I’ve had quite a bit of stress in my life lately, and it’s reminded me of the tools I’ve been given, learned, or, let’s be honest, been forced to incorporate in my life in order to manage the stress. While the obvious best solution is to eliminate the stressors in life, sometimes that’s not an option. When stress rears its ugly head, and we aren’t in a position to slay it outright, here are some of the tools that have worked for me. I hope they help you, too.
1. Breathe. This is one of the most effective, in-the-moment tools in the arsenal. Recently, I learned that breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth can give it an extra stress-busting kick that can help to bring the adrenaline down.
2. Drink lots of water. So what, it makes you go to the bathroom a lot? (Seriously, this is one of the most common complaints in response to this suggestion that I hear.) Water helps to wash toxins out of our bloodstream. Stress releases toxic chemicals into our system (that’s part of why it feels yucky and why, over time, stress is actually damaging to the human body).
3. Learn about stress. There are a lot of good materials out there, from places like the Mayo Clinic or your health provider’s website, to your doctor, books, friends, and the internet. Get good information about what stress is, how it affects the body, and what you can do about it. Knowledge is power.
4. Take your own advice. Many times, we know what we “should” do, we just don’t do it. Take the steps to remove your own blocks to good behavior, and implement what you know will help you in the long term.
5. Don’t be the lone gunman. While that has an echo of ugliness, because sometimes people literally become gunmen when under stress, I mean it more figuratively: don’t suffer in silence. Tell your friends, your pastor or rabbi or other religious counselor, your therapist, or other trusted advisor. Talking about it, even just admitting “I feel stress” is the first step to taking control and reducing the stress in your life.
6. Understand bravery. Being brave isn’t lack of fear. Being brave is doing something even when you’re afraid. Sometimes, the things that are causing the most stress are within our power to change, we’re just afraid to. Practice bravery in the small things so that when big things come up, you have the skills polished and know what to do.
7. Trust yourself. Your own inner guidance, that moral compass inside you, is your best and truest friend. Learn to listen to yourself, so that when you need it, you’re there to advise you.
8. Exercise. Endorphins that are released when you exercise lower stress. It can also boost your ability to handle new stress, so it’s kind of a perpetual-motion machine of goodness that can beat back that stress. Just do it!
9. Eat well. Medicating ourselves with too much sugar or fat is a common response to stress. Be aware of this impulse and make good decisions about food. If you need to get yourself into a program like Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous if food is your drug of choice.
10. Remember, or learn, the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Simple, powerful, liberating.
11. Learn what you can control in a situation. There are always options. When you can hone your ability to see those options, you empower yourself. You may not like the options, but having them can give you, well, options. When you can make decisions, you exercise control. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
12. Go easy on the drugs. Understand the effects of your drugs of choice: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or others. Know that putting them in your system has consequences, and that when we’re stressed, it’s natural to want to self-medicate. The problem is that doing so can cloud our ability to effectively deal with the stress that caused the urge in the first place, which is why it’s difficult to stop. If you need help doing so, see a therapist or cessation group and get information and support.
13. Massage. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: massage works. It works with the body’s natural healing processes and boosts your ability to manage the stress you’ve already developed as well as prevent further stress from having adverse effects. If you haven’t tried it, make a resolution to find a good massage therapist. Highly worth the money and time you invest.
Above all, remember: you are the architect of your life. If there are things happening on a regular basis in your daily round that you don’t like, you have the power and authority to change them. Be open to the abundance in the universe and trust yourself. You can do it!