April is National Stress Awareness Month. We all experience stress from time to time. However, a global pandemic and the resulting backlash have caused many of us to deal with more stress in the past two years than in the rest of our lives combined. For this reason, I feel like learning and implementing stress management techniques is more important now than ever.
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s response to a perceived threat. It’s a normal — and sometimes helpful — part of life.
You can think of stress as an alarm system hard-wired into your brain. Its purpose is to help you flee from dangerous situations like being chased by an ax murderer. But when everyday issues like work deadlines and unpaid bills trigger an endless cascade of stress hormones, your body suffers.
No one explains the psychology of stress like my favorite neuroscientist, Robert M. Sapolsky. His book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (affiliate link) introduced me to the endlessly fascinating subject of psychoneurobiology, and the ways in which thoughts and feelings affect physical health. It was a required textbook for a Health Psychology course in college, and I proceeded to devour the entire thing.
Click the video below to hear Sapolsky briefly sum up the psychology of stress.
In case you didn’t have time to watch that, Sapolsky explained how stress helps a lion hunt for its dinner. Likewise, there have been times I’ve found myself in precarious situations while running in the mountains and relied on surges of adrenaline to keep me alive.
Stories for another time.
Then, Sapolsky describes psychological stress. He uses a 30-year mortgage as a common and relatable example of a stressor that can trigger the same physiological response.
Except he does it with more wit and beard than I could ever hope to muster.
The point is, once the threat is gone, your body is supposed to return to its normal state of homeostasis. But when your brain believes the danger is always present? That’s when disease occurs.
What are some common symptoms of stress?
Stress of all types affects your body the same way. That’s right, sitting in traffic causes your body to react the same as it would if you were being chased by a mountain lion.
In the heat of the moment, stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, sends more blood to your muscles, and enhances your focus, among a slew of other things. Basically, it prepares you to run for your life. Or fight for it. Stress also boosts your cognitive functioning so you can make the best choice between these two options.
But this hypervigilant state isn’t sustainable. Over time, stress wears on your body.
Signs and symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Body aches and pains
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Muscle tension
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty sleeping
Stress can increase your risk for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder. Additionally, people often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like over-or under-eating, drinking alcohol, and compulsive spending to deal with stress.
And that’s precisely why I want to share a list of easy, fun, and flexible stress management techniques. You can use any of these ideas to manage stress no matter how much — or how little — time you have.
How to manage stress in a healthy way that promotes self-love
Implementing healthy stress management techniques not only lowers your risk for a plethora of diseases and relieves difficult symptoms, but it also cultivates self-love!
If you think you have no time to de-stress, hear me out. You can start with as little as 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes! Who doesn’t have 5 minutes? That’s a small fraction of the time it takes me and my husband to agree on a TV show to watch.
Managing stress in 10-minutes or less
1. Unplug from your devices
It’s no secret that smartphones and other mobile devices wreak havoc on your nervous system and mental health. I turn off most app notifications and keep my phone on “do not disturb” or airplane mode whenever I want to focus on work, sleep, or self-care.
Drink more water! Studies show that adequate hydration reduces stress while improving skin tone, cognitive function, mood, digestion, kidney function, and loads more.
3. Eat food that makes your body happy
I’m not talking about dieting or recommending anyone eat or avoid certain foods. That shit is triggering for some people (me). I will say that if you pay attention to your body and eat mindfully, you’ll learn which foods make you feel like a superhuman and which make you feel like trash.
Meditation is the key to all good things! Yet, not enough people do it (me again). I’m restarting my meditation practice today, beginning with 5 minutes. That’s all it takes to feel benefits.
Not sure how to meditate? Just set a timer for the amount of time you want, then sit, lie down, or walk peacefully. Notice any thoughts that come into your head, but don’t follow them down the rabbit hole. Simply dismiss them without judging. That’s it! So easy.
5. EFT Tapping
My favorite EFT tapping sessions are in the 5-10 minute range, though they can be longer. If you’re not familiar with tapping, read this blog post The Life-changing Science of EFT Tapping. And if you want to dive deeper, EFT is a cornerstone of my 12-week Intuitive Coaching Program!
6. Say or write affirmations
Our thoughts direct our lives, and our words shape our thoughts. Affirmations are positive statements that help rewire negative beliefs. You can write them down, say them out loud, or both. My favorite affirmation to repeat when I’m stressed comes from hypnotherapist Grace Smith.
I am safe. I am calm. I choose to be here.
7. Mirror talk
Mirror talk involves saying positive affirmations while gazing at your beautiful self in the mirror. You can say things like, “I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am smart. My emotions are valid. I love you.”
Try it daily and let me know how you feel!
I write morning pages pretty much every day. In The Artist’s Way,(affiliate link) Julia Cameron recommends writing 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand every morning. I did this for many months. It takes about half an hour. Sometimes I don’t got that time! Now, writing one page for about 10 minutes feels good.
This one may fit better into a longer time slot, but if 5-10 minutes is all you have, that’s better than nothing! Move around! Have a 3-song dance party in your kitchen! Jump on a trampoline! Or, simply google “home workouts that take less than 10 minutes.” There’s a bunch out there you can do right in your home office.
I know because I do them.
10. Draw or paint a picture
This is a recommendation from my former therapist. She suggested that, when I feel stressed or irritable, I count backward from 5 and then draw or paint for 5 minutes. It works like a charm.
11. Do a breathing exercise
I’m not the best at implementing this one on my own, but I do it often in guided visualizations. there are lots of breathing techniques out there. Wim Hoff is a big breath guru worth looking into. My go-to technique is simple. I breathe in for the count of 4, then slowly exhale to the count of 6. Lengthening the exhalation activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which stops the stress response.
12. Use aromatherapy
Y’all know I love aromatherapy! You can place fresh herbs and flowers — like lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary — in your immediate environment. Or, you can use essential oils in a spray bottle, diffuser, or bath. To learn more, read my article on The best essential oils for beginners.
And when you can devote more time to stress management
You can do a lot of the stress management ideas from the list above for longer than 5-10 minutes. Likewise, I’m sure you could trim down some of those listed below to fit into a shorter time block. I made two separate lists because I enjoy organization. It helps me destress.
That leads me to my next tip…
Decluttering helps you feel calmer and more in control. You don’t have to go full-on feng-shui — although you could — but clearing your space and setting it up intentionally makes a huge difference in your mental health.
14. Take a bath
And see above about aromatherapy for a stress-dissolving bonus!
15. Go for a walk in nature
Walking in nature is one of the best things you can do for your mental health! And it’s just awesome. Exploring the woods near my house or the beach down the street is my favorite way to relieve stress.
16. Make a list of your wins
If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, make a list of all the times you’ve kicked ass in life. I just did this morning, and it felt great!
17. Have an orgasm
Either by yourself or with a partner. This may not take more than 10 minutes, but you probably want to give yourself some buffer room before you hop on a Zoom meeting with a fresh flush.
18. Read a good book
*denotes affiliate link
19. Cuddle fur babies
Petting a dog, cat, or other fur baby lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your blood. If you don’t have a fur baby, come on over! I have four.
20. Do a yoga class
Yoga With Adriene has like a decade’s worth of yoga videos you can do at home. You can even filter them by the amount of time you have! I’m a huge fan.
21. Pick up a hobby
I find that taking action of any kind usually relieves stress. Is there a class you’ve been longing to take? A new skill or language you want to learn?
Pole dancing, Gaelic, calligraphy, and kickboxing are high on my list.
22. Upgrade your sleep routine
Getting enough sleep is imperative for stress management. I’m a champ in this arena, so I don’t have many tips for improvement. However, I can say that dimming lights, avoiding screens, and reducing stimulation before bedtime is super helpful. I also like to rub my feet with peppermint oil before bed.
23. Avoid alcohol and drugs
I’m not trying to convert anyone to the alcohol-free life, but there’s absolutely no evidence that any amount of alcohol is good for you. Furthermore, using alcohol and drugs to de-stress is harmful.
I’ll admit, I’ve been known to drink too much caffeine. I hope you’ll be proud to learn that I’m cutting way back on that. I’m officially on half-caff now!
24. Remember HALT – hungry angry, lonely, tired
This is something I learned from my life coach, who learned it from AA. If you’re feeling stressed, check-in with yourself. Are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Give yourself the attention you need!
Most of the time, I’m hungry or tired. The solution is as simple as eating a snack or taking a nap. Snacks and naps aren’t just for toddlers, yo!
25. Remember the serenity prayer
I couldn’t bring up AA without this gem.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Reinhold Niebuhr
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
26. Make a self-care jar
I heard this idea on a podcast and thought it was brilliant! Write a bunch of self-care stress management ideas on slips of paper, then toss them into a jar. Keep the jar someplace visible, like on your desk. When you feel stressed, reach in and grab an idea!
27. Get a mani/pedi
Or just one or the other?
28. Book a massage or spa service
I love a good sauna and massage! My skin is too sensitive for most facials, but I great things from people who can handle them.
29. Watch comedy
Laughing and smiling makes you happy. This has got to be the best stress management technique — I should have made it #1! Oh well, hopefully, you stuck with me for the whole list.
I hope you enjoyed this list of stress management techniques! Please let me know if you try any of them.