Mental Health Stress Management Tips
These days, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by stress. Between juggling work, family, friends, or bills, there can be a lot to take in at once. Even living in this post-COVID19 world we are beginning to see is stressful enough. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by your stress, let’s take a minute to breathe and find out how to cope with stress. But first, what exactly is stress?
What is stress
As defined by MedlinePlus, “stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health”. Stress can come in many different forms too. Depending on whatever event, external factor, or internal factor that you may be going through, it will directly correlate to one of the three kinds of stress. These three types are acute stress, episodic acute stress, and chronic stress.
Acute stress typically comes on fast and leaves your body just as fast. When something sudden happens in your life, this type of stress usually presents itself. PatientInfo reports that “an acute stress reaction occurs when symptoms develop due to a particularly stressful event. The word ‘acute’ means the symptoms develop quickly but do not usually last long. The event is usually very severe and an acute stress reaction typically occurs after an unexpected life crisis”. This is the most common form of stress.
Episodic acute stress is usually associated with stress that occurs on a more regular basis. Being in a job that does not make you happy, a long string of bad luck, feelings of guilt, or taking on too much responsibility are all cases that can make stress happen on a regular basis. Columbia River Mental Health Services explained that “a form of episodic acute stress comes from ceaseless worry. ‘Worry warts’ see disaster around every corner and pessimistically forecast catastrophe in every situation. The world is a dangerous, unrewarding, punitive place where something awful is always about to happen”. The feeling of being trapped is a common symptom of this type of stress, so the mentality of not being able to escape tends to bring on this more regularly occurring stress.
Chronic stress is the type of stress that does not go away and seems to drastically impact your daily activities and relationships with other people. The American Psychological Association stated “chronic stress can affect both our physical and psychological well-being by causing a variety of problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system”. These three types of stress can all be managed before it gets out of control, so let’s take a look at how to cope.
The Mayo Clinic gives a wonderful list of relaxation techniques that may benefit your journey to reducing stress. Here is the list:
- Deep breathing
- Tai chi
- Music and art therapy
Let’s take a dive into each one of these relaxation techniques to see what they are all about.
Deep Breathing Technique
Deep breathing is the technique to tell your brain to slow down and relax while taking deep breaths. This is a great way to begin to reduce stress because this sends a signal to your brain to say “hey, slow down a little bit”. WebMD gives step by step instructions on how to perform this technique:
- Get comfortable. You can lie on your back in bed or on the floor with a pillow under your head and knees. Or you can sit in a chair with your shoulders, head, and neck supported against the back of the chair.
- Breathe in through your nose. Let your belly fill with air.
- Breathe out through your nose.
- Place one hand on your belly. Please the other hand on your chest.
- As you breathe in, feel your belly rise. As you breathe out, feel your belly lower. The hand on your belly should move more than the one that’s on your chest.
- Take three more full, deep breaths. Breathe fully into your belly as it rises and falls with your breath.
Deep breathing is a good starting point to trying to reduce the responses to a stressful event or environment.
When your body feels the damages from stress, your body’s muscles can become tense to the touch. In order to get these knots out of your body, sometimes a massage can do the trick. Phsysio said that “a deep tissue massage focuses on the deeper layers within soft tissues. Stress can quite often be caused by a buildup of tension within muscles that restricts movement and increases pain. A deep tissue massage aims to relieve tension by stretching and spreading muscle fibers and tissues in order for muscles to relax and loosen. Loosened muscles increases movement, decreases pain, and reduces stress”. Massages are not for everyone though, so talking to your primary care doctor first to explore if this alternative treatment option would benefit you.
Meditation combines deep breathing and yoga to create blissful peace of mind. If meditation is used on a frequent basis, this could potentially build up resistance to stress. Verywellmind gave four easy steps on how to do a basic meditation routine (and in italics are our tips):
- Get into a comfortable position
- Make sure you are seated in an area of your house or outdoors that is free of clutter and other people. Also, turn off your phone or other electronic equipment that may distract you from getting into a comfortable position or doing this stress relief tactic in general. For that comfortable position, make sure your back is straight and you’re not slouching to allow for proper airflow throughout your entire body. Most people tend to sit on a mat and have a straight posture, but whatever position works for you stick with it.
- Close your eyes gently
- Once you’re in that comfortable position, now is the time to close your eyes. Don’t immediately shut your eyelids but rather slowly close them. Allow for all the muscles in your face to relax and try not to tighten those face muscles.
- Put thoughts aside
- The point of meditation is to clear your head, so leave all of those negative thoughts out of this process. It may be hard to control what thoughts are in your head, but you can control how they impact you. If you feel your thoughts are taking over during your meditation, there is no problem with doing a quick mental reset by breathing in and out to calm down. By this point, your head should be clear of negative thoughts and focus on gazing out into a big open field where nothing will hurt you.
- Keep going
- One instance of meditation could be enough to reduce some or all of your stress, but now you should keep going with this stress relief practice. Meditation does have the ability to build up resistance to stress, so there is nothing wrong with continuing on with it!
Healthline explained that tai chi “is a form of exercise that began as a Chinese tradition. It’s based on martial arts and involves slow movements and deep breaths. Tai chi has many physical and emotional benefits. Some of the benefits of tai chi include decreased anxiety and depression and improvements in cognition”. Performing tai chi correctly is not as easy as meditating by yourself, so consider watching a video, reading a book, or finding a tai chi class near you. There are specific breathing and movement techniques, so seeking professional assistance may be required. Tai chi is a very powerful stress relief method, but some preparation may be required. There is nothing wrong with picking up a tai chi class with your friends too!
Yoga is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation”. In short, yoga is just like meditation where you are telling your body to calm down through signals being sent to the brain to let those negative thoughts go. There are so many different body movements for yoga, but most of them begin with the following four steps as reported by the New York Times:
- While sitting, allow your shoulders to relax.
- Extend your tailbone down and contract your stomach, which will help to straighten your back and lengthen your back from the top of your head.
- Inhale for six seconds while pushing your stomach away from your body.
- Exhale, allowing your stomach to come back to your body.
Setting up your body’s mental state by correcting your breathing and posture is the foundation for any yoga technique. Yoga is for everyone, so looking up a video or taking up a class can have multiple health benefits besides reducing stress, it can also help with weight loss.
Biofeedback This type of stress relief tactic is a little more involved than the others. By being connected to electrical sensors, in a medically controlled environment, you may be able to become more intone with yourself. The Mayoclinic explains that “this feedback helps you make subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want, such as reducing pain. In essence, biofeedback gives you the ability to practice new ways to control your body, often to improve a health condition or physical performance”. Your brain waves, breathing patterns, heart rate, body temperature, and many other bodily activities will be monitored to measure any inconsistencies. One thing though is this type of stress relief is not for everyone. For those who have heart problems or some other bodily risk, these electric pulses that are sent through your body may be deemed medically unsafe for you. Talk to your primary care doctor to learn more about seeing a therapist for a biofeedback session.
Music and Art Therapy
Music and art have been known throughout the years as ways of self-expression. The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) splits both music and art up into two different therapy groupings. URMC defined music therapy as “a complementary therapy that is used along with other cancer treatments. It helps patients cope mentally and physically with their diagnosis. Music therapy may involve listening to music, making music, singing, and discussing music, along with guided imagery with music”. On the other hand, URMC said “creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provides a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts and increase self-awareness. The art therapist uses pictures, art supplies, and visual symbols, as well as an understanding of behavior, to help patients address their own personal concerns and conflicts”. Gather a couple of friends over for a paint and sip (please drink responsibility) or find an art/music class to join and start expressing your feelings today.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to improve a person’s overall health. By using these essential oils to combat stress, this becomes what is called aromatherapy. Medical News Today explained that “aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, refers to a range of traditional, alternative or complementary therapies that use essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds”. There are several ways to undergo aromatherapy in terms of inhalation or topical applications, but taking it by mouth can damage the liver or kidneys. Medical News Today further reports that additional benefits of aromatherapy can reduce:
- Pain and body aches
- Anxiety, agitation, stress, and depression
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Muscular aches
- Circulatory problems
- Menopausal problems
- Alopecia, or hair loss
Also known as pool therapy, people use the water’s buoyancy to make some workouts less intense but it still demands physical pressure from your body. For stress, in particular, the warm water provided by the pool can help reduce the body’s natural temperature which may lead to reducing stress. A word of caution though, sudden or prolonged exposure to extreme temperature changes in these bodies of water can become dangerous to the body. A prolonged exposure to hot water can lead to dehydration or low blood sodium levels. On the other end, a prolonged exposure to cold water can harm your circulatory system and cause your body temperature to lower to a point where you begin shivering.
Now that you have a general understanding of the multiple ways to reduce stress, don’t stress! There are many organizations out there that want to help you reduce stress and doing these activities in a group is a lot more fun than by yourself. If you do prefer to do these activities alone, make sure to build them into your daily routine so resistance to stress begins to build up. If you do find yourself becoming overwhelmed with stress, or need additional pointers on how to reduce stress, call Cross Valley Health & Medicine today to see one of our providers today.
Cross Valley Health & Medicine is a primary care practice located in Newburgh, NY, allowing for both virtual and in-person appointments. The practice has two medical providers on staff, a medical doctor who is dual board-certified in Addiction Medicine and Internal Medicine and a family nurse practitioner. Both providers are eager to see new patients for the following programs: Addiction Medicine, Behavioral Health Management, HIV/AIDS Care Management, Internal Medicine, Medical Marijuana Certifications, Medication-Assisted Treatment, STDI/STI Care Management, and Weight Loss Management. If you are interested in becoming a patient of Cross Valley, please click here to access our online paperwork portal.