We live in a fast-paced world. We also have more sensory input than at any other time in human history; we spend a lot of our daily time looking at screens, scrolling constant news feeds, and trying to find a work/life balance in an ever-changing society. This can lead to increased stress levels. When stress levels build up over time, it puts us at risk of burnout. Burnout is when the stress levels have been extremely high or high for a long period of time. It can cause real physical symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, changes in appetite, headaches, and a general loss of wellbeing. Burnout can also result in anxiety and depression.
However, we can all develop a simple toolkit of stress management techniques that will help reduce stress levels and build up our resilience to stress. This can hugely reduce the risk of suffering from burnout and can make daily life feel better with an increased sense of wellbeing and better general health.
Top Five Stress Management Techniques
Let’s take a look at the five stress management techniques that you need in your life. Each of these is a proven method of dealing with stress:
1.Exercise – If you aren’t aware of the fantastic stress-busting effects of exercise, then this may seem like the last thing you feel like doing. Exercise might seem like just another thing you have to add to your already-impossible schedule. However, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) tells us that stress relief is one of the most immediate benefits of exercise, “Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.” Getting half an hour of physical activity each day is so important, and the activity you do doesn’t have to be a session at the gym; exercise outdoors in the fresh air can help to alleviate stress levels further. Starting a new activity or sport can also have an additional effect on how you feel; it could even have a positive impact on brain chemistry as learning a new skill and setting yourself goals releases dopamine in the reward center of the brain.
2. Active Relaxation – Breathing, Meditation & Mindfulness – Active relaxation is choosing to do something with relaxation in mind. Sometimes when we talk about relaxing, we just mean not doing other things. So we relax by dozing in front of the television or going to bed early. These are good ways to relax and escape, but active relaxation is a much better stress management technique. Some of the best stress management techniques are meditative practices such as mindfulness and breathing practice. Deep breaths relax the body, calm the mind, and send important signals to an over-firing nervous system that it is ok to de-escalate! Meditation practice only takes a few minutes each day, but it can help you to focus your mind, clear away mental clutter, and reaffirm your priorities. Mindfulness is a practice that you can incorporate into your everyday life. It means slowing down, paying full attention to the task at hand without multitasking or rushing, enjoying small pleasures, and experiencing the senses fully.
- Share – By sharing, we actually cover two important stress management techniques in one. Firstly, sharing how you are feeling when stress threatens to overwhelm you can bring real relief. By admitting that you are suffering as a result of stress and connecting with another person who may be able to relate to your experiences or offer advice, or simply just listen, you can free yourself of some of the burden. Stress is always worse when you internalize the pressure it puts you under or deny it is there. The second part of sharing as a stress management technique is actually sharing the load. Are there tasks you could delegate? Is there anything you can do to take some pressure off? Make sure that you are not being put under undue pressure by other people; draw your boundaries and learn to say no for the sake of your own mental health.
- Eating for Stress Relief – Sometimes when we are stressed, our appetite changes or our eating habits reflect a busy lifestyle. Some people lose their appetite and feel unwell due to lack of nutrition. Others are emotional eaters and find themselves putting on weight as a result. Many of us make poor eating choices because we are simply too busy or too tired to think about cooking healthy meals. Eating for stress relief is something that people don’t talk about a lot as a stress management technique, but nutrition is actually extremely important when you are under stress. When you don’t get enough of the required nutrients, the physical effects of stress can be worse. Low energy, feeling run down, skin breakouts, poor immune function; all of these can be caused by both stress and lack of nutrition. Even if you have to grab quick meals, choosing to swap our processed foods for fresh produce can make a big difference to how you feel. Using healthy food as a stress management technique will have a knock-on effect on your physical health that will support your busy lifestyle.
5. Self-Care – Self-care is often recommended as a stress management technique. However, self-care is much more than a nice relaxing bath or an occasional early night. It is about making time and space for you to do the things that make you feel good. That might be running, or it might be painting, or writing, or reading. Creativity is important for many people, and when they do not have an outlet for creative expression, their mental and emotional wellbeing suffers. How we self-care depends on who we are and what we enjoy, so don’t feel pressured into conforming to what other peoples’ ideas of self-care might be. Instead, think about the things that make you happy and schedule them into your life. Start to prioritize the things that make you happy now rather than sacrificing them for some future happiness that working extra hours or taking on lots of projects might bring.