Here are some simple, science-backed solutions to try out.
By Marisa M. Tomasic, Ph.D
Coming up with a plan to best handle stress requires thought. Depending on the nature of the stressor or one’s previous coping style, the very idea of managing stress can itself become surprisingly, well, stressful. Perhaps there is a belief that “real” stress management has to follow a particular protocol or a series of steps. We even hear that “balance” is essential for living optimally. While the notion of balance sounds ideal, trying to reach this elusive place in our mental health journey can be intimidating. It might be more helpful to think of stress management as a standard, fundamental part of how we actively take care of our health and wellness.
The tensions and anxieties that occur in the course of daily living can sometimes find relief from rather simple things that are easy to apply to routine self-care. Although the worries and challenges that accompany Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can feel much more overwhelming and debilitating than more ordinary life stressors, necessary coping skills can be helpful to manage symptoms and keep them from intensifying.
A diverse array of measures have been identified to help stress management that is uncomplicated yet backed up by scientific research. Here are three suggestions that will lead to less stress and improved mental health.
A Short Walk: Going for a brief walk can be a great way to decompress and relax, as it releases the chemicals in our brains associated with calmness and well-being. Ten minutes of walking around the neighborhood, at the park, on a track, or outside at work can have positive health effects. Taking a stroll in a “green” space, an area with trees and other elements of nature, has the potential to enhance your experience even further.
A Brief Nap: Many people struggle with getting adequate sleep in general, and some experience occasional or ongoing sleep deprivation. Inadequate sleep is associated with a variety of health issues, including heart disease, weight issues, depression, and diminished immune functioning. Taking a short nap of 10–20 minutes has been shown to boost energy and alertness, enhance memory, and improve mood and stress levels. Limit naps to around 20 minutes, as longer ones are prone to create grogginess, thus, forfeiting their benefits.
A Few Deep Breaths: Tension and stress can cause our breathing to become more rapid and shallow. This reaction can produce the feeling that we are not getting a “good” breath, or enough air, as often occurs during anxiety attacks. Slowing and deepening our breathing can help to calm the mind and body, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and help our bodies to function better. Relaxed breathing can be done anywhere throughout the day. Breathing from the abdomen, referred to as “belly breathing,” is best for relaxed breathing practices. Placing a hand on the abdomen, noticing the rise and fall of this area as we inhale and exhale, provides feedback that we are allowing our breathing to become more relaxed. Inhaling through the nose to a count of three and exhaling slowly through the mouth, allowing the shoulders to relax, can be useful as an immediate stress relief tool.
Individual factors and circumstances can be taken into account when implementing stress management. Persons with asthma might want to consult with their physicians to determine the level of walking and exercise that’s right for them. Furthermore, it can be helpful to discuss new coping tools and ideas with a mental health therapist. It can be encouraging to collaborate with a provider on developing a personalized stress toolbox that offers results and encouragement.