Regardless of age, gender, race and socioeconomic status, stress affects everyone in some degree. Personal, cultural, technological and physical stress can take a toll on your daily routines. However, not all stress is bad. We can experience eustress, or positive stress, which is surprisingly an important part of our overall health! Eustress produces positive feelings of excitement, fulfillment, meaning, satisfaction and even wellbeing. Eustress is good because you feel confident and stimulated by the challenge you experience from the stressor. Examples of eustress include: starting a new job, taking a vacation and having a child. Eustress can motivate us for the short term and even improve performance in the long term. What we need to focus on for stress management is negative stress, which is called distress. Unlike eustress, distress can make you feel overwhelmed because your resources (i.e., physical, mental and emotional) are inadequate to meet the demands you’re facing. Examples of distress include injury, illness and unemployment.
How do you handle stress? There are both negative and positive techniques to cope with daily stress. Negative stress management techniques include smoking, drinking alcohol, avoiding the problem and stress eating. Positive stress management techniques are listed below.
Most days may feel like there is no time to relax or add another task to the ever-growing to-do list. Even so, try to take some time to first identify your stress, then try some positive ways to help alleviate your stress, such as the ones below.
Writing out your to-do list, thoughts, worries, frustrations, ideas, or even solutions to problems can be very cathartic. There is no wrong way to keep a journal – find a method that works best for you. Some ideas include:
o ABC To-Do List: Write out every task that is on your mind. Put an “A” for items that need to be accomplished today, “B” for items that can wait until tomorrow, and “C” for items that can wait a few days.
o Worry Journal: Simply write down your thoughts and potential reasons for why you may be feeling a certain way. Journaling serves as an escape or emotional release and forces us to check out on everything else to simply focus on ourselves.
Count your blessings and enjoy better health and happiness. Individuals who noted (mentally or physically) grateful thoughts have been shown to be more optimistic about life and upcoming events.
o Did you know? Gratitude can produce an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms . These symptoms can disappear within three to six months, so repeated practice is needed.
o Try the “At least” expression. When you’re in a bad situation, try to list at least three things that could/would make the situation worse. This will hopefully ease the stress of the current situation. An example could be missing a bus by two seconds. The at least statement could be “At least there is another bus coming and I will not be too late to work. Or, it might be “At least it’s not cold out.” Recognizing the positives of your current situation can make it more ideal than what could have happened.
o Take the good from bad events. This might include phrases like “This experience has brought me closer to friends/family” or “This bad review kicked me in gear to do better work” or “Finding out this bad news has really helped me make a decision.”
o Get started on the right foot each day. When you wake up, before getting out of bed or looking at your phone, try to list three things mentally or physically that you are grateful for. They can be general at first, if you’re having a hard time thinking of things (for example: I am grateful for friends; the availability of food; a safe place to call home, etc.)
Physically getting up and getting our blood flowing naturally brings stress levels down. Any form of movement is a positive stress-management technique. It is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. (Research also shows that the vitamin-D boost from sunlight may elevate your levels of feel-good serotonin- so exercise outside and get some fresh air, if you can!)
- Cardio – Find an activity that you love to do. Dancing, bike riding, swimming, walking, skating and jogging are great cardiovascular activities.
- Weight training – Bodyweight exercises include pushups, situps, squats and lunges, or you can use dumbbells, kettlebells or weight machines.
- Recreation – Joining a sports team or group exercise class can be a fun way to get in exercise as well as socialize with others.
The main purpose of mindfulness or meditation is to focus on our breath to bring us back to the present moment – not ruminating on past events or worrying about the future. The purpose is not to stop our thoughts – rather to acknowledge that our thoughts are just thoughts.
- You can practice mindfulness or meditations by listening to calming music, podcasts or various meditations recordings. Common meditations are breath awareness, body scans and walking meditations.
- Here’s a sample breathing exercise: Sit in a comfortable position, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Take a deep breath through your nose and let your belly push your hand out. Repeat up to 10 times, paying attention to your breath the whole time.
- Multiple apps on your phone or resources online are free – research what works best for you!
Other Positive Stress Management Ideas
- Take time for a hobby you love. What brings you happiness? Crafting, playing music, walking in nature?
- Watch a movie or show.
- Clean – your home, your car, your workstation.
- Talk it out – share your worries with others, such as your family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, health coach – use your support system!
- Create a healthy sleep environment to make sure you are getting seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Take a break – a 10-minute walk can be the reset you need after sitting for a long period of time.
- Get organized with your tasks. Make a structured plan of what needs to get done and how your will manage your time. Set realistic deadlines.