When your stress levels are high, using healthy coping skills can help you reset and relax.
Stress is a part of everyday life. But constant, elevated stress levels can take a toll and make it challenging to function.
Finding and practicing healthy ways to cope with stress can help you reduce its impact on your daily life and the chances it affects you in the long run.
Looking inward and checking in with yourself daily by naming and noticing your thoughts and emotions is helpful, says Tanya J. Peterson, a certified counselor and mental health educator based in Oregon.
Doing this activates the part of your nervous system that signals the body to rest and digest, Peterson says.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it’s impossible to avoid or eliminate it.
Peterson recommends trying to accept the presence of your stress. But “this doesn’t mean giving up or resigning yourself to stress and problems,” she adds.
By accepting stress, you can stop fighting it. Battling stress and trying to shove it down doesn’t get rid of the stressor. It may even make you feel more stressed.
Coming to terms with the fact that you can expect a certain amount of stress in your life may make it easier to cope when life throws you a curveball.
Meditation is another valuable strategy for coping with stress. Mindfulness or meditation exercises can help you relax and allow you to approach your negative thoughts and emotions from another vantage point.
Meditation can be as simple as closing your eyes and creating a blank space in your mind. Or you can try guided sessions with the help of meditation apps or videos.
Ultimately, the goal is to relax and center yourself.
Peterson also recommends putting some distance between you and your stress. “Remind yourself that you are experiencing a specific thought or feeling, but that doesn’t necessarily represent your permanent reality.”
Ask yourself: “What else is happening in that moment?” Peterson says.
What else can you focus on? Is there something else you can think about aside from what’s causing you stress?
Distancing yourself can also mean distracting yourself temporarily from what’s stressing you out. That doesn’t mean bottling it up and forgetting about it, though.
This may involve setting aside small moments where you take a break from tasks, chores, and life’s daily stressors. Or it may include removing yourself from the situation that’s causing you to feel stressed.
For example, if the news gives you anxiety, take breaks from social media or limit your consumption to only a few times a day or week.
You don’t need to ignore the news entirely, but it may not be healthy for your stress levels to review or absorb everything happening in the world.
Give your body the tools to cope with stress when it comes your way. Peterson says some of these healthy habits involve:
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends including a rainbow of fruits and veggies in your diet. It also recommends avoiding substances, such as alcohol, that can adversely impact your ability to handle and cope with stress.
A healthy habit also includes doing something you love. You don’t have to completely alter your lifestyle to improve your ability to handle stress. Small changes can make a big difference.
Meditation can involve breathing exercises, but it’s fine to focus solely on deep breathing if you find it difficult to clear your mind.
Deep breathing exercises can help slow your heart rate and calm you when the world feels like it’s spinning too fast.
Share your worries and fears with the people you trust.
Talking about things that are stressing you out may help you unburden yourself and feel less overwhelmed.
According to the APA, having a solid support network can improve your ability to cope with stress.
Providing friends and family with support also has benefits. It’s essential to make sure that you and those around you give and receive support. One-sided relationships can end up causing you more stress than relief.
“Rather than just seeking to reduce [stress], shift your attention,” Peterson says.
This doesn’t mean getting rid of stress by distracting yourself. Instead, Peterson suggests, replacing your stress involves taking small steps to add more of what you want to your life.
For example, do you wish you had a better work-life balance? It might be useful to make an action plan to schedule more family time.
Or maybe you want to have a more vibrant social life. Consider spending less time worrying and stressing over your limited social circle and finding ways to connect with others.
The progressive muscle relaxation technique aims to release tension throughout the body.
To do progressive muscle relaxation, use the following steps:
- Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths.
- Starting with your toes, tense each muscle in the body for 5 to 10 seconds, then release.
- Work your way up your body to your face and head muscles, tensing and relaxing each set of muscles in turn.
Stressful moments and events happen to us all. And experiencing high levels of daily stress can be overwhelming. Finding ways to cope with stress can help you tackle it head-on.
If you’re constantly worrying over everything and find yourself unable to detach from your anxious thoughts, you may want to seek help from a professional.
If you’re not sure where to look for mental health support, consider checking out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist page.