Stress is an unavoidable part of life that can negatively impact both physical and mental health if not managed properly. According to the American Psychological Association, 77% of adults experience physical symptoms caused by stress. Additionally, stress can increase the risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease, depression, and anxiety disorders. Finding healthy and effective ways to cope is essential for adults who want to reduce stress and promote overall wellbeing. Here are some of the best techniques for managing stress:
Making physical activity a part of your daily routine is one of the most effective stress management strategies. Exercise releases endorphins which boost mood while decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days, incorporating both cardio and strength training. Going for a brisk walk, taking an exercise class, or doing bodyweight exercises like pushups and squats are all great options. Just be sure to choose an exercise you enjoy so you stick with it.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Activities that induce the body’s relaxation response can quickly alleviate stress. Try setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or yoga. Deep breathing triggers your parasympathetic nervous system to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and releasing muscle groups to reduce tension. Meditation and yoga train your mind to stay focused on the present rather than dwelling on stressful thoughts. Experiment with different methods to find the ones that work best for you.
Get Enough Sleep
Not getting adequate sleep can significantly increase stress levels. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours per night as insufficient rest increases the stress hormone cortisol and impairs your ability to manage emotions and cope with challenges. Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule and limit screen time before bed. Calming activities like reading a book, taking a bath, or listening to music can make it easier to unwind at the end of the day. Making sleep a priority will provide the energy and mental clarity necessary to deal with stressful situations.
Spend Time Outside
Being in nature offers an easy way to relieve stress and improve your mood. Just 20 minutes outdoors leads to a major reduction in cortisol. Local parks, hiking trails, or just your own backyard provide great opportunities to spend time among greenery and fresh air. Unplug technology and simply take in your natural surroundings using all five senses. You can also try walking, gardening, or recreational activities outside to combine the stress-relieving benefits of nature with exercise.
Foster Social Connections
Having the support of close relationships buffers against the detrimental effects of stress. Make time each week for face-to-face interactions with family and friends by scheduling a dinner date, joining a club, volunteering, or attending community events. Share your feelings with trusted loved ones and offer support in return. Feeling connected to others leads to higher oxytocin levels which counteracts elevated cortisol. Social bonds also contribute to happiness and can help you maintain perspective during difficult times.
Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
It’s tempting to rely on quick fixes like alcohol, drugs, excess food, or zone out with several hours of television to numb yourself to stressful thoughts and emotions. However, these coping mechanisms actually compound stress over the long-term. Limit unhealthy habits and aim to reduce or eliminate dependencies that prevent you from processing stress in a productive way. Find alternatives like calling a friend, making art or music, and meditating to steer stress reactions in a healthy direction.
Reflect on Perspective
How you perceive stressful events plays a key role in how they affect you. Try to reframe challenging situations more positively. Look at hardships as opportunities to learn and grow, and remember that you have the inner strength to persevere. Maintaining realistic optimism can empower you to navigate life’s difficulties while mitigating the harmful impacts of a pessimistic outlook. Stressful circumstances may be outside your control, but you can control your attitude and response.
Make Time for Fun
It’s easy to get overly focused on obligations and neglect activities you enjoy when you feel stressed. However, laughter, creativity, and lightheartedness are natural stress relievers. Schedule time for hobbies, seeing friends, trying something new, or whatever brings you joy. Even incorporating little things like watching a funny movie, grabbing coffee with a coworker, or playing with a pet can give you a mental break and a chance to reset. Make fun and relaxation a regular part of your routine.
In summary, managing stress effectively involves both proactively reducing strain through healthy lifestyle habits like exercise and sleep, as well as responding to challenges in an adaptive manner. Relaxation techniques, social support, optimism, and fun activities can all counteract the impacts of stress. By being intentional about self-care and coping strategies, adults can mitigate the physical and emotional consequences of stress to promote overall wellbeing.