Take A Break From Stress
As a therapist and emotional intelligence coach, I hear a lot about stress. Whether I’m sitting with my clients in my office in Denver, or working with people for online life coaching the same themes come up: work, traffic, time, kids, family, money. When you think about stress, what do you usually think about? Same?
Let’s make a quick distinction. These are things that cause you stress, but they aren’t stress themselves. Stress is what happens inside of you, as a result of these triggers. It’s normal to think of stress as something that is outside of us. The truth is, there are a lot of things in this world that can cause us stress.
However, when you learn skills and strategies to manage emotions and stress on the inside you can live through the same life experiences but feel much differently about them. Believe it or not, it is possible to learn how to manage yourself in such a way that you can maintain your inner zen and regain inner peace no matter what is going on around you.
Here’s some advice: you don’t have to feel this way. It is possible to manage stress and stay stress free. I believe that we are more stressed than ever before, and you probably struggle with knowing what to do when you feel overwhelmed. Our lives tend to be overloaded and overstimulated, so much so, that we begin to feel like being stressed out is normal. We are being bombarded with constant stimulus and take very little time to recover and rest. Simply put, being stressed stinks, so making time to relax and relieve our stress every day is more important now than ever!
What is stress? Stress can be experienced physically, mentally and emotionally. Physical stress can be experienced as tight muscles, trouble sleeping, racing heart or fatigue. Emotional stress can be experienced as overwhelmed, irritation or frustration. And mental stress can be experienced as having difficulty concentrating, forgetting things or an inability to quiet your mind at night.
Do you relate?
Stress Management Tips
1) Develop Self-Awareness
Learning how to take a break from stress can improve your life satisfaction. The first is to develop self-awareness around your stress patterns and learn ways to relax your mind and body each day by using mindfulness skills.
This is a challenge for many people because our minds are used to being overloaded and busy, therefore, it can take some time for our mind to get used to a more relaxed way of being. You might feel like you have a hard time sitting still and just relaxing, especially if you and your mind are used to being on overdrive all the time. In this case, you might feel more stress come up as you pause and take a break. This is because you’re becoming more aware of your stress in these moments. Also note that when you have a lot of stress built up inside, it can take some time to unwind.
2) Notice How Stress Shows Up
Stress can mean something different for each person and it affects everyone in different ways. By noticing how stress shows up for you, you’re developing self-awareness. Without this self-awareness, chronic stress can just become our way of life.
Some people notice that their stress pattern is mostly physical. They can’t sleep, they have headaches, back pain, or fatigue. Other people notice that their stress pattern is mostly emotional. They are anxious, short-tempered, or may even feel numb. While others notice that their stress is mostly mental. They can’t focus, they procrastinate, or they make careless mistakes. (Learn more about how to manage your Body, Mind, and Emotions in our Happiness Class, Love Your Life: The Happiness Class.)
Whether stress shows up for you physically, emotionally, mentally or all three, the first step to relieving stress and managing it, is to have self-awareness around your stress patterns. No matter how it shows up for you, I want to encourage that you take a break from your daily life and slow down to relax your mind and body.
Mindfully and intentionally start to notice how stress shows up for you over the next several days. Simply having an awareness of these things is the first step to feeling less stressed. Notice how your body feels in stressful moments. What emotions come up for you? What thoughts distract you from what you’re doing?
Sometimes stress can be a general feeling that you want things to be different than they are right now. We can get caught up in negative thoughts and feelings associated with stress and oftentimes we don’t even notice that we are stuck in that pattern, we just know that we don’t know how to relax. This is just one reason why I encourage my Denver therapy clients and online life coaching clients to learn mindfulness skills.
Mindfulness and regular meditation practice can be so helpful in reducing stress. You may already be aware of how stress shows up for you and what triggers you. If this is the case, continue to observe and be aware of when it happens. Developing the skill of catching it when it starts to happen is very important.
3) Get Back To a State of Calm
Being in a calm and relaxed state is the opposite of being in a highly stressed state. When we are highly stressed we’re in fight or flight. As a result, the mind races and cortisol and adrenaline pump throughout our body. We might shut down, get angry, or feel dull or helpless.
When we are calm and relaxed our mind feels quieter and we feel good, safe, and content. It’s important to know that we’re not creating a new feeling within us, we’re simply reminding ourselves what it feels like to be calm and relaxed. This is a natural human state that we can always return to when we want to. Sometimes it takes longer to find our calm state and sometimes we forget that we can even be in this state at all, especially when stress takes over and becomes the norm.
So whether you’ve been aware of your stress patterns for a while or you’re just starting to notice what they are now – you can begin to observe when they start to come up sooner. You might start to feel a headache coming on or feel parts of your body tensing up in anger or feel irritable or sad, or find yourself worrying more or obsessing over things that are outside of your control.
The good news is that you can begin to catch these stress patterns before they spiral into a full-blown stress response and become overwhelming. You can learn to bring yourself back to this state of calm sooner and with more ease. Take a moment right now to check in with how you feel. By checking in on a regular basis, you can start to notice what state you’re in and catch stress creeping up on you and shift yourself into a state of calm. By increasing your self-awareness around stress you can begin to relieve your stress much earlier so that it doesn’t grow to be overwhelming.
4) Change Your Focus
Take it from a therapist: the best way to manage your stress in the moment and shift away from stress and towards relaxation and calm is to change what you’re focusing on. We can quickly get caught up in stressful thoughts and feelings, unsure of when or how to release control and let go. When this happens, instead of dwelling on these thoughts or feelings simply take a moment to do this simple exercise.
Here’s a quick mini-meditation practice you can do anytime and anywhere:
Close your eyes and take several deep breaths, letting your focus rest on the sensation of the breath slowly moving in and filling up the lungs, then slowly and gently moving all the way out.
If your mind keeps jumping back to the stressful thought or feeling, just be aware that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to the breath each time, breathing deeply, for 30-60 seconds.
You can do this multiple times a day. The more you practice the easier it will become to shift back into your natural state of peace and calm. Once you’re in a more relaxed state you can better deal with whatever caused you to stress in the first place, instead of just being stuck in it.
As you develop this awareness, remember not to judge yourself in any way and just observe. The truth is, stress is not likely to go away completely, but as you increase your self-awareness, improve emotional intelligence, and practice shifting from a state of stress into a state of calm, you’re helping yourself shift into a more empowered state of well-being.
Sometimes in life, there are moments where something triggers us into a highly stressed state. Although the state of calm and relaxation is a natural state that is always available to us – in a moment of high-stress nothing can seem further from the truth.
The best way to shift out of a stressed state is to first simply observe that you are stressed then to change what you are focusing on. It’s very easy to stay engaged with stressful thoughts and feelings. When we stay stuck in that pattern, it continues to get worse. Take a moment to pause, Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and take 30-60 seconds to breathe and tune into the sensations of the breath.
5) Get Comfortable Slowing Down
I want to encourage you to get comfortable with slowing down and relaxing a bit more so that you can take a break from stress. Once you have the awareness that you have become stressed you can catch it sooner and then practice shifting your focus away from stress and towards your breath and body. As you do this, your state shifts and you see the external factors differently and can more easily deal with them or accept them.
As we grow and improve, our life’s problems will never go away, they will simply become higher quality problems. The good news is that we can change how we perceive these problems so that they don’t cause so much stress inside of us. See if you can find once or twice today where you can do 30-60 seconds of conscious breathing, especially if you have a particularly stressed moment. Then after notice if you see the problem differently.
Much of our stress is caused by problems that are out of our control or inconvenience us. Problems will never go away no matter how much we improve ourselves or our lives. We have this idea that if we just fixed each problem that everything would be okay, but when we fix one problem it doesn’t take long until another appears.
When we learn to focus on what’s happening inside of us, how to pause and shift our state away from stress and into a state of relaxation it becomes a powerful tool to manage how life affects us and how we affect life. Look for opportunities to remind yourself of this so you can experience a natural state of relaxation on a regular daily basis.
6) Have a Plan and a Practice
These are just a few of the stress management tips and ways of coping with stress that I teach my private therapy and life coaching clients. While trying out a few of the ideas I suggested is a great start, remember that managing stress is a lifelong practice. I encourage you to have a plan and a practice in place to relax and relieve your stress so that you can get comfortable with taking a break from stress to improve your overall life satisfaction.
If you would like some support and encouragement to help you manage your stress and improve your life satisfaction, we’re here to help. Growing Self therapists and life coaches specialize in stress resiliency and life satisfaction.