2020 was a rough year! And 2021 has shown to be filled with challenges so far. Chances are that you may be dealing with piles of stress, may feel overwhelmed, and possibly battling the anxiety that comes along with these challenges.
The danger of allowing stress to pile on without addressing it is that when your body hits its stress threshold, the stress may manifest itself into a number of different ways; anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, impacts on self-esteem, tight and tense muscles,low back pain, neck pain, headaches, loss of sleep, poor quality of sleep, sleeping too much, breathing difficulty, panic attacks, and even fat gain among other things.
But Don’t fear!
The good news about stress is that there are PLENTY of strategies to help relieve, cope, or distract from said stress. With a little trial and error, hopefully you can find a proper coping mechanism for the stress that you may be experiencing. Before we begin, it’s important to note two things –
- Not all stress is bad.
- Stress can be useful in its way to help us grow, improve, and change as a person. But what can make stress worse than it is in actuality is your interpretation of stress. If you take any and all inconvenience, difficulty, or friction you face in your life as “bad stress”, then the overall stress you may experience in your everyday life will be just that much worse. But if you interpret such things as opportunities to grow, improve, or just generally as a lesson learned, the overall amount of stress you may experience will go down. So, remember, not all stress is bad, not all stress is good. Your interpretation of stress categories that stress into good or bad
- Stress is dynamic, therefore old coping strategies may not work anymore.
- Throughout life, the types of stress we experience changes in accordance with our situations and circumstances. Which means our old coping mechanisms may not be effective at addressing the specific form of stress you are dealing with at the time. Although this can be frustrating, it can also be a great opportunity of self-discovery! Also a time to explore new things. To give an example, your old coping mechanism may be to exercise intensely when you feel overwhelmed, but if you have an injury preventing you from working out, you may need to find another strategy to cope with the overwhelmed feeling. So remember, stress is dynamic and so is our ability to cope by using specific strategies.
Now that we understand these two important notes, lets dive down into several very effective ways to cope with stress.
Exercise, Specifically Aerobic Exercise
As alluded above, exercise is an excellent way to cope with stress. Several benefits occur with exercise besides just getting bigger biceps. For starters, exercise is a great way to channel anxious energy into a positive, physical way, helping to reduce tight and tense muscles through increased blood flow to said areas. This helps them to relax.
This can help by increasing your body’s general feeling of relaxation after a vigorous workout. Secondly, if anxiety is a big portion of your stress, exercise is an excellent distraction even for a short time. Lastly, if stress is manifesting itself into depression, aerobic exercise has been shown to be just as effective as anti-depression medication in reducing symptoms. So, if you are feeling a bit down, get your heart rate up! A quick walk, short bike-ride, or even a few flights of stairs should help improve your overall feelings of depression.
When I say journaling, I don’t necessarily mean “dear diary…”, but rather the act of writing down your feelings may help relieve your stress immensely. Sometimes we get trapped in our heads. This has us focusing on a problem for so long that a small issue or issues will feel huge. So, with the simple act of writing things down, you can not only organize but also visualize the problem you are facing. This also helps with knowing how it makes you feel. Hey, you might even be able to figure out how to deal with the stress on hand through simply writing it down and thinking through it!
Video Games/Board Games
Video games help a person cope similarly to how exercise helps people; distraction. Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is by disengaging from it entirely. Even for a short period of time. With a vast variety of games, genres, and the ability to socially interact with other gamers via online chats, video gaming is an awesome avenue of stress relief that is often overlooked. For those who like physical games, board games is another option! This could be a great way to disengage with stress for a brief time by either playing by yourself or with other friends!
We often overlook how deeply stress can impact our body. Also how big of a role our body plays in the interpretation of stress. If you have tight shoulders, low back pain, a headache, or just generally feeling crappy, we may naturally predispose ourselves to interpreting any more stress as bad stress. Therefore making all of the issues mentioned above much worse. Make sure you are taking care of yourself! A little neck massage, a cupping session, hot tub time, a bubbly bath, or maybe a simple nap can go a long way in relieving stress!
There are many forms of meditation. So experiment with the ones that work best for you. For me, mindfulness meditation has worked wonders during times of immense stress. Through the regulation of breathing, trying to empty the mind and simply “observing” any thoughts that pop into your head, you can calm the barrage of anxious, stress-filled thoughts that may be overwhelming. If you do not know where to start with mindfulness meditation, there are plenty of apps out there that can help you through guided meditation. My go to apps are “calm” and “headspace” …check them out
Hopefully these coping strategies will help you deal with some of the stress you may be dealing with. Before you go ahead and try these strategies out, realize that everyone is a bit different. Therefore each strategy may look different to you than to the next person. For instance, you may find that addressing your journaling to someone “dear diary” may be more effective than simply writing things down for yourself. Or possibly you may really enjoy rowing for exercise while the next person likes running up hills. Just recognize that each strategy requires a bit of trial and error. As well as general exploration to find the thing that works best for you and your situation.
Above all else, just remember…
Stress is neither good nor bad, stress just Is.