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But what can you do about it? How can you manage and reduce stress?
Here is a comprehensive playbook on how to relieve stress, including tips and techniques to practice.
The American Institute of Stress (AIS) defines stress as a general state of distress. This includes physical, mental, or emotional states of strain and tension. Or feeling overwhelmed when demands exceed your personal and social resources.
Stress is a diverse and complicated concept. Situations that some people perceive as stressful may not strain others.
There are many different types of stress, including acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress. There is also good stress and bad stress. While we all sometimes long for a less stressful existence (usually after an episode of high stress), stress is a natural part of life and living with others.
The AIS also suggests that, while stress is usually framed in a negative light, it can have positive effects. While research has shown that high stress doesn't actually lead to better performance, and left unchecked can have significant negative effects on your health and relationships, it can also be used to motivate you to accomplish more.
And, whether you are building muscles or new skills and capabilities, stress is necessary for growth. Growth comes from getting out of the comfort zone, and that is uncomfortable.
In our BetterUp data, we can see the way Members experience periods of high growth when they are also facing the types of challenges that create stress. With the right strategies and support for building resilience, you can make stress work for you.
Is this stress? (The answer is almost always yes)
Rather than trying to avoid all stress, learn to understand it, and be aware of where it is helpful or harmful.
A wide variety of factors can cause stress. These include demanding workloads, job loss, traumatic events, and many other factors that vary from person to person.
Common signs and symptoms of stress include:
- Changes in mood
- Difficulty sleeping
- Digestive problems
- Frequent illness
- Fatigue and physical exhaustion
- Grinding teeth
- Muscle tension
- Physical aches and pains
- Increased heart rate
Some people may experience emotional symptoms like:
- Irritability and frustration
- Psychological symptoms like memory issues
- Constant worrying
- Poor focus and concentration
Physical signs like substance dependency, high blood pressure, and weight changes are also related.
How to relieve stress: 15 ways to reduce stress in your life
Would you like to learn how to be less stressed? Here are some helpful tips for handling stress in your daily life.
- Focus on your breathing
Breathing exercises offer many of the same benefits as meditation. They are an effective short-term stress reliever.
Breathing relaxation techniques allow you to detach yourself from stressful thoughts. You can then gain control of your emotions, enabling them to dissipate.
When you find yourself in a stressful situation, turn your attention toward your breathing patterns. Breathe in for a count of four, and then slowly out for a count of six.
There are plenty of breathwork apps available for download to guide you through your breathing exercises. Alternatively, invest in a smart watch or stress tracker that offers personalized guided breathing sessions.
- Engage your senses
One of the quickest ways to relieve stress is to engage your senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing in positive ways. Experts recommend trying to identify five things that you can hear, touch, taste, see, and smell. Then describe them in detail to yourself.
This exercise diverts your attention away from stressors and focuses your mind on more pleasant stimuli. Such as the taste of a cup of coffee or the sound of birds chirping outside of your office window.
- Get organized
Reducing last-minute scrambling in your life is another highly effective way to lower your stress levels. Organizing your life can be extremely empowering. It may even help you view situations that you once would have viewed as stressful as exciting instead.
- Focus on one task at a time
According to David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology, cognition, and perception at the University of Michigan, stopping multitasking significantly reduces stress levels.
You may think you can multitask effectively. But the reality is that dividing your attention among many tasks at the same time can leave you disoriented and unable to focus on any one task properly.
Results may include poor productivity, overlooked responsibilities, and a general feeling of mental exhaustion. Focus on completing one task at a time and use the Pareto principle. You will be better able to plan and schedule your time and keep your work at a consistent quality.
- Take a walk
Going for a walk is an excellent way to beat stress. Even if you take just ten minutes to walk through the city during your lunch break. Optimally, find a green space. Enjoy nature for a few minutes to calm down and take your attention off of stressful situations.
- Write in a journal
Nothing beats exercise when it comes to stress relief. Maintaining your physical well-being by staying active keeps your body and mind in peak condition. Plus, physical activity gives your body a boost of endorphins.
- Practice gratitude
What are you grateful for? Research has shown that regularly practicing gratitude can rewire your brain to seek out positive points of view.
Focusing on the positive in your life can help you alleviate stress and foster a more upbeat mindset about the challenges that you face.
- Eat a balanced diet
Stressful situations can prompt even the strictest of dieters to turn to refined carbohydrates and sugary snacks for comfort. Unfortunately, these foods can destabilize your blood sugar levels. This can cause health problems and worsen your stress symptoms in the long run.
Intuitive eating may provide a better approach. Intuitive eating focuses on your inner biological cues, like fullness, hunger, and cravings.
- Mindfulness and meditation
Science continues to discover a myriad of health benefits associated with practicing mindfulness meditation every day.
This form of meditative deep breathing improves your mindfulness by bringing your attention into the here and now. This shifts your thoughts away from the past and worries of the future and allows you to mindfully participate in the present.
- Prioritize your sleep
Poor sleep exacerbates stress and can set you up for chronic health issues, including:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type II diabetes
Prioritizing your sleep means practicing excellent sleep hygiene. You can do this by minimizing your exposure to light sources and screens at least an hour before bed. Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and reserving your room for sleeping instead of using it for other activities are also key.
- Seek professional help
Trained coaches, counselors, and psychologists can equip you with the long-term skills you need to reduce and cope with stress in your life. They study proven ways to relieve stress for years so that they can pass their experience on to others.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help when you feel that your stress levels are growing out of control. Especially if they are impacting your quality of life.
- Avoid isolation
Isolation can compound feelings of stress and loneliness.
You can combat loneliness by staying socially connected. Connect with supportive friends, family members, and colleagues who you can speak to about your concerns. This kind of social support is a key way to de-stress. It is also important for your overall social well-being.
- Work on your communication skills
Managing your stress levels includes honing your communication skills. This will help you reach out for help in respectful, constructive ways.
Pausing before you respond is one excellent way of regulating your emotions during a stressful interaction. This will prevent you from lashing out in an angry way due to stress.
- Set boundaries
Setting boundaries can be challenging, but the results are worth it.
Boundaries ensure that relationships have high levels of mutual respect and that every party’s needs are met. With boundaries, you can reserve your energy for the things that matter most to you, including your personal goals.
Final tips on stress relief
Adopting these useful stress relief practices will help reduce stress and anxiety in your life. But it’s important to be consistent with these practices for the best results.
Follow the "4 A’s of Stress Management" to achieve this consistency.
The 4 A’s of Stress Management are:
First, avoid unnecessary stress in your life and release stress wherever you can. Learn how to say no to situations and obligations that you would prefer to steer clear of. Know your limits and stick to them to whatever extent possible.
Next, alter stressful situations if you cannot avoid them. For example, you can be more assertive about your preferences in a respectful way to ensure your concerns are heard by others.
You can also adapt to stressors in some cases. Reframe problems in different ways to see them as challenges or opportunities for growth. Adjust your standards from perfectionism to a willingness to be wrong.
Lastly, accept things that you cannot change.
Some situations will be out of your control in life. Attempting to control them will cause you stress and lead to few benefits if any at all.
Start prioritizing stress relief today
Learning how to relieve and manage stress takes time and practice. There are techniques that will be effective in the short term. But other strategies will take consistent effort if you want to see results long-term.
On your journey, keep in mind that all stress is not created equal. Sometimes changing the way you think about the stress of the moment can make all the difference — a moment of growth and opportunity versus a moment of chaos.
But not always. Seek to understand how different types of stress work, and don't work, for you.
Talking to a professional can help you develop important stress and anxiety relief techniques and learn how to deal with stress.
Request a demo today to understand how BetterUp can help your teams learn to manage stress better or try out an individual program for more guidance on how to relieve the stress in your life and promote better personal well-being.