As we try to navigate the events of the past year, it is no wonder we are all experiencing added stress to our lives. Whether you’ve been helping your child through distance learning, dealing with the loss of a job or changes brought about by the pandemic, or feeling increased angst around societal happenings, we all have had to deal with unanticipated things that have added to our stress levels.
Stress is not bad in and of itself. A muscle when stressed grows stronger after it can recuperate and rest. Stress can help you stay on top of to-do lists or help a student study harder for an upcoming test. The problem starts when stress becomes overwhelming and negatively impacts our overall functioning.
We cannot always control the stress coming into our lives, but we can control how we choose to respond to it. This is the key to better managing stress – focus on what you can control, like your behaviors and habits, and you can better work through the stress brought on by external forces.
With our world starting its return to normalcy, there is no better time to address stress management in our daily lives. Here are a few ways you can work on your stress each day:
- Focus on what you can control. As mentioned before, we too often focus on factors we have no control over, leading us to feel hopeless or defeated. We often do have a choice, albeit small at times. Ask yourself this question, “What is one thing I can do that I have control over, right now?” This could be anything from taking a deep breath to looking at the positive side of what is occurring, or doing an activity that brings you pleasure. All these choices are within your grasp, allowing you to take back some power, and can at times immediately boost your mood. Your mind will have an easier time seeing the positives if you find what you can control and act on it.
- Make your health a priority. Sleep, diet, and exercise are all tools that can make or break your ability to manage stress.
- Your body needs rest, and sleep is the best way to achieve this. Learn how to nurture your sleep habits by minimizing internet or electronics before bed, maintaining a restful sleep environment, and utilizing relaxation skills to help drift into sleep.
- What we eat can make a difference – both physically and mentally. Healthy foods and good choices better feed our bodies. Proper nutrition impacts everything from our appearance to our body’s natural chemical responses. Keep tempting foods out of the house to aid in your ability to make good food decisions.
- Exercise is one of the single best ways to improve your ability to handle stress. It helps your body become more resilient to the physical demands of stress, and is a healthy habit that can significantly impact your mood.
- Be mindful of what you are saying to yourself. What we say to ourselves about the experiences we are going through often impact our level of stress. The idea is to focus on realistic thoughts about the stress you’re experiencing, not just on thinking positive thoughts. Questions that can help with this include, “What can I accept about the situation?” and “What are some options that might make this situation more tolerable?”.
- Work on establishing small positive habits. When you are initially changing a behavior – like starting a new morning routine, making time to walk, or shutting off all screens after dinner – it seems extremely difficult to keep with it. However, the magic happens when you can continue the behavior long enough that it starts to become part of your regular routine. It is at this point that you no longer think consciously about it as it has made its way into your life.
Managing stress takes work, but if done regularly, you will feel like the stress coming in your life is more manageable. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate stress, but to deal with it more effectively through small shifts in your thinking, actions, and behaviors.
This blog article was contributed by Luke Spiegelhoff, Clinical Director for Nexus-FACTS, an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.