fbpx Stressed Out? Be The Calm, Not the Storm
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on April 18, 2024

April is National Stress Awareness Month and Nexus Family Healing has some tips to manage your stress and improve your quality of life. Stress, when effectively dealt with, can help us identify our priorities and can serve as a guidepost for improved living. While stress may not always be something we can control, it is helpful to know how to appropriately cope with the many stressors life can throw at us. 

A widely published poet and author, Jay Woodman, reminds us to “be the calm eye of the storm where nothing phases you; focus on your center to remain balanced and let your life flow like a stream of wind.” While it may not be that simple, it is something we can strive for. 

Several factors can contribute to your vulnerability to stress, such as genetics, childhood trauma, personality type, level of social support, and discrimination due to race, gender/perceived gender, and socioeconomic status. Minimizing the chronic stress of daily life, to the best of our ability, can help support overall health and decrease the risk of conditions such as heart disease, anxiety disorders, and depression. While we may experience stress in different ways, the most common definition is a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension that often presents when a person feels threatened or anxious. 

Understanding the Signs of Stress

  • Physical: headaches, sickness, indigestion, chest pain, change in sex drive, weakened immune system, muscle tension, fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, high blood pressure
  • Mental/Emotional: irritability, lack of focus/motivation, memory issues, inflexibility, short-temperament, anxious, overwhelmed, fearful, angry, frustrated, sad
  • Behavioral: sleep issues, substance abuse/compulsive behaviors (food, alcohol, drugs, gambling), avoidance of support system, anger outbursts, loss of interest in things you typically find pleasurable

Knowing how stress manifests in each of us individually is helpful, but then how do we manage it? Often, stress can feel debilitating, so it’s important to identify the personal power we have to change the narrative of stress in our lives. While that may seem like a daunting task, there are many ways to lessen the effects of stress on our mind, body, and spirit. Some of these may seem like obvious solutions, but when utilized consistently and with purpose, they can produce life-altering results. 

Ways to Manage Stress

  • Laugh - They say laughter is the best medicine for a reason. Laughter increases the endorphins released by the brain, which activates and relieves the stress response. Whether it’s laughing at yourself or with someone else, finding humor in the little things (and the big things) can help mitigate stress.
  • Minimize screen time - Limiting exposure to social media and online information allows you to disconnect from triggers such as information overload, toxic comparison, and trolling. Taking a break from all this allows your mind to unwind and find peace. If you’re still seeking escape, a good old-fashioned book is a great alternative. 
  • Spend time outdoors - Fresh air increases serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ chemical your body produces, while also lowering the stress-hormone cortisol and decreasing heart rate. Whether it’s a walk amongst the pines, a stroll around the lake, or simply stepping outside your front door for some deep breaths, the outdoors is a great way to calm your mind and body, especially in moments of distress. 
  • Avoid procrastination - While it may offer immediate relief, procrastination prolongs the sense of worry, typically compounding the negative effects. Completing tasks, as efficiently and timely as you can, lends to a sense of personal power and improves self-esteem by helping you to feel strong, capable, and in charge of your life. Plus, it just feels so good to check things off your to-do list!
  • Get enough sleep - It is hard to overstate how important sleep is. When you get a good night’s rest, your body naturally reduces the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones while also keeping your immune system strong. While it may not always be possible to get a perfect eight hours of sleep, aim for at least six solid hours of sleep. Well-rested people have been shown to stay calmer and react less strongly to negative situations.
  • Drink water - To get a bit scientific for a moment, without proper water intake, your brain cannot get enough of the amino acid tryptophan needed to create serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter mentioned earlier which regulates mood. Staying hydrated helps your body transport nutrients to vital organs, allowing you to react more positively to signals of stress and anxiety. 
  • Move your body - Stress is stored in the body, so help your emotions by moving through it. Whether it’s dancing, yoga, stretching, walking, or more intensive forms of exercise, allow the physical tension to be released. If you are limited physically, consult your doctor for appropriate ways to achieve this.
  • Establish boundaries and stick to them - In today’s social landscape of multitasking and success based on overachievement, it’s important to establish healthy boundaries both with ourselves and those around us. When we do, we make it possible to focus on our own needs and how to effectively communicate those needs to others, reducing the stress caused by overcommitment. Take some time to understand what you value most, what you are not willing to sacrifice, and where you need to let go of commitments. You may want to seek out a therapist to help in the development and commitment of boundaries, as this is often a more deep-seated issue than simply saying ‘no.’

Knowing what to do when you are stressed is an important start; however, it is the consistent application of those solutions that produces long-lasting results. Habit formation is difficult, but so is living with stress. Find a routine that works for you and work it! If you slip up, congratulate yourself for being human and continue your journey of increased peace and self-awareness. Be gentle in your approach and talk to yourself as if you were a dear friend. 

If your stress is pervasive and unmanageable, seek out professional services to target your specific issues. Receiving mental health services is an exemplary statement of strength, as we all need help sometimes. While April may be the month of stress awareness, allow yourself to follow these practices all year long and choose to be the calm and not the storm. 

This blog article was contributed by Shelby Hunt, Mental Health Therapist at Nexus-Mille Lacs 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 servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 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.