Marriage, the death of a loved one, moving to a new city for college, illness, people-pleasing tendencies…what do these factors have in common? Stress. As I mentioned last time, stress can have either positive or negative results. If you’re a perfectionist striving for that faultless ideal because you feel inadequate, you may find that exerting that constant pressure on yourself may eventually work against you. However, you might be the kind of person who flourishes under pressure and instead experience a high degree of motivation and productivity that you might otherwise not achieve. Regardless of your personality, stress is always going to be a part of your life. It’s important to learn how to effectively manage it.
We experience stress when we do not meet the demands placed on ourselves with equally effective coping strategies. The thing is, most people don’t generally plan how they respond to stress. When was the last time you sat down and had a meeting with yourself about how you were going to handle things if your best friend got sick, your significant other broke up with you, or you found yourself stuck in traffic on the way to an important meeting? If you’re like me, the answer is…never. You kind of just tend to react without thinking. But think about it now: what is your usual practice when it comes to stressful situations? Do you avoid the situation, withdraw, confront it head on? Possibly, it depends on the circumstances and the potential consequences. It’s easier to confront your sister about borrowing your clothes without asking than it is to confront your boss when she’s belittling you.
What is important to remember is that you have three choices when you experience stress—you can resist it, avoid it, or adapt to it. Examine your past patterns of coping with stressful situations and consider whether you are pleased with your current strategy for stress management.
Negative Coping Mechanisms
Let’s take a look at some unhealthy ways in which people may react to stress. Some negative stress management techniques include:
1. Drinking alcohol, smoking, or doing drugs.
2. Excessive worrying or imagining the worst outcome of the situation.
3. Over- or undereating.
4. Stubbornness/tantrums (such as yelling or pouting).
5. Withdrawing/keeping things to one’s self.
6. Denial of problems.
Positive Coping Mechanisms
Healthier coping mechanisms for stress include the following:
1. Eating a balanced and healthy diet.
– Sugar and processed foods can exacerbate stress.
2. Spending time alone.
– Listen to music or try reading, writing, or drawing.
3. Spending time with friends.
– Go shopping, play sports, or watch a movie.
4. Exercise regularly.
– Find something you’ll enjoy that will allow you to release tension, whether it’s stretching, yoga, or just taking a walk.
5. Treating yourself.
– Get a massage or a manicure, or have dinner at your favorite restaurant.
7. Getting enough rest.
– Aim for at least 7 hours per night. Also ensure that you incorporate breaks into your day, even if it’s just a five minute stretching break once an hour during study time. It’s important to rest both your eyes as well as your mind.
8. Seeking support.
– Choose someone you trust. You might receive support from friends, family, or a professional.
The key is to figure out which stress management techniques work best for you. You can manage your stress levels and help restore balance to your life by taking care of both your mind and body. Need some more suggestions? Consider the following, and try these 52 proven tips for stress relief from the Santa Clara University Wellness Center.
- Prioritize your tasks and use “to-do” lists.
- Learn deep breathing/relaxation techniques.
- Pay attention to negative self-talk and change it into positive self-talk.
- Practice saying “no” to situations and people that add stress to your life.
- Laugh! Watch a comedy or find a funny video on YouTube.
- Take time to have fun and enjoy your favorite hobbies. It really helps to have something to look forward to.
Don’t wait until your stress causes serious disruption in your emotional, physical, academic and social lives. Stress is cumulative, so pay attention to the red flags your body gives you (such as a nervous stomach, headaches, or a disrupted sleep pattern). Once you’ve learned the proper warning signs, you’ll know when it’s time for you to slow down and de-stress.