5 Steps to Help Manage Your Stress

Coping With Stress

High-pressure workdays, virtual school, raising kids, lack of sleep and exercise and trying to make ends meet understandably leads to stress. Roughly, 75 – 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints — headaches, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, skin conditions, hair loss, weight gain, weight loss, and more. Sound familiar?  Managing your stress can have numerous health benefits. Here are five simple ways to relieve stress and anxiety.

  1. Regularly practice healthy stress-management skills. Key areas to focus on include exercise, sleep, nutrition, and relaxation.
  2. Let go of perfectionistic, idealistic thinking. Consider the big picture. What realistic behavior or result will help you accomplish that? Set realistic expectations for your life and yourself. Pay attention to when and how often you say “I should” or “I ought to” and replace that language with a realistic action instead.
  3. Nurture yourself, as you would a partner, an aging parent or a child. You must be in good mental and physical health to nurture others. Make a list of pleasurable activities – just for you – that you can consult when it’s time to recharge your batteries, e.g. a long hot bath, reading, long morning walks, listening to the birds, etc.
  4. Nurture relationships with your partner (if applicable) and friends. Making time for your social life can provide stress relief. Nurturing and building healthy relationships help sustain us because we receive when we give.
  5. Set priorities. Evaluate your “pie chart” of life and note what’s out of balance. Only you have the control to make your life what you want it. No one is going to do it for you.

Stress management can include physical activity, relaxation techniques, meditation and yoga. Get your body moving for 30 minutes to an hour every day. It doesn’t have to be “exercise,” per se, and it can be spread out over the day in 10-minute increments.

Deep Breathing: Instructions and Benefits

  1. Set aside 1-2 minutes for yourself. Find a space and time when you will be free from demands or distractions. Suggestions: a quiet room in your house; your office with the door closed; your car after pulling into your parking place at work. You can do it wherever, really. The main goal is finding a time and place where you can be completely relaxed.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position. Place both feet on the floor, lean back, and lay your open hands on top of your legs. If you are comfortable sitting in the Yoga lotus position (seated, cross-legged), that is fine, too.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Breathe in through your nose, deeply, so that your abdomen extends. (Think of breathing with the abdomen instead of the chest.) Hold your breath 1-2 seconds.
  5. Exhale through your mouth, completely, until all your breath is out. Wait 1-2 seconds.
  6. Repeat steps 4-5 ten times. Every day. No matter what.
  7. Use your fingers to keep track of your 10 breaths. Or set a timer for two minutes.
  8. In the beginning, some people like to structure their breathing by counting (with an inner voice):  “In two three; Hold two three; Exhale two three; Wait two three”. Others may choose a word such as: Peace or Joy on the in breath, and Fear or Anger on the out breath. Some people use a word or image from their faith tradition. You may discover your own words or images, or use none at all.

If you notice that your mind is wandering while breathing, simply note the thought and let it go. Then re-focus on your breathing. Always return to the breath.

After opening your eyes, let any dizziness subside before standing. (Dizziness can occur when blood pressure lowers.) Returning to normal breathing quickly takes care of this.

The benefits of deep breathing are many.

•  The Aaaah factor feels wonderful, and unlike guilty pleasures, it’s good for you.
•  Deep breathing lowers heart rate and blood pressure by “turning on” your parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for calming your body). This, in turn, tells your sympathetic nervous system to stop pumping out stress hormones.
•  Like learning a sport or new skill, the more you do it, the more your body remembers how. So practice daily. It only takes two minutes!
•  If you feel stressed during the day, take a couple of deep breaths. Your body will learn to relax sooner than in the past because you have “trained” it.
•  As your body learns to become calmer, you (and others) may notice that you are generally a calmer person.
•  There is no financial cost, and the only side effects are good ones—physical, emotional and perhaps, spiritual.

On Your Thoughts & Feelings

•  Anxiety
•  Restlessness
•  Worrying
•  Irritability
•  Depression
•  Sadness
•  Anger
•  Feeling insecure
•  Lack of focus
•  Burnout
•  Forgetfulness

On Your Behavior

•  Overeating
•  Undereating
•  Angry outbursts
•  Drug or alcohol abuse
•  Increased smoking
•  Social withdrawal
•  Crying spells
•  Relationship conflicts

Of course, other potentially serious health problems also can cause some of these symptoms. If you’re not sure if stress is the cause or if you’ve taken steps to control your stress but symptoms continue, see your doctor. Also, if you have chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These signs and symptoms may indicate a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.

If you’re still feeling stressed after trying the tips above, talk to your provider.