Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
Stress management isn't a quick fix you use only in emergencies. Rather, it's a set of tools you can use to deal with the big and little issues that arise every day. It's a good idea to keep your “toolbox” ready to add a few new techniques to your collection from time to time.
Perhaps you've mastered new time management techniques or you've learned to control your anger under pressure. Making a commitment to practice stress prevention strategies will pay off over time. Stress is more likely to rear its ugly head if you're not taking care of yourself. So, remember these seven strategies can help you stay on course:
- Take time for yourself. Just 10 to 20 minutes of quiet reflection may bring relief from chronic stress as well as increase your tolerance to it. Use the time to listen to music, relax, and try to think of pleasant things. If you feel your muscles begin to tense, take a minibreak and breathe deeply, inhale to the count of six, pause for a second and then slowly exhale.
- Be active regularly. Physical activity can help keep depression and anxiety under control. Just 30 minutes or more of exercise each day benefits the body and mind.
- Eat healthy foods. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can give you more energy to keep stress under control. Drink water and stay away from sweetened foods and drinks.
- Keep a reasonable schedule. Resist overcommitting your time and energy. Find ways to give yourself some “me” time. It is OK to say “no” to new requests, so you can devote time to activities you're already committed to.
- Be prepared for challenges. Whether it's preparing for a project at work, planning a family gathering, or handling a sick child, being prepared can help you face stressful situations with confidence. If necessary, set aside extra time for you to calm yourself.
- Banish negative thoughts. If you find yourself thinking, "This can't be done," snap back and think positively that it CAN be done. By making it work, you put a positive spin on negative thoughts which can help you work through stressful situations.
- Keep laughing. Humor is a great way to relieve stress. Laughter releases endorphins — natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude. Studies suggest laughter may lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and increase circulation as well.
If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if once-helpful techniques seem to have lost their effectiveness, you may need to look for new reinforcements. There are plenty of books, websites, and support groups dedicated to helping people get through tough times. You may also find it helps to talk to someone about the stressors in your life, e,g,, a good friend or a professional counselor. Sometimes an outside perspective makes all the difference.
Remember, stress is a part of life — it's never going to completely disappear, but you have the tools to keep stress from taking over your life. Put the small steps listed above to good use.