Stress is a normal part of everyday life. Positive stress helps us prepare and perform at higher levels. Chronic or toxic stress robs us of high-level performance and, eventually, physical and emotional health. Try these tips to manage stress and stay in the positive zone.
Practice noticing sensations of well-being
Take a moment to think of anything that brings you a sense of peace or calm. Maybe it is your dog or a vacation memory – this is called a resource. As you recall your resource, make the memory vivid by bringing in some sensory details. As you recall your resource, notice what sensations you are experiencing in your body. Some people may notice pleasant sensations happening inside as they think of their resource. If you notice pleasant sensations, try to spend a few minutes each day thinking about your resource. Doing so can help you feel more resilient and more in touch with the sensations of well-being. This matters because when we are stressed we often give attention only to sensations of distress, which leads to feeling more stressed.
Start a gratitude journal
National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story called If you feel thankful, write it down. It’s good for your health. Reporter Maanvi Singh shared that a growing body of research finds keeping a gratitude journal can help, among other things, lower stress. There are lots of special journals designed just for this purpose, but a composition book will also work well. Each night before you go to sleep write down three to five things you are thankful for. Nothing is too small (i.e. I’m thankful traffic was lighter than usual today) or too grand (i.e. I’m thankful for a good report from the doctor). Whatever it is, write it down. Another perk? You may sleep better, too.
Yoga is excellent for managing stress because it combines mindfulness, movement and deep breathing. As you move through the poses, you stay connected to your breath. You are also grounding (paying attention to how your body is making contact with the mat) and noticing yourself in the present moment instead of panicking about your to-do list. Yoga helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or rest and digest. This is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system or flight, fight or freeze.
Managing stress is critically important for good physical and emotional health. Chronic stress sets off a cascade of physiological responses that make it hard to be our best selves. One of the best ways to manage stress is just to slow down and take deep breaths. Ideally, your exhalation will be longer than your inhalation. Resolve to do this every time you wash your hands if it feels comfortable. If not, find what works for you. Check in with friends, download a meditation app, listen to music or scroll through your favorite photos. Stress is a normal part of every life, but chronic stress doesn’t have to be.