Amanda Mitchell, LCPC, BC-DMT
April is Stress Awareness Month. Everyone experiences stress differently. We know that stress has a psychological and physiological impact on our minds and body.
The American Institute of Stress further defines stress, differentiating the way we respond to a demand or change as “the unpleasant or harmful variety of stress termed distress, which often connotes disease, and eustress, which often connotes euphoria.”
Whether you experience your circumstance to be positive or negative, both cause stress responses in the body. Stress can be helpful, such as increasing productivity, especially if you are experiencing eustress. However, when stress is distressful and long-lasting, it affects your overall sense of wellbeing and can cause damage to your health.
It’s relatively common to find stress leading to cyclical anxious thoughts or spending a lot of time focusing on fixing a problem. This by itself is exhausting or overwhelming. So how do you break the cycle and stop thinking about it?
Here are five tools I use to pause my mind, come back to the present moment, and calm my body’s nervous system.
When feeling stuck, the first step, and sometimes the hardest, is to make a change that will disrupt the cycle that makes you feel stuck. I find physically changing my body position or location can really help.
For example, it might be putting my feet on the ground if I had them up, stretching, or changing my posture. However, I find it most helpful to change my location altogether. This may be moving to another chair in the same room, going to a different room, going outside, or running an errand.
If you are like me, one of the first things that happen when I change my position is that I take a deep breath and exhale. Breathe it out.
Connecting with nature helps me feel connected to life outside of myself, expand my perspective, and feel related to something greater. It helps me notice my five senses and observe and absorb positive energy from colors, movement, growth, and comforting smells around me.
If you can’t get outside, what nature do you still have around you? Consider pausing to water your plants or using calming essential oils that you favor.
When stressed or frustrated, it’s common to hear someone say, “I need to cool off.” I mean literally. Maybe this means taking a shower, going on a walk and focusing on the breeze as I breathe, or changing my clothes. What would help you physically feel more comfortable?
Being around others can be difficult when stress is high. Some stressful situations may result in being around others less, but being around others can also help us feel less alone and bring joy.
I find that laughter helps shake things up a bit and releases tension. I come by laughter, silliness, and playfulness easier around loved ones and friends than I do when alone.
Different rhythms can help us express emotions or can be soothing. How would it feel to give yourself permission to stomp around for a minute, have a dance party, listen to some favorite music, cook or bake something, go for a swim, or swing for a little while at your local park?
Ask yourself what rhythms are part of your daily life or the things you enjoy. How may they be helpful to you in releasing stress?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to stress. Consider what you already know about yourself and what helps you feel calm or confident. How can you incorporate your skills or environment intentionally into your daily life to help manage stress?
A shameless plug here because we genuinely believe that creative ways of expressing yourself, beyond talking about stress or the things you are going through, can bring new insight and support growth and healing.
Preventing stress is just as important, if not more so, than learning ways to deal with stress. Working with a creative arts therapist or another professional can help you identify patterns in daily life to prevent stress that could be avoidable.
Find out more about common signs of stress, how it affects your body and health, the psychological impact of stress, and stress management skills from visiting The American Institute of Stress.