Learning to handle stress in healthy ways is very important. Fortunately, it is easy to learn simple techniques that help. These include recognising and changing the behaviours that contribute to stress, as well as techniques for reducing stress once it has occurred. The following tips from the APS can help you look after your mind and body, and reduce stress and its impact on your health.
Identify warning signs
It is very helpful to be able to identify early warning signs in your body that tell you when you are getting stressed. These vary from person to person, but might include things like tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, getting headaches, or feeling irritable and short tempered.
There are often known triggers which raise our stress levels and make it more difficult for us to manage. If you know what the likely triggers are, you can aim to anticipate them and practise calming yourself down beforehand, or even find ways of removing the trigger. Triggers might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, hunger or over-tired children.
Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, can be very calming and reassuring, and can help you to manage your stress. Routines can include:
• Regular times for exercise and relaxation
• Regular meal times, waking and bedtimes
• Planning ahead to do particular jobs on set days of the week.
Look after your health
• Make sure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise.
• Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing.
• Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.
Notice your ‘self-talk’
When we are stressed we sometimes say things in our head, over and over, that just add to our stress. This unhelpful self-talk might include things like: ‘I can’t cope’, or ‘I’m too busy’, or ‘I’m so tired’, or ‘It’s not fair’. While we might think that these are fairly truthful descriptions of what’s going on, they are not always helpful to repeat, and can even make you feel worse.
• Notice when you are using unhelpful self-talk, and instead try saying soothing, calming things to yourself to reduce your levels of stress. Try more helpful self-talk like ‘I’m coping well given what’s on my plate’, or ‘Calm down’, or ‘Breathe easy’.
• Keeping things in perspective is also important. When we are stressed, it’s easy to see things as worse than they really are. Try self-talk such as ‘This is not the end of the world’ or ‘In the overall scheme of things, this doesn’t matter so much’.
Spend time with people who care
Spending time with people you care about, and who care about you, is an important part of managing ongoing stress in your life.
• Spend time with friends and family, especially those you find uplifting rather than people who place demands on you.
• Share your thoughts and feelings with others when opportunities arise. Don’t ‘bottle up’ your feelings.
Make time to practise relaxation. This will help your body and nervous system to settle and readjust. Consider trying some of the following things:
• Learn a formal technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
• Make time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music.
• Plan things to do each day that you look forward to and which give you a sense of pleasure, like reading a book.
[Article sourced from the Australian Psychological Society (APS). Sarah & members of her team are current members of the APS.]