By Art Markman, Ph.D. for YouBeauty.com
Let's just agree right up front that stress is no fun. That pit in your stomach that warns you of impending doom is an unpleasant experience. So, what can you do to help yourself deal with that stress?
If you want to change anything in your life, it is really helpful to understand how it works first. You would never try to fix your computer by popping off the cover and randomly reaching in and grabbing components. Your brain is no different.
Stress happens when there is something in your world that you are trying to avoid. That means that there is some possible negative outcome or responsibility out there and that you are concerned about failing. While your goal to avoid the negative is active, you feel stress. If you successfully avoid the negative outcome, then you feel relief.
Here are five ways you can help manage your stress:
1. Set some positive goals.
If you are constantly feeling stress, it means that you are spending most of your time focusing on avoiding negatives in your life. As a result, the best possible outcome for yourself is that you might sometimes feel relief.
If you want to open up the possibility to feel real joy and happiness in your life, then you need to start focusing on positive outcomes that you would like to achieve. Pursuing and achieving those positive outcomes will make you happy. What is something really nice you would like to do? Focus on and plan for that to offset the negativity and get to a more joyful state of mind.
2. Drain some energy.
When you feel really stressed, you also get energized. Your body is flooded with stimulating chemicals and wants to do something. The problem is that many of the stressors in the modern world require sitting at a desk in order to fix them. All of that energy that might have been helpful if you were living in a hunter-gatherer society gets in the way at a desk.
In times of a lot of stress, add more exercise into your life. Go for a run or walk. Head over to the gym. Play with your dog. Do something to remove some of that energy. That will help you regain your focus.
3. Get close.
The human body releases oxytocin when it is close to another body. One function of oxytocin is to create a feeling of calmness. So, get close to someone else. If you don't have another person you can hold, try a pet. Even if you can't own your own pet, hop down to a local animal shelter and spend some time there.
4. Face your fears.
When you are feeling really stressed, don't be afraid to look your fears in the face. What are you really worried about? What is the worst-case scenario? Sometimes, you may find that the situation isn’t really as bad as you fear it to be. F.D.R. may have overstated the case when he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but he was pretty close.
5. A little meditation never hurt.
When you are breathing deeply, stress seems to melt away. You practically have to try to feel anxious in the middle of a set of mindful, meaningful inhales and exhales. We can create some relief from the outside in. In bad times, close your eyes, turn out the lights and breathe slowly. Pay attention to your breath. Listen to the way it sounds and how it feels to fill your lungs with air and let it out. A little soft music and some deep breathing can go a long way to create an oasis in a busy life.
Of course, if you have the time, consider a class in meditation or yoga. But if the thought of taking on anything new would just cause more stress, then give yourself permission to take the occasional five-minute break for some deep breathing.