Everyone experiences stress and stressful situations from time to time, some more than others, but either way, it’s important for us to find healthy ways to deal with stress.
It’s a really unpleasant experience both physically and mentally and I’m here to help you find ways to cope no matter how much you’re experiencing or if it’s just worrying, stress, or anxiety (you can read up about the differences here).
I recently wrote a post on 13 stress relief activities (which expands more on the healthy ways to cope), but I decided I needed to mention the unhealthy ways people cope with stress that you need to avoid.
Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress
The only way to really deal with stress to help it go away is to find healthy coping tools. When you have healthy stress relief activities, you’re sending positive signals to your brain as well as telling your brain that you’re not going to give into the stress or give it what it wants though unhealthy stress relief activities (which I will talk about later).
Healthy coping activities = a happier and healthier you.
Writing it Out
The #1 way I have learned to deal with stress (and any negative emotion) is to write it out. Spend 15-30 minutes pouring out your feelings onto paper.
Sometimes what you think you’re stressed about isn’t the whole story. There can be deeper causes of your stress.
For instance, when learning a new skill at work that is stressing you out, it may not be the fact that you have to learn something new that is stressful. It could be that you’re worried you will embarrass yourself in front of your boss or coworkers. Yup, this has been me.
Then again, maybe you don’t embarrass easily but you have a hard time learning new things and you don’t want to mess anything up. Either way, figure out the true source(s) of your stress.
Once you’ve journaled a while and have pulled out some underlying feelings, you can then work towards solving them. It won’t happen overnight, but in time you will stress less about these things.
Write out what the worst things that could happen and then why those things won’t happen or how you will be able to handle them if they do occur.
In the above example, you can say that the worst case is that you have to ask for help and your coworkers judge you for it. Well, that’s their problem not yours, right?
You can tell yourself that it’s OK to ask for help, or that embarrassing situations are only small moments in time and you will get through it.
Find some positive affirmations to say related to your stress and say them daily. In this example I would say “I am confident when learning new things”, “I don’t embarrass easily” or “I quickly bounce back from embarrassing situations”, and “I do my best every day”.
I will write a post about this soon to go deeper into journaling and affirmations, but for now, just spend time writing your feelings daily as well as saying positive things related to what you’re feeling stressed out about.
Finding Mental Calmness
When you’re stressed (and especially if anxious) it can feel like bees are buzzing around inside your head. It’s hard to concentrate and you’re probably getting all fidgety.
While journaling is a great way to cope, it may not be the fastest method to stress relief, which is why I recommend following it up with other activities.
One of my favorites is getting mental calmness. Listening to calming music, meditating, or getting out into nature to hear those sounds and smell the fresh air are fantastic ways to lower your stress levels. I break down the different listening activities here.
No matter your preference or style, play some music to help lower your heart rate and breathing. Clear the clutter in your mind and start to relax. You can even combine this with a hot bubble bath and some candles.
Listen for 20 minutes to an hour. Sometimes the first 20 minutes can be harder to relax and destress, but if you give it time your brain will start to calm down.
You can even count back from 5 or 10 to help get there faster or you can breathe in for 5 seconds. Hold for 5. Then out for 5. Repeat a few times as you help yourself get into a peaceful state.
Get it Out with Physical Activity
On the other hand, you may just have some much pent up frustration and energy that you need to physically get it out before you can relax. If this is you, then I highly recommend getting involved in physical activity such as weight lifting or cardio workouts.
While yoga is a great physical activity, if you’ve got a lot of energy it will be harder to relax into yoga. Your best bets are weight lifting and cardio such as running, cycling, hiking, or other sports.
You can even just blast some music and dance around your bedroom. Dance like theirs no one else around and no care in the world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten myself out of a funk just by playing some music, getting out of the bed, and moving around.
I know this can be hard when the stress is so strong and you just want to close your eyes and stay still to try to escape it. Don’t let it win. Count down from 5 or 10 and then get up and move.
Engaging in Self-Care
Another healthy way to handle stress is to routinely engage in self-care. Sure, you can just pick a self-care activity when you’re stressed, but it’s much more helpful if you develop a routine.
I recommend at least 30 minutes a day of time for yourself to do something that makes you happy and energizes you.
If you absolutely can’t find the time, find at least an hour or so on the weekend or during the week.
This could be something as simple as taking a nice hot bubble bath at the end of the week. You could even do this at the beginning of the week to help you get through it a little easier.
No one but you can take your stress away and no one but you feels the stress the way you do. We all experience it in different levels with different feelings. Do what feels right to you when choosing your self-care and please make sure to actually do it.
I know that sometimes we feel guilty for taking the time for ourselves, especially if you’re a people pleaser like I am. But the best way to help and take care of others is to take care of yourself first.
If you need some ideas, here are 41 daily things you can do for self-care.
Distractions are usually bad for stress and bad for other things because you are using them to ignore the problem. When you ignore the problem it’s not going to go away.
However, there are positive distractions you can do as a healthy way to handle stress as long as you also do some of the journaling and other activities to deal with underlying issues.
Positive distractions are ones that you can do that make your brain and energy happier. Some examples would be working on large jigsaw puzzles, playing Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and other activities that make you think.
Watching TV and playing on your phone would be negative distractions because they are just mindless activities.
Another positive distraction is to clean your house. I know, I know. This doesn’t sound like something to make you happy but the less cluttered your place is, the less cluttered your mind will be.
I realized this only in the past few months. It’s been hard to get my mind clear until I’ve got my living space clear.
Productivity and general mental clarity are tied to our physical world so it makes sense to try to work on both at once.
Unhealthy Stress Relief Activities
Now that you know some of the healthy coping activities for your stress, it’s time to find out about the unhealthy ones so you can avoid them.
While some of these can seem fine in moderation, when your stress is high, moderation usually goes out the window so if you are doing some of these things, please be careful.
Overeating or Drinking
These two can go hand-in-hand or by themselves but they are usually the top unhealthy stress relief activity that people do and sometimes people don’t even realize they are doing it.
They may grab a bunch of snacks and munch on they all day or binge at all once. Moderation goes out the window and most of the time, the most delicious snacks have the most calories.
All of the sudden you’re up 5-10+ pounds and you don’t know why, but it’s probably all the stress eating. I’m lucky that I usually don’t stress eat, but I can be the opposite by stress starving. This is just as bad.
Watch your food and calorie intake when you’re stressed. It’s OK to have cheat meals and treats, just not all the time or too much. It’s a good idea to keep a log if you can, or at least estimate what you’re taking in.
The same can be said for drinking. I know I said that I don’t really stress eat, but I do tend to stress drink and sometimes it’s alcohol and sometimes it’s not.
When I give up wine for a while, I tend to end up drinking Dr. Pepper and can drink way too many all at once and those suckers are high in calories. There is just something about drinking something other than water that is so satisfying when you’re stressed.
Sadly, I’ll also admit that in times of stress I have drank more wine than usual and did gain some weight from it. Those pounds sure don’t want to come back off.
At the time it felt so good to walk in the door after work and have a glass of wine to relax. But of course, a glass usually turns into more.
I’m now working on putting restrictions on my intake (amounts and what time of evening after work). Even just breaking up old habits really helped. Instead of pouring a glass of wine, I pour a glass of water in a wine glass.
My brain seems to still connect relaxing with holding that type of glass in my hand. I also am trying not to switch back to soda either. I am also trying to use my healthy stress habits more so I rely less on these unhealthy activities.
To sum up, if you’re stressed please watch your eating and drinking habits. While it may feel good in the moment, in the long term it will take a toll on your health.
Avoiding Your Feelings
This is an unhealthy coping mechanism that makes things much worse and one that I’m guilty of. When you’re stressed, depressed, or angry, it’s easy to try to ignore what’s really going on by finding ways to avoid your feelings.
Many of those methods are listed in the unhealthy section of this post, though if you don’t confront your feelings and only do the other healthy coping activities, you can still suffer.
One of the issues with avoiding your feelings is that you won’t figure out the underlying cause so it won’t go away. Another issue is then you will keep building up and building up those negative feelings.
Unresolved stress leads to more stress and could eventually turn into anxiety issues. I know this first hand. I had avoidant behaviors for a while, and avoiding the issue made me more and more afraid to face my fears and what I was avoiding.
By the time I faced what was causing my stress I was starting to have panic attacks. Don’t be like that. It’s much harder to ease the anxiety than it is to ease stress.
Don’t avoid your feelings. Figure them out before they take hold of you because they won’t want to let go.
Staying in Bed All Day
Now, this bad coping mechanism tends to come up more often for sadness and depression vs stress and anxiety, at least for me, but when life gets or feels tough sometimes staying in a warm comfy bed seems like the best thing to do at the time. Even more so if there is a TV in our room to distract us further.
I’m all for taking a nap when stressed as it gives the brain a chance to calm down. That is, if your mind can shut down long enough to take a nap. What is not healthy is to lay in bed all day.
It weakens our muscles and the more you laze around, the lower your feelings are going to get and the harder it will be to get up. It’s a vicious cycle and I’ve been though it many times.
If you need some time to yourself and the bed is calling you, give yourself a time limit. Say to yourself “I will give myself an hour to decompress and then I need to get up.”
Getting Absorbed into Technology
This is one of my weaknesses. It’s so easy to get distracted scrolling on your phone or computer. My husband always makes fun of me for how many tabs I keep open.
It’s a problem.
Give yourself limits or boundaries when it comes to technology. Maybe you can make a deal with yourself that you only play on your phone between certain hours or after you have completed certain activities.
Don’t spend your whole day or weekend on your phone or computer, or even your TV.
There are time tracking apps that can help you get an idea for how much time you’re spending online distracting yourself. Track yourself for a week and I bet you will be surprised.
Set up acceptable time limits and then put the phone away.
You can also try apps that block certain websites at certain times if your willpower isn’t that great.
Do what you have to do to cut out this unhealthy distraction.
The last big unhealthy activity for stress relief is going negative. This can be in your own mind or in relation to others.
First let’s talk about your own negativity.
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to get wrapped up into negative thoughts. You think about all the negative outcomes that could happen or about your perceived faults or difficulties.
When I get really stressed I tend to start thinking negatively by thinking “I can’t do this” or thinking about how things could go wrong.
Instead, you need to shift your mind positively. Think about all the things that could go well. Think of all the ways you are capable of doing or handling whatever situation or circumstance is coming at you.
What ways could this be benefiting you in the long run? Shift the negative into a positive.
The second way you could go negative is in relation to others. You may have negative thoughts and feelings about what others are doing that caused you stress. You could be thinking about their negative qualities.
Even worse, you could be discussing this with others and bringing someone else into your negativity. Stop.
Don’t dwell on what others are doing or did. I know this can be hard but it will only make your stress worse. Instead, realize that those other people may be dealing with their own demons and what has happened has nothing to do with you.
Learn to become a positive entity and you will find yourself under less stress.
Final Thoughts on Healthy Stress Relief
This post should have given you guidance on how to healthy vs unhealthily deal with stress.
Manage your stress by:
- Writing it out
- Gain mental calmness
- Getting it out physically
- Engaging in self-care
- Finding positive distractions
Avoid unhealthy stress habits by:
- Monitoring your eating and drinking habits
- Figuring out your underlying feelings
- Getting out of bed
- Limiting your use of technology
- Staying positive – don’t go negative
How to Journal for Personal Development
Best Journals Every Writer Should Have
41 Daily Self Care Ideas to Add to Your Routine
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6 Fixable Reasons Why You’re Procrastinating
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