One thing we are all aware of is that we feel stress. Right now, you may be feeling a lot of stress with the holidays approaching. There are so many extra requirements and tasks to fit in at this time of year, and then there is a lot of extra family time. Whether it is because of the holidays or other things in your life, we’ve all felt stress at different times.
As Dr. Sydney Spears says, stress is impacting our health, “because it means that you can easily get very anxious. You can easily get very depressed too.” One of the most important things we can do to promote our health and wellbeing is learn stress management and have a set of tools in our toolbox to deal with the stress we are feeling.
Tools for Stress Management
Managing Our Thoughts
Dr. Sydney Spears is a professor of practice at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare with a Ph.D in clinical social work. She points out how our self-talk can add to our stress. We can get caught up in our mind, and think the same thought over and over. Sometimes we are planning a conversation we need to have, or we are ruminating on a conversation that we had a week ago. Instead of conversations, we might just be thinking about a problem that we are having. All of that thinking can produce stress.
Dr. Spears says that one tool to manage our thoughts is to use mindfulness to stop them. Simply stopping and asking ourselves questions, like “Do you know you have had that same thought over and over? How is that thought making you feel? Where do you feel that in your body?”
For Dr. Spears, she might respond that the thought is making her feel frustrated, and that her jaw is tight because she can feel the frustration there.
These questions are very simple, but they give us the opportunity to stop our thoughts, observe them, and then choose to move in a new direction.
In the PsychoSpiritual Quadrant, we discuss the importance of self-love. One of the ways that we manifest self-love is through our self-talk. And during periods of stress, our self-talk can be less than loving. If you’ve been struggling with something, it is easy to forget the self-love and self-compassion and use words that blame or disparage you and your efforts.
Instead, we need to manage our self-talk, make a clear effort to use words that reflect kindness and compassion for ourselves. Remember Crystal Jenkin’s counsel of starting with how you talk to your best friend. If you told your best friend the things that you are going through, what would they say? Stop your automatic self-talk, and say those things instead.
Managing Your Schedule
Make sure that you have whitespace on your calendar. This is actual planned time that you don’t have anything to do, and that you aren’t going to fill with things like grocery shopping and laundry. It is different than blocking out a Friday evening, knowing that you’ll do something with your family. That is all time that you know in advance you will fill.
With whitespace on your calendar, you keep the time open and use it to take care of yourself. It could be time to do yoga, or write in your journal, or take an epsom salt bath, or just sit quietly. Although it is space on your calendar, all of these things give you space in your mind and spirit.
Meditation, Yoga, and Tai Chi all rely on connecting to your breath. Studies show that deep breathing lowers your stress, helps you relax, and affects your heart, brain, digestion, and immune system. When we are stressed, we automatically begin breathing faster and more shallowly. Slowing down your breath and breathing deeply stops the stress response in your body.
Breathing exercises are very simple and can be done anywhere. Even in the car during rush hour. A simple breath exercise to do is 4-7-8 breathing. You just inhale for four breaths, hold for seven, and then exhale for eight breaths. There are also a variety of apps that can help you slow your breathing.
Make Time to Connect with Other People
Having a tribe is so important during times of stress. We need people around us to help us and simply to be kind and compassionate forces in our lives. To let your tribe into your life, you need to make time to connect with them even during times of stress. This does not have to be a long weekend trip, it can be as simple as a 10 minute phone call.
If you have a friend who can do something for you to help with your stress, ask them. We all want to help and support our friends. But even if there isn’t a task you need help with, spend time with your friends. The time together will lift your spirit and reduce your stress.
Know that Sometimes You Have to Talk to Someone
As Randy Floyd discussed, there is a stigma about mental health that can prevent us from getting help sometimes. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your mental health and to manage your stress is to talk to a professional counselor or therapist.
We will all experience stress, but reaching for these tools can help us get through it.