6 Expert-Approved Tricks for Handling Your Stress
Having stressors in our lives sometimes feels inevitable. Between managing busy schedules, juggling lots of tasks, and navigating difficult social situations, life certainly knows how to throw a few stressful curveballs. Nevertheless, when we’re not handling stress in our lives, it can cause a myriad of health issues that affect both our mental and physical health
“Stress has a tendency to impair your clarity and your ability to make wise choices,” therapist Erin Rayburn, LMFT, LPC-MHSP, NCC, founder of Evergreen Therapy, a mental health collective. “Stress can also increase any underlining dormant mental health issues, which can be very problematic. Stress steals or prohibits us from feeling joy in the present. It can also be toxic to the body over time and cause auto-immune issues.”
Rayburn even points to a 2021 study published in Autonomic Neuroscience that proves physical and psychological stressors can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. With stress playing such a significant role in our health, it’s important to learn certain habits for handling stress day-to-day. Here are Rayburn’s suggestions, but be mindful; if you feel your stress needs more attention than these expert tricks, be sure to seek treatment from a doctor or other medical professional.
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1. Look for the unnecessary stressors in your life.
Rayburn first suggests taking a step back and pinpointing the particular stressors in your life.
“Evaluate what stress is in alignment with your values,” she says. “Ask yourself what is worth putting up with.”
According to the American Psychological Association, an easy first step is to evaluate how you perceive a particular stressor in your life. If the stressor is not necessary in your life, you can let it go. However, some stressful situations may be inevitable and not-so-easy to escape from. If this is the case, think through different solutions to relieve yourself from particular situations that make that stressor easier to manage.
2. Reduce your screen time.
“People use their phones thinking they are distracting from stress, but in fact may be adding to it with all the content and emotional triggers that are in the media,” says Rayburn. “Beware of what you use your phone for and what you are looking at. Ask yourself, ‘how do I feel after ingesting this content?’”
A 2021 study in Frontiers evaluated the complicated relationship between smartphone use frequency and mental health and found that the fear of missing out (FOMO) may be an important variable for why some people have heightened stress levels after looking at a screen.
If this is the case, an easy solution is to prioritize how you really want to spend your time and remove the rest of the noise taking up that precious time, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
3. Cut out what feels toxic in your life.
In many cases, a lot of content coming from the screen can be toxic for an individual, which definitely is the cause for even more stress, says Rayburn.
“This sometimes looks like people more so than things, but some toxic things can be how much attention you give to social media,” she says. “This may also look like considering how much news you’re digesting each day. No phones at the dinner table is actually a pretty effective rule for people trying to discipline themselves when they give attention to social media.”
4. Give yourself time to meditate and reflect.
“Stress is often a sign we need to stop and take time to meditate, relax, and reflect on what is causing us stress and re-evaluate why we’re being stressed out about it,” says Rayburn. “This is part of what counselors call ‘getting grounding,’ which can be very helpful in staying focused and motivated.”
Plus, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, research has found meditation and mindfulness not only help with feelings of anxiety and stress, but also with depression, pain, and symptoms related to withdrawal from addictive substances.
5. Eat nutritious meals and drink plenty of water.
“Planning meals helps with maintaining healthy blood sugar for having the capacity to tolerate some levels of stress,” says Rayburn. “Staying hydrated makes your brain work better.”
According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates cause a stressful response due to the major blood sugar spike after consumption. Stress and blood sugar levels are known to be connected due to cortisol, a stress hormone that is released during a spike.
As for water, Solara Mental Health states that water has natural calming tendencies, and drinking enough can help with managing anxiety and keeping your body relaxed.
Related: 9 Recipes That Actually Reduce Your Stress Levels, According to Science
Laughter truly is the best medicine — especially for stress, according to Rayburn.
“Laughter is known for reducing stress and releasing endorphins in our bodies, which help boost a sense of well-being,” she says.
So cook yourself a deliciously nutritious meal, gather around some friends (no FOMO!), and enjoy a screen-free, stress-free time together — and be sure to laugh!
Good food brings people together. So do good emails.