Updated on 4/9/21
The hard truth is, there is no avoiding stress. From the moment we are born until our final days, we all experience different levels of emotional, mental, or physical stress on a regular basis. The circumstance as to why we feel it can and will vary greatly. The stress you feel hearing loud music coming from your neighbor’s house at night will feel different from the stress of being unemployed, for example. While the feeling of stress will always be a part of life, there are ways to mitigate and manage it that can impact how we cope. And much of it has to do with how we take care of ourselves.
What is Stress Management?
“Stress is that space in between being stagnant and accomplishing a task, so without it, I’m not sure that we get the end result that we had in mind,” explains Dr. Meaghan Rice, peer consultation team lead and therapist at Talkspace. Rice says there’s a certain level of stress that propels us forward, and that stress is often beneficial — called eustress — because it gives us inertia in a lot of ways. “It’s great to normalize stress, though, because I don’t think the goal is to completely eliminate it.”
Instead, Rice believes the goal is to be mindful of its intensity, ensuring that it doesn’t overflow in a way that creates negative side effects — like hopelessness, irritability, and fear. If we’ve hit a point where we no longer feel in control of the intensity of stress, it might be the time to start thinking about actively mitigating it.
Factors to consider when reducing stress
Mitigating or reducing stress looks different for different people; but generally there are four domains to consider when we talk about stress. The first two, our mind and body, refer to the personal, and the second pair, our community and job/school refer to the interpersonal. Rice says that incorporating a couple guidelines within each of these categories that allow for a higher probability of success in your endeavors to mitigate stress:
- Our mind. While it doesn’t seem like we should focus on our mind when mitigating our stress, changing our perspective is a behavioral game changer.
- Our body. The mind and body connection rules our overall feelings for the world around us. Therefore, fueling our bodies fuels our minds and vice versa.
- Our community. Are we surrounded by people that act as a resource, are reciprocal, and are filled with gratitude? Or have we found ourselves in a slump of toxicity?
- Our job and/or school status. Do we find value where we are or would a shift to something else save the day?
Taking an inventory of the larger categories, helps us break them down into more manageable tips.
6 Tips to Mitigate Stress with Self-Care
Managing stress often comes down to how we take care of ourselves. Here are a few tips to help you mitigate your stress by taking better care of yourself.
1. Seek an impartial view of your life
Professional counselors are the best options here, but if your resources don’t afford you this option, a trusted confidante that wouldn’t mind sharing some feedback would work too. Although advice isn’t a replacement for therapy, you can still share and discuss your problems. What does this person see as your greatest strength? Greatest hurdle? How does your perception align or fail to align with their view? The idea here is that we might be able to see something more clearly if we discuss it with someone other than if we were to only reflect on our own; and normalizing feedback gives us some degree of a measurable gauge.
2. Exercise and strengthen your body
Our physical body needs love every single day, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes. Intense movement makes a difference to our mood. Group workouts are a great solution; if people are counting on us, it helps us feel much more committed to taking on the task of working up a sweat. It also doesn’t hurt — so to speak — to have someone else to share the pain that comes with a good workout.
3. Eat healthy
This doesn’t mean finding a fad diet or making a mission to lose all sorts of crazy weight. This could be about eat foods that are in alignment with what our bodies need to refuel. “For me, that’s changed over the years. I used to be able to enjoy dairy in moderation, but now I can’t enjoy it at all,” says Rice. “The knowledge has saved me so many unbearable side effects.”
Get help to explore allergies, vitamin deficiencies, or just a deeper sense of understanding of what your body needs to feel good.
4. Avoid a toxic environment
Sometimes we keep toxic people around for an unruly amount of time because of guilt (too intimate, too family-like, too many ties that it would cause a disruption, fear of being alone and/or unwanted). Remember that we are the average of the company we keep, so a stressful external environment seeps into our internal struggles.
5. Find a passion, hobby, and/or interest that pushes you
This could be arts and crafts, sewing, reading, playing an instrument, getting on a yoga mat, praying to something or someone higher than ourselves, meditating to a chant or the sound of your breath. All of these things take away our ability to dwell on the past or fear the future.
6. Pull gratitude from some positive reinforcement
Look for direct feedback or direct reinforcement here. What has someone said or done that has been in direct alignment with behaviors they would want to see?
While facing stress is a reality for everyone, there are ways to work with it so that it becomes a manageable part of life. You can confront stress simply by taking better care of yourself. So invest in your self-care, and remember that without stress, we wouldn’t be compelled to press forward. Still, stress can feel overwhelming at times. If you’re struggling and looking for someone to help you navigate your stress, speaking to a licensed therapist can be a great way to move forward.