How to Stop Stress
Tips for Times You Feel Like Life Is Out of Control
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but you can effectively manage it in a healthy way with the right perspective and self-care practices.
If there’s one word that every parent has in common, it’s stress. In addition to the demands of caring for and parenting a child, you likely have a host of other stressful responsibilities, including your job, marriage, finances, extended family relationships and other commitments. Stress is just a part of life. While you might be tempted to wonder how to stop stress, managing it is a more helpful and attainable goal.
When you think of the word “stress,” what comes to mind? For many people, the word has pretty negative associations; in fact, you can stress yourself out about getting stressed! But stress is simply a part of your biology. When something you care about is at stake, your body responds. During the immediate response to a stressful situation, your heart pumps faster; you sweat; your glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and you are positioned to react quickly. This is often described as the “fight or flight” response, and its purpose is to keep you and those you care about safe. Once the perceived danger subsides, your body should go into a rest and recovery mode.
However, what about ongoing stressful situations, like a work deadline or your child’s behavior problems? Your body also has a response to these. Stress hormones and thought patterns can help you focus on solving the problem, reach out to others for help and develop new skills. But you also need to have periods when your mind and body are able to rest and recover. Whatever you're stressing over, in the short-term or long-term, you can suffer when you don't have an adequate recovery period or your body isn't resilient enough to withstand the pressure.
Consequences of Poorly Managed Stress
A constant state of stress response can cause problems with your mental and physical health. These symptoms mean you need to address your stress:
- Anxiety and related disorders: Your mind can get into repeating loops of negative thought patterns and worry, which in turn stimulates a physical stress response that can stimulate more anxiety. Symptoms of severe anxiety include insomnia, stress-induced nightmares, panic attacks and extreme moodiness, all of which can greatly affect your quality of life.
- Cognitive problems: When responding to stress, your mind can be very focused on your worries, or you can be in a bit of a daze. You might have difficulty remembering, concentrating or making decisions.
- Physical problems: In the short-term you can experience muscle tension, dry mouth, difficulty breathing, headaches, a racing pulse and shallow breathing. Over time, you may experience digestive issues, stress acne and other skin problems, fatigue, high blood pressure and fluctuations in weight.
- Behavioral problems: When under stress you might engage in nervous habits like nail-biting or pacing, overeating or undereating, sleeping poorly, and addictive escapes like alcohol or gambling. You might also exhibit uncontrollable anger and irrational decision-making.
How to Manage Stress in a Healthy Way
The first step in healthy stress management is recognizing and even embracing the fact that stress is a part of life. Your body's stress response equips you to react to challenging situations and also helps you learn and grow. Stress isn't inherently bad for you. This is a powerful shift in perspective that can make a huge difference in the way you respond to whatever life throws your way, and it will reduce the amount of stress and anxiety you feel.
Since many of the stressors in life are outside your control, instead of worrying about how to change them, focus on what you can control? Whether you’re stressing about money, relationships or work, take some time to journal or talk through your worries with a trusted adviser. If you feel overwhelmed by it all, seeking guidance from a cognitive therapist or spiritual adviser might provide you some of the tools you need to work through your anxiety.
Another effective approach to managing stress is to make your body more resilient with adequate self-care practices. Some useful strategies include:
- Relaxation techniques: When you start to see the symptoms of stress, take some time to do deep breathing to slow down your heart rate. Meditation and prayer can also help you find clarity and peace. Or do an activity that you personally enjoy and find relaxing, like reading, taking a hot bath or listening to music. Laughter and expressed gratitude are also proven stress-reducers.
- Reach out for support: A strong support community is vital to managing stress, because you need people to talk to as well as to help you when your load feels like too much to bear.
- Exercise: There are numerous benefits to regular physical activity. Among these, exercising can help you sleep better and boost your mood.
- Modify your schedule: If you are consistently under chronic stress, take a hard look at your commitments and consider if all of them are absolutely essential. Cut out what you don’t need so you can better care for yourself and your family.
- Healthy diet: Stress can affect your digestion and absorption of essential nutrients, so when you’re under stress, try to eat easy-to-digest, plain, whole foods. Avoid excessive sugars and processed foods, even if you crave them for comfort. When you’re adequately fueling your body, you’re going to feel more energized and resilient to stress, and you'll avoid some of the physical consequences like stress acne and weight gain. Adequate hydration is also essential.
- Adequate sleep: An essential step to recovery from your body’s response to stress is consistent, quality sleep. Set a regular schedule each night; avoid stimulants like caffeine late in the day, and create a soothing, screen-free routine before bed. If you have insomnia or other sleep problems, consistency in combination with other stress management strategies may be helpful. Getting into a good sleep pattern can also prevent stress dreams.
Sometimes the stress in your life can feel like too much to bear, and managing it can feel overwhelming. If anxiety or stress is severely affecting your quality of life or health, it’s time to seek help from a medical professional. Talk to your family doctor and discuss stress management strategies, which may include referrals to mental health professionals or other specialists.