How To: Cope With Stress
Stress isn’t a Bad Thing
A little stress never hurt anybody. No, really. Stress is how your body is supposed to react to danger and complicated problems. Stress dumps adrenaline in your system, which ramps up your heart, blood flow to your muscles, lungs, and even diverts blood to your brain to help you think better. Stress happens to everybody from time to time. The problem is when you’re constantly stressed out.
Chronic Stress is a Killer
Stress can do real damage to your body. Think of stress like a speeding car. In the right setting, a speeding car is a great thing. Ambulances get people to the hospital, race car drivers are amazing. But if you speed everywhere, all the time, eventually you’re going to crash or your engine will blow. Just like a car, your body isn’t built to operate at peak capacity all the time.
The good news is that coping with stress starts with you. And the first step is recognizing that you’re stressed out. Congrats. Now here are 4 more ways you can cope with stress right now:
Take a Break
You deserve a break. Right now. Take one. I’ll wait.
Count to ten. Slowly. Don’t rush it. Now count back down to one. There’s nothing so important that you can’t take a few minutes—or even a few seconds—out of your day to focus on you. Just you. No thoughts about what you’re cooking for dinner tonight or what a co-worker said to you today. Just sit by yourself and breathe. If you need something focus on, count your breathing. In on one, out on two, in on three, out on four…
Stick to a Routine
It’s incredible how just having a set daily schedule can relieve stress. Make a plan and remove all the opportunities for “micro-stress” by making decisions ahead of time. When you know what you’re wearing, what you’re eating for lunch or dinner, and how you spend your time from the moment you wake up, you can avoid a lot of the everyday stresses that bring people down.
Little triggers add up. Stick to a rhythm and let your body go on auto-pilot for a little while.
Just a Heads Up: Don’t over-schedule. Try not to get carried away planning every second of your life. Too many things will overload you and can even add stress to your life. Try to keep your daily plan to 2–4 items per day to keep things doable. And it’s important to note that daily routines aren’t one-size-fits-all. That said, here are some tips to set your schedule:
- Wake up at the same time every morning (and go to sleep at the same time every night)
- Buy enough groceries to make your favorite breakfast in the morning, cook your lunches for the week on Sunday so they’re ready to go in the fridge
- Join a club or social group with regular weekly meetings or meetups like a book club or dodgeball team (it’s more fun than you remember)
- Turn each day into a “something” day. Make Monday “Gym Day” or Thursday “Boy’s or Girl’s Night Out Day”
Rigid daily schedules and recurring goals are great at motivating some people—but not everyone. If schedules work for you, lean into it! If missing daily goals or small deadlines gives you anxiety, a rigid routine might actually add to your stress.
Connect with Others
It’s amazing how often stress happens in a vacuum. We work ourselves up trying to handle all of life’s problems on our own without reaching out to our network of family and friends. People are there for you. You just have to ask.
Studies have even shown that your quitting success rates go up when you tell more people that you’re trying to quit smoking. It’s all about communicating. Quitting smoking is hard. Let people know and they’re more likely to help you out, especially when you’re stressed. Take the time to connect with someone. Even if it’s just to vent.
Send a text. Call your mom. Slide into those DMs. Stress gets better when it’s shared, even if the thing you’re worried about doesn’t get fixed. Just interacting with someone else can be all you need to step back and unwind.
Move Your Body
Motion creates emotion. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Stress is a chemical reaction to anxiety or perceived threats. Move your body and give that stress and adrenaline somewhere to go. Even 15-minutes of exercise (preferably outside in all that sunshine) releases endorphins which can help dial your stress down. Bonus points if you can connect with others and stick to a routine when you exercise.