Top 7 Tips to Beating Stress

Beating Stress — Top 7 Tips

Stressed out? You’re not the only one–far from it! Sudden life changes, tough workplaces, troubled relationships, frightening medical concerns, and a long list of other sources of anxiety send enormous numbers of Americans to therapists and even emergency rooms every day. We are the only animal we know of that can think about the past and plan for the future, and while we enjoy the many benefits of technology as a result, we also pay the price: a lot of distraction from the present moment, and with it, a HUGE amount of stress from ruminating about the past and worrying about the future.

Beating Stress in Your Life

The good news is that this problem of stress has been around so long (thousands of years at least), that some of the best minds on the planet have been working on ways to mitigate it for equally long. Obviously, if stress becomes so severe as to cause serious psychiatric concerns such as depression, you need to see a mental health professional (my site has mental health links that may assist in finding help and support). Otherwise, there’s a lot you can do to handle your stress better.

Here are some of the best ways to beat stress nowadays, none of which are highly costly nor complicated, though all are sometimes challenging:

  1. Write in a Journal

One of the simplest and easiest ways to deal with stress more skillfully is to write in a journal. Expressing our thoughts and feelings related to the sources of stress, even to ourselves on paper, can help us take a more healthy perspective and lessen the impact of the stress on our lives. For journaling to be effective in this way, the key is to focus on the immediate thoughts and feelings you are experiencing and get these down on paper. Don’t spend a lot of time reviewing the excruciating details of the past; rather, try to capture what a microphone would hear if it could pick up your thoughts at the moment. If it’s helpful, you can picture a sympathetic friend listening to you or reading the journal entry later. Then read the journal entry yourself. It doesn’t matter if you keep it — you can even shred it if you’re concerned about leaving a readable record of your thoughts! The important thing is to have the experience of writing out thoughts and feelings and gaining perspective by reading them. This puts some distance between you and the “hot” thoughts that your mind has been giving you, and which you are probably taking much too seriously, as if they were facts rather than just thoughts.

  1. Reach out to friends and family

One of the most consistent findings in psychology is that people deal with stress much better when they feel supported by others. For some people, doing so comes naturally, while for others it takes a good deal of effort to overcome their reluctance to reach out. What can be helpful to consider here is how it’s been in the past when you’ve reached out for support from others — was it helpful? Was it worth the discomfort that it initially caused, in terms of the long-term benefit? If so, consider picking up that phone and talking to a friend or family member about what’s bothering you. Chances are good that people who care about you want you to lean on them when you need to!

Reducing Stress

  1. Exercise

Another finding strongly supported by research is that getting regular, even moderate exercise can improve mood and reduce stress. Our bodies were made to move and just about everything our bodies do benefits when we get regular exercise. Conversely just about everything our bodies do suffers when we don’t get enough exercise. Walking briskly or riding an exercise bike at a gym are perfectly good ways to exercise, as are sports, climbing stairs, lifting weights, or taking a yoga class. Consider what you have enjoyed doing (or at least tolerated doing!) in the past and take action to start doing similar activities again. Exercising can pay off very swiftly in terms of improved mood–often the very same day, minutes after exercising!

  1. Meditate

Unsurprisingly, evidence has also piled up in support of the usefulness of meditation for mental health and stress reduction. A lot of people think they’re “no good at” meditation; I’ve written about that belief quite a bit on my blog and talked about it in my videos. The fact is NOBODY is “good at” meditation when they start, any more than one would get great at tennis in a couple of short lessons! Meditation takes effort and time, but it’s inexpensive (free in most cases), requires no special equipment (a cushion or bench if you want to get fancy but a chair will do) and can be done any time of the day, just about anywhere. The benefits of meditation can take a few weeks to accrue and start to pay off, so the key is to persevere. One way to make meditation easier is to take a class in meditation, which you can do many places including here at Portland Mindfulness.

  1. Balance eating and sleeping

We struggle with our basic functions these days, eating and sleeping either too much or too little, and generally not regularly enough nor “in touch” enough with our bodies; in short we need to balance our eating and sleeping to maintain optimal mental health. While serious eating disorders and sleep disorders require treatment, for most people examining one’s sleep and eating habits and making minor changes is enough to have a substantial impact on stress. We need 8.5 hours of sleep per night on average, and do not do very well with long naps, which tend to mess up the night’s sleep. We also do better with frequent, smaller meals that are healthy in terms of including whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and lower levels of fats and refined sugars. While dietary recommendations vary broadly and trends come and go, this common-sense approach to diet seems to hold up well across multiple expert opinions, including that of the American Heart Association.

Work Related Stress Reduction

  1. Moderate alcohol and caffeine

Like anything else, a good thing in moderation can be toxic in excess. Negative effects of excessive alcohol use are well known and documented, but even “moderate” amounts can have deleterious effects on our sleep, which as I’ve just mentioned is pretty important in being resilient with stress. Caffeine on the other hand has both positive and negative effects; it’s been shown to help our bodies in many ways, but can also worsen anxiety and, obviously, affect sleep. The key is to observe and know one’s own limits in terms of when alcohol and caffeine are helpful or harmless, and when they begin to interfere with optimal coping with stress.

  1. Clarify your goals and why they’re worth it

Perhaps more than anything else, what makes us resilient in the face of stress is deeply understanding why we take on what we take on. Getting clarity on our values system and what stress we chose and why can allow us to experience our stress in a different way: rather than simply being painful, our stresses are the “ticket in” to the life we are choosing and want the most. If you want to marry, have kids, or have an interesting career, surely there is stress that comes with the package! We can easily lose touch with the fact that what we have chosen and what is most meaningful to us, might really be worth suffering some stress for! This point takes us back to journaling; you can write out the reasons why you chose to do something that caused you stress, and identify what underlying values you were and are serving by taking on that stress.

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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