There are many ways that stress affects your mind and your body; the consequences of long-term chronic stress unfortunately often lead to a deterioration in your quality of life and overall health. Whatever the cause of stress, be it work, relationships, the state of things in the world, or struggles with finances, being able to practices effective stress management is necessary.Stress can affect your body and your mind negatively. The body’s stress response is helpful in the short term to deal with an emergency that requires you to be primed for a fight or flight response. When the body remains in this mode over a prolonged period, it begins to put your health at risk. If you don’t get it under control, stress can impact your health leading to conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Not only can stress have these effects on your body, but it can also cause sleep problems, fatigue, and muscle tension. Your mood is also affected by stress. It can bring about irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and feeling like you are overwhelmed. This not only affects you, but it can also affect your relationships with others. Being able to manage your stress is beneficial to your health and the health of your relationships.
10 Stress Management Activities
Here are a few stress management activities you can use to begin managing stress and avoid the negative health effects it can bring. Some of these stress management activities are strategies you can implement at home that will produce immediate gains, while others are long-term strategies that will gradually reduce stress in your life.
1. Break up tasks into smaller chunks
Often, stress develops because we feel overwhelmed with the tasks we need to perform. If you have a huge exam session coming up, instead of looking at your whole schedule and preparing for it comprehensively, you can work through each course slowly. If you have a work project, break it down into its various parts, and then begin tackling each one piece by piece.
Instead of looking at the mess in the whole house, close some of the doors and focus on the room you’re in. Work through the rooms one by one until you get the job done. Breaking down your tasks makes them more manageable and less stress-inducing.
2. Get social supportBig decisions can cause a lot of stress. Choosing to go to college in-state or out of state; deciding between two jobs in different cities – these and many other decisions aren’t always easy to make. Having a strong circle of family or friends who are emotionally supportive and can give you perspective is a significant help.
Though other people can’t make your decisions for you, having people who will walk with you through life decisions helps you experience life with a measure of confidence. Your circle of emotional support can help you to manage your stress better.
3. Prioritize and do what you can
Another part of managing stress is looking at your to-do list and prioritizing your tasks. Some things require immediate attention, and these should be addressed first. Other things can fall by the wayside or be delegated to someone else, and that’s okay. If you find that your schedule is overwhelming you, consider dropping some things so that you can manage your stress better.
If you take on more than you can manage, and it begins to affect your health, consider setting it aside and letting someone else take it up. This is helpful as a long-term strategy to reduce your stress levels. If you simply have no room to add another project to your calendar, pass on it and focus on what you can do.
This can be particularly difficult for ambitious people and people who can’t say “No” to something. For the sake of your health and overall well-being, learning to prioritize or even say “No” on occasion is crucial.
4. Get movingOne short-term way to deal with stress is to get moving. Getting some exercise is a wonderful way to relieve stress and have your body produce “feel-good” neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine that enhance your mood.
Exercise can take a variety of forms, such as yoga, walking, biking, swimming, running, dancing, spelunking, surfing, or martial arts. Whatever gets you up and moving is good if your physician recommends it. Not only is it good for your body, but exercise helps to take your mind off whatever may be stressing you.
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
One effect of stress is increased muscle tension. When you’re in a fight or flight situation, your body is getting ready to engage the threat or escape it. Blood is redirected from organs like your stomach and redirected toward your muscles. In stressful situations, those muscles often tense to protect themselves and to prepare to run or stand your ground.
If your body does this over a prolonged period, as it does when you’re feeling stressed, it can begin hurting your body. You can start to get tension headaches, back, and shoulder pain. In Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), you take your time to slowly engage and disengage your various muscles throughout your body. Practicing PMR is great for reducing stress. Even taking time to breathe slowly through your nose and mouth can help to calm your body and your brain.
6. Eat and sleep well
For a longer-term strategy to help reduce stress, getting good nutrition and sleep help your body repair itself and give you the energy you need to work effectively and optimally. Giving your body what it needs also helps your mood. Over the long term, stress weakens your immune system, so giving your body a chance to recover by giving it what it needs goes a long way toward reducing your susceptibility to illness.
7. Take a break and do something you enjoyTaking a break when you’re feeling stressed can feel like the last thing you should be doing. But when you feel deeply stressed, doing something like playing with a pet can be relaxing. If that’s not your thing, stress bake, knit, run a bath, or give yourself a massage.
Taking the time out to slow things down deliberately and focus on simple and soothing tasks goes a long way toward stress management and calming your mind and emotions. In the long term, making space for leisure in your schedule can reduce your stress levels by giving you time to rest and recharge.
8. Avoid stimulants
We can sabotage ourselves over the long term through the short-term solutions we apply to problems. Stimulants can make you feel more energy now, but they can increase your heart rate and be detrimental to your health, and so prove counterproductive. It makes sense to avoid chemicals such as caffeine or nicotine found in beverages such as coffee, energy drinks, or sodas; nicotine is found in cigarettes and vaping products.
Taking other substances such as narcotics also may make you feel like you’re overcoming the stress, but it’s only postponing the damage. “Stress relievers” such as television also aren’t effective at relieving stress long term.
9. Get creative
Apart from slowing things down, taking time out to do some art can help reduce stress. Adult coloring books are quite popular these days and for good reason. Slowing down and coloring in intricate shapes can be a meditative exercise, similar to activities such as knitting.
10. Express gratitude
Sometimes, we need a little perspective to help us along. Taking the time to express gratitude for all the things that are right in our world can help reduce stress by focusing on all the things that are going right, as opposed to all the things that haven’t worked out or are still undone.
The change in perspective helps us to focus on what is important. “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus,” says 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Having a mindset of gratitude gives you a shift in attitude that can help reduce stress over time.
Christian Counseling to Reduce Stress
If you’d like additional support beyond the stress management activities suggested in this article, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to help!
“Stressed”, Courtesy of Elisa Ventur, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Breathe”, Courtesy of Tim Goedhart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Workout”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chick Salad”, Courtesy of Taylor Kiser, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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