While stress isn’t a mental health condition, it can lead to things like anxiety and depression. In fact, stress can even contribute to physical health concerns like heart disease. So keeping a relatively low level of stress in your daily life is essential.
Easier said than done though, right? No one is immune to stress. But there are things you can do to help relieve stress and maybe even prevent it. Check out these six tips to keep stress from taking over your day-to-day life:
1. Educate Yourself
Stress is a chemical reaction that happens when your body feels threatened. You go into what’s called a “flight or fight” response, increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and tightening your muscles. Stress can even impact your metabolism and cause digestive discomfort and weight gain. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health problems.
One of the best things you can do to combat stress is to educate yourself. Knowing what stress looks — and feels — like can help you identify when you’re stressed. Then you can do something about it.
You should also educate yourself on mental health treatment. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, solutions like antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are often prescribed to help balance the brain’s chemistry. The more you know about stress, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with it.
2. Be Mindful
Stress is how your body reacts to a threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, can rear its head even when a stressor isn’t present. Yet these two can go hand-in-hand and can become overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to practice mindfulness to relieve symptoms of both.
Take a moment to stop and tune in to your thoughts. Focus on being mindful of what you’re saying to yourself, so you can catch your anxious thoughts. Once you catch your anxious thoughts, rework them. For example, instead of thinking of every worst-case scenario, think of the best possible outcome. The more aware you are of your thoughts, the easier it’ll be to control them.
3. Dismiss Unsolvable Worries
Are you a chronic worrier? If so, your anxious thoughts are probably never-ending worries. It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between solvable and unsolvable worries.
Worrying about how you’re going to get to the airport is a solvable worry. You could ask a friend or family member to drive you. Or you could schedule an Uber or Lyft. An unsolvable worry might be thinking that your Uber driver will get into a car accident while taking you to the airport. It’s fretting that a tornado will hit and cancel your flight even though the sky is clear.
You might think it’s smart to focus on these “what ifs” to come up with possible solutions. But focusing on something inherently unsolvable causes anxiety and stress. Instead, interrupt the worry cycle when it arises. Take a walk, practice deep breathing, or call a friend. Try to do something to distract yourself from the worry.
4. Talk to a Professional
Sometimes it can be helpful to talk about your anxieties and worries. That said, you might not feel comfortable confiding in your family and friends. If that’s the case, you should consider talking to a professional. A therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist can help you identify what’s causing your stress. And depending on the type of professional, they can offer treatment ranging from therapy to medication.
There’s a common misconception that therapy is only for people with “serious” mental health issues. That’s not true. Think of talking to a therapist like scheduling a physical with your doctor. Therapy helps you see what’s impacting your mental health so that you can make changes.
When seeing a therapist, make sure you do research beforehand. It’s important to remember you might have to see several providers before finding the right fit.
5. Alter Your Lifestyle
If you lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, consider making some changes. Exercise is a great stress reliever. Physical activity increases your endorphins (aka feel-good hormones), helping you feel happier. Exercise can also give you something to focus on if you’re feeling anxious or are stuck in a worry cycle.
And you don’t have to be an athlete to experience these benefits. Even low-impact movement like walking or swimming can do wonders.
Your diet is another important factor when trying to combat stress. According to research, consuming a lot of processed sugar can trigger feelings of depression and worry. So do your best to cut back on your sugar consumption. Try swapping out candy for fresh fruit, and adopt a diet rich in vegetables and whole grains.
6. Cut Back on Technology
While our phones keep us connected, they can negatively impact our mental health. In fact, science has found a direct link between phone addiction and an increase in stress levels and mental health conditions.
You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not addicted to my phone.” Are you sure? Think about it. How many times a day do you look at your phone? How often do you subconsciously pick up your phone for no reason? When was the last time you went somewhere without it?
Never fear, you can break the cycle. Consider turning off all your notifications so you aren’t tempted to scroll every time you get an email. You could also put yourself on a schedule where you have designated “phone time.” Remember, the goal is to identify when you’re obsessively using your phone so that you can stop or at least cut down on wasted time.
Stress is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Indeed, chronic stress can lead to physical and emotional issues, causing lasting effects. The best thing you can do now is try to alleviate your stress as much as possible. From mindfulness to talking with a professional, the above tips can help.