Stress Awareness & Coping Skills

Stress Awareness & Coping Skills

April is Stress Awareness Month. Today, we’ll highlight reasons why you should be aware of your stress level and, once you have an idea of how you’re doing, ways to manage your stress.

Increasing Awareness

Why do I need to be aware of my stress level? I would much rather exist in a state of blissful ignorance! The fact is that your stress level matters, and can impact a number of other things in your life. Chronic stress has negative impacts on your physical health. These include things like increasing your risk for heart disease, changing your dietary choices leading to weight gain, accelerating aging, and weakening your immune system.

The first step towards making healthy changes is to gain awareness and knowledge of how you’re doing currently. Using Pacifica can help build awareness. Get in the habit of rating your mood and health behaviors on a daily basis. Pacifica allows you to chart your mood in relation to those behaviors (things like sleep, exercise, caffeine, etc), which helps you see patterns or triggers. 

Now that you have an idea about your current stress levels, you might be wondering what you can do to manage your stress. Different types of stress lend themselves to different types of interventions.

Stress Management

There are some basic steps that everyone can take to help put themselves in a good mental place and be better able to manage stressful moments. These include things like getting a good night’s sleep (especially if you are able to go to bed and get up at consistent times), eating regular, healthy meals, and drinking enough water. Some people also find that getting outdoors, getting regular exercise, or talking to friends or family can also be helpful. Taking some time to unplug from your busy life, even it’s just for a few moments, to really check-in with yourself and identify how you’re feeling can be helpful. Many people also find slow breathing or progressive muscle relaxation activities to be particularly effective at helping them wind down and fall asleep after a stressful day. You can find many of these tools in Pacifica, and some tips for building a meditation habit are here.

Some other types of stress can be managed in other ways. That might be stress related to family obligations, interpersonal frustrations at work, or worries about the future. Often it can be helpful to work on increasing other behaviors like practicing assertive communication or, more generally, simply increasing communication. Assertive communication is the practice of expressing yourself in an honest, open, and direct way. Using assertive communication can help you set boundaries in your personal life, and practicing saying “no” can also be an effective way to manage stress and feel more in control. We’ve written previous blog posts on how to manage stress related to going back-to school and work-related stress. Individuals who struggle with worry about the future may find it helpful to make lists or calendars to plan. Sometimes people find that negative self-talk or thoughts about future outcomes can be distracting and troublesome. In those cases, journaling or completing thought records can be helpful.

What should you do if an intensely stressful moment pops up? Breathe. One of the best ways to stop the fight-or-flight panic response is to slow down your breathing. Take at least 4 seconds to inhale, hold the breath for 4 seconds, and take at least 4 seconds to exhale. Breathe into your stomach rather than your chest. Slow. That. Breath. And remember you can get through it. Do this for about a minute. Not only will this brief break stop your panic in its tracks, it will give you some time to think and decide how to react.

This April, remember that everyone deals with some level of stress, and even though it can sometimes feel beyond your reach, there are many things you can do to manage your stress. You can get through this and come out stronger.