Stress: A Three Part Series: Part 2 | How to Cope with Stress
Last post, I discussed stress and the toll it can take on the mind and body. But now that I know what stress is doing to me, how do I stop stressing and stressing over stressing? This week, I will talk about ways to help deal with stress. I will give you four ideas to help you get back to your equilibrium.
1. Deep Breaths
When we are stressed out, feeling anxious, we often do not breathe properly, so that our body is getting the oxygen it needs. This can lead to our muscles getting tighter and out bodies and minds getting tired more easily. We need to be able to breathe purposefully, in order to feel more relaxed. There are numerous ways to accomplish this, but here are two relaxation techniques to start you off:
Mindful breathing : In your head, start to count one through ten. As you start your count, breathe in as you count one through five. As you count six through ten, slowly breathe out. When you are doing this, try to focus only on the numbers and your breath. If your focus goes somewhere else, especially on your stress, just refocus yourself. At first it might seem as though you are spending your whole time refocusing, but after a while, you will find this breathing exercise easier.
Breathing visualization : Imagine that your breath is visible. Make if your favorite color or smoky, something that you can see. Now, imagine the path that it takes through your body. Take a deep breath in through your nose, imagine that breath go down your windpipe, filling and expanding your lungs, moving down to your diaphragm. As you do this, you should be able to feel your stomach area expanding. Then the breath moves out of your diaphragm, back into your lungs, up your windpipe, and out of your mouth, slowly, like you are breathing on soup, squeezing every bit of air out. Do this several times. Breathing from your diaphragm is very important to breathing properly.
2. Progressive muscle relaxation
As stated before, stress can lead to feeling tense all of the time. To help to become less stressed, we need our body to feel less stressed, which means we need to relax our muscles. To accomplish this, we can do something called progressive muscle relaxation. For this exercise, start at your toes, tense them up as tight as you can get them, hold it for 5 seconds and release. If you are a visual person, you can imagine the stress wafting away as you release your tensed muscles. Then move your way up your body, trying to get every muscle group you have, even scrunching up those face muscles. By the end, you should feel less tense.
Exercise is important to keep our bodies and minds strong. Exercise can also be a great way to work out stress. Getting rid of some excess energy could help improve sleep, which in turn helps with stress symptoms. Also, exercise releases endorphins, which make us feel better and can elevate our mood. In addition, you are most likely putting your focus on your body, the activity, or maybe music, which gives you some relief from stressful thought. Further, stretching out your muscles can help to feel less tense.
4. Journaling to Reduce Stress
There is something cathartic about the process of writing things down. Through our writing we can be completely free and unfiltered. Our writing is a place where we can express ourselves. Journaling doesn’t even mean you have to write a narrative. It can be done through art, poems, or bullet points. There are no right ways to journal. What this process does, though, is to take all of the thoughts that are in our head and put them on paper, in whatever manner you choose. Now, those thoughts do not have to occupy your mind, they have a place. Some people like to destroy what they write, and they feel as though it is symbolic for them to help let things go. Although, others find a stress and health journal is a place that can keep their ideas, and if they want to come back to them if they want, but they do not need to carry their thoughts with them all of the time.
These ideas are a great starting place for managing your stress. If you feel as though you are not able to deal with stress alone, counseling can be another option. Feeling heard and understood, finding coping skills for stress that work for you, are all important takeaways from a counseling session. Never feel as though you need to go through stress alone.
In a few weeks, I will write my final blog in my stress series. This blog
will discuss how we get to a place to prevent stress. Stressful events will
always happen, but how we handle the situations is one way we can take
Written by Cara Metz, Ed.D., LPC
Interim Chair Counseling Programs, Forensic Psychology and I/O Psychology Programs
Argosy University, Denver