Here are some strategies for responding to stress in healthy ways to de-escalate your stress response.
1. Find outlets for frustration. When you deal effectively with frustration, it lessens the stress response. Do something positive and healthy.
2. Practice breathing exercises. It only takes three minutes to turn off the stress reaction and turn on the relaxation response with deep breathing. Deep breathing sends a powerful signal through the nervous system. Here is what to do:
• Breathe into your belly and lower ribs, allowing your lungs to fill up completely.
• Breathe out slowly, feeling your body relax.
• Repeat for three minutes.
3. Exercise. Physical activity enhances your mood and decreases the stress response for up to 24 hours after the exercise session. It reduces stress as long it is an activity you want to do – if you feel forced, it will not have the same stress-reducing effect.
4. Meditate. Meditation creates changes in the brain, especially in the areas of memory and attention. It also reduces muscle tension and glucocorticoid levels during the meditation itself. Try joining a class or using an app on your smartphone.
5. Relaxation. You can do informal activities like taking a bath, journaling, or listening to music, or you can practice progressive muscle relaxation or visual imagery.
6. Build your social support network. Research shows that when people experience a stress reaction with strangers, the reaction is greater than when with friends or loved ones. When you have social support during a stressful experience, the cardiovascular stress response and resting cortisol levels are lower. So, spend time talking with people you trust and who support you. In addition, offer support to others – kindness to others is also protective against the negative effects of stress.
7. Create predictability and routine. Predictability makes stressors less stressful. For example, think about getting stuck in rush hour traffic. If this happens every day, will it be more stressful or less stressful? Probably less stressful, because it is expected and you can plan around it (e.g., give yourself extra time to get to work). Even when a particular stressor is absent, the unpredictability of that stressor can trigger the stress response. Create schedules and routines so the mental load of activities is reduced.
8. Learn how to budget. Seek support for stability in housing, finances and work. Be mindful of impulsive behaviours like excessive spending.
9. Determine what you can control. Just feeling like you are in control can help lower stress. When there is high demand and low control, stress increases. If you think you have control over a stressor that is not really in your control, you might blame yourself for not controlling the situation. In these cases, it is not always helpful to have control – if there is not much you can do about something, thinking you are in control can lead to self-blame. Be aware of trying to control past events (where things have already happened and are beyond your control).
10. Create realistic SMART goals. SMART goals provide a sense of direction, motivation, clear focus, and clarify importance. By setting goals, you give yourself a target to aim for. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. You can reduce the negative impact of stress by focusing your efforts to increase the chance of achieving your goal.
11. Get in touch with your feelings. Self-awareness is essential. Pay attention to how you habitually respond to stress. Do you become irritable? Angry or frustrated? Note the emotions you experience when faced with a stressor.