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Last week, I tried to convince you that like cake, you need stress in your life. But also like cake, if you don’t have enough or if you have too much, it’s a problem. So how do we find and keep that sweet spot of just enough stress? Spoiler Alert: There is no cake involved.

A quick Google search for the “best stress management techniques” will tell you that eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, meditating, and living in the moment are some of the best ways to deal with stress. It’s true; those are definitely very effective ways to keep your stress level low.

But let’s get real for a minute.

For most people, doing those things on a consistent basis isn’t as easy as it should be. The demands of this fast-paced world we live in can be overwhelming and when the going gets tough, the tough often get ice cream. Or drink alcohol. Or use tobacco. Or rack up credit card debt. Or binge on Netflix. Or engage in any number of other unhealthy or self-defeating coping mechanisms that actually create more stress.

So what are we supposed to do with all this stress?

Go with your gut. No, I don’t mean eat the entire carton of ice cream, even if that seems like a reasonable solution in the moment. That will only make you feel bad about yourself which increases stress and the likelihood of further self-defeating behaviors.

The secret to nailing stress management is to identify what your instincts are trying to tell you.

Say you had a bad day at work and all you want to do is go home and “eat your feelings,” as the kids say. Honestly, the kids probably don’t say that anymore, it’s hard to keep up. But this urge might mean that you’re in need of comfort or that you feel emotionally empty. Seek an alternative source of fulfillment, like cuddle time with a loved one or a pet. Turn on music that is calming and have a cup of hot tea. Do things that you find emotionally soothing.

If your tendency is to run away or escape your stress, such as with the use of alcohol or getting lost in a Netflix binge, you may need a break. Schedule time-outs into your daily routine that allow you to escape from reality for a bit. Set aside your usual stressors to read a book, watch funny videos, or just go outside for a few minutes. Give yourself a healthy escape-schedule a day off from work, take a weekend trip, move to Fiji.

If retail therapy is your go-to, consider what purpose shopping serves for you. Is going to the store a form of escape for you? Or is it the rush of having new things you find satisfying? Whatever it is, meet the need without breaking the bank and cluttering up your house. Healthier options include window shopping or going to thrift stores to search for unique treasures. What’s that old saying? One man’s trash is another’s man’s healthy coping mechanism?

The key to effective stress management is to tune into what your body is trying to tell you and find a safe and effective alternative that meets your specific need.

Here are a few additional tips:

  • Move it or lose it.
    • If you are moving your body on a regular basis you are less likely to lose your cool. Physical activity burns off the extra tension that accumulates throughout the day and helps to release all those feel-good chemicals in your brain. Physical outlets don’t have to mean expensive gym memberships or rigorous routines. Gardening, walking your dog, and as I like to call it, “aggressive vacuuming” are great ways to lower your stress level.
  • Talk about the tough stuff.
    • This is easier for some than others but a lot of stress can be managed simply by talking about it. If something’s nagging at you, saying it out loud can make it feel smaller and more manageable. Having coffee with a friend, seeing a therapist, or joining a support group are options for verbalizing more of your stress.
  • Learn to say no.
    • Set limits on your time, it’s okay to say no once in a while if it means maintaining your sanity.
  • Learn to say yes.
    • Try new things. How do you know you’re not supposed to be an Olympic snowboarder if you’ve never touched a snowboard? Even if you find out you’re not, you don’t have to be good at something to reap the benefits. New activities can become new healthy coping mechanisms. Or new medical bills, whatever.
  • Assume the best.
    • Our thoughts are at the root of most of our daily stress. If you assume that the guy driving twenty miles per hour under the speed limit in front of you is trying to ruin your life, odds are you’ll experience more distress than if you take a moment to appreciate what a safe driver he is.
  • You snooze, you lose.
    • Literally. Hitting the snooze button a million times makes you more tired. It takes much longer than “just five more minutes” to achieve restful sleep. The snooze button is a trick, don’t fall for it.
  • Minimize clutter in your work and living spaces.
    • Being surrounded by clutter can stress you out. Implement a nightly “clutter control” system by setting a timer for five minutes and having everyone fill a bag or basket with things that are out of place. Then spend another five minutes putting those things away. Just ten minutes can make a big difference in a messy room. Or try using a “one-touch” system in which everything that comes into your home or onto your desk-mail, groceries, paper, gym bags are immediately filed, sorted, dealt with, or put away. This will keep you from accumulating little piles of stress all over your house.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.
    • If you’ve ever gone to work in pants that are a little too tight or shoes that pinch, you know what I mean. Being physically comfortable is a simple way to lower stress.
  • Turn down the volume.
    • Constant or loud noise can interfere with concentration and trigger the body’s stress response, as any parent or elementary school teacher can tell you. When your stress level is on the rise, turn down the volume. Go to a quiet place or shut off the TV for a few minutes of blissful silence. FYI: Kids generally don’t have a volume button.
  • Do what you enjoy every day.
    • Build your daily routine around your interests and hobbies. Life is full of work but it shouldn’t be too full to have fun. Joy and contentment ward off stress so carve out time every day to do the little things you enjoy. You’ll never regret all the time you spent bird watching/painting/doing the hula.

Thanks for reading!

Until next week,

Nikki

*The content in this blog should never be considered an alternative to quality medical or mental health care and is intended to be a source of information only.