the metaphoric breaking point that occurs within your mind or body as the result of encountering or experiencing a situation or circumstance that you mentally or physically perceive as being out of your control or challenging to manage. Most people tend to feel stress before they figure out precisely what is causing it, the stressor. How you manage or cope with stressors once encountered will determine the degree of your stress experience.
One of the most common forms of stress I encounter in my practice is negative mental stress (NMS). NMS can result from overthinking about a situation or circumstance using a problem-focused lens or filter, which, if not adequately managed, can snowball into worry and, with even more time, create an avalanche of panic or anxiety.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is positive mental stress (PMS). PMS can result from overthinking about a situation or circumstance using a solution-focused lens or filter, which over time, funnels into brainstorming and, with even more time, can insight creativity and productivity. However, even with PMS, the task of brainstorming can potentially take up more time than anticipated if it is not well structured, which can lead to a loss of focus or anxiety.
Therefore, optimal stress management (or stress balance) requires taking proactive measures to assist with reducing the impact of negative stress encounters on your mental and physical health. This includes seeking out professional help to assist with identifying ways to cope with and manage stressors which will help to reduce stress.
Here are some tips to help with better managing Stress/stressors:
Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Try incorporating at least 3 hours a week of light training into your daily routine. Exercising helps to regulate cortisol levels, the hormone released when stressed. Cortisol helps the body deal with stressful situations (Healthline, 2022).
However, too much cortisol can negatively impact your entire system. Therefore, regulating cortisol levels can prevent the snowball from becoming an avalanche.
Maintaining a healthy diet is key to ensuring optimal mental and physical health. It can also help to prevent stress from posing a significant risk to your immune system. High cortisol levels in the body over time can result in high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, weight gain, and other health conditions (Mayo Clinic, 2022). A healthy diet is one of the best defenses for mood regulation.
Stress can majorly impact our sleep cycles, making functioning during the day very challenging and even more stress-invoking. In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 43% of adults and 35% of teens reported that stress decreased the quality of their sleep and made it difficult for them to fall asleep at night (2013). Therefore, it is vital to incorporate a healthy sleep hygiene routine into your evening schedule, one that includes journaling about the thoughts you are overthinking.
Because overthinking is one of the common elements in stress encounters, having a healthy outlet for your thoughts makes talking it out an essential tip. Whether it’s sharing your fears and worries with a supportive friend or mental health professional or brainstorming your ideas. Talking is key to unloading stress. Often talking it out helps your mind better structure or organize information that creates the sense of being overwhelmed. Other people, especially a trained mental health professional, can often provide the type of sounding board needed where constructive feedback can aid in more solution-focused thinking to mitigate potential stress encounters.
If you struggle with managing stress and stressors, I encourage you to seek professional help. These tips are just a starting point toward living your best life today.