What it means to manage stress and 10 ways to do so

Written by: Dr. Gouri Pimputkar - Allara Physician

How to quickly manage stress in less than 10 minutes and how to practice mindfulness:

  1. If possible, try to remove yourself from the immediate stressor or situation. Taking frequent “brain” breaks can help lessen the intensity of the situation and promote relaxation. Practicing this regularly and even scheduling it ahead of time, can eventually create a habit of promoting self care.
  2. Start with deep breathing. “Box” breathing works wonderfully in acute situations. Breathe in for 5-10 seconds, hold for 5-10 seconds, let the breath out for 5-10 seconds. Imagine drawing a box with your breathing technique. Try to do this for 2-3 cycles. This will noticeably decrease your heart rate, promote an inherent sense of relaxation, and reduce your stress hormones. 
  3. Try to engage in physical activity. This may mean simply getting up and moving in place, or stepping outside for fresh air and a quick walk. The act of engaging in exercise can counteract the body’s stress response and boost natural endorphins.
  4. Try the act of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being present without judgment. Imagine observing yourself from the outside and bearing witness to what you are experiencing. No matter how uncomfortable it is, simply focus on the sensations your body is experiencing. When you turn your attention inward, the feeling will eventually dissipate.
  5. Engage in guided meditation. This can look differently for everyone. For some, it is repeating a meaningful saying or mantra. For others, it is imagining a place of peacefulness. Regardless, commit to the act of meditation for at least 5 minutes. Again, notice the intensity of your stress sensation change.
  6. Name the emotion that is coming up for you. Is it Fear? Anxiety? Anger? Now, imagine what that emotion looks like. Use your creative brain to paint a picture of that emotion. Use your box breathing to guide you through this process. As you hold space for the emotion that you are feeling, eventually the immediate stress response will start to fade.
  7. Listen to Music. Dance. Studies show that tapping into our creative side can help promote inherent relaxation and reduce our stress response.
  8. Find your people. Phone a friend. Do not engage in gossip or blaming, find your connection that understands you and can provide support without explanation on your part.
  9. Explore tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique). EFT is a therapeutic technique that involves tapping on specific acupressure points on the body while focusing on specific thoughts or emotions. It combines elements of traditional Chinese medicine, psychology, and exposure therapy. Tapping is thought to help release emotional blocks, reduce stress, and alleviate various symptoms by rebalancing the body's energy system. This process is repeated several times, gradually addressing different aspects of the issue and working towards reducing the intensity of the negative emotions or physical symptoms associated with it. While there is limited scientific data to fully support the benefits of tapping, this self directed practice may be helpful for some.
  10. Lastly, simply smile and laugh. While it may seem ridiculous to burst out laughing in an acute situation, laughter releases endorphins that will boost your mood and start you on your path towards relaxation.

What does it mean to manage stress?

Managing stress is the intentional act of adopting strategies to cope or reduce the negative impact that stress plays on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It involves recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress that are unique to you, understanding the root cause of the stress, and then implementing strategies to alleviate or reduce the stress response.

  1. The first step is awareness. By recognizing what are the physical symptoms you are experiencing related to stress, it will bring you one step closer to understanding how to manage it. For some, it can be a headache, stomach upset, irritability, fatigue, and changes in sleep patterns. For others, it can be night time food seeking behaviors, overspending, excessive social media use, and “brain fog”. By being aware of these “symptoms”, individuals can identify when they are experiencing stress and take proactive steps to address the root cause.
  2. Try to identify the root cause of the stress. Typically, stressors can be external or internal. Stressors can be external factors such as work pressure, relationship issues, or financial concerns. Sometimes, a little less obvious, the stressors can be internal. It can be a medical condition that is not optimally controlled, or perfectionism and negative self talk. Regardless, understanding what is coming up for you when you are experiencing stress and then understanding why it is happening, gives you tremendous insight and power in the situation. Taking it one step further, recognizing that whatever the cause, it is a circumstance that you are experiencing, and how you choose to think about it, can shape your experience of the stress.
  3. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical in managing stress. Optimize things that are in your control, such as proper nutrition, intentional movement, and restorative sleep. Find techniques that are unique to you to help alleviate your stress. Whether it is guided meditation, deep breathing exercises, listening to music, or simply shutting off your devices and going to bed early, find ways to be in charge of your stress, instead of letting stress control you. Even one small meaningful technique will build a future habit that can make monumental change.
  4. Engage in self care. And, truly mean it. This includes activities that promote relaxation, self-reflection, and self-compassion. Engage in hobbies, practicing mindfulness, journaling, or anything that brings joy and fulfillment. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, every day, before you tend to the needs of others. 
  5.  Lastly, despite all of this, if stress is overwhelming and creates intense physical and emotional symptoms, there is no shame in asking for professional help. The ultimate goal is improving your experience of this amazing life that we have been given.