Over the last months, I’ve been working on being consistent with a few techniques for managing chronic stress. These are techniques that I use to reset balance, improve sleep and stay healthy even when all the stress in my life starts to build up.
In reality, we will all always have stress in our lives. Taking time to develop healthy habits for dealing with stress is not only rewarding, but also good for your health.
Most of us are not taught how to process or handle stress. Generally, by the time we even realize it’s an issue, it has snow balled out of control.
The physical effects of stress are very real. Hopefully, you’re not even at a point where you notice these kinds of effects. That being said, if you do suffer from physical symptoms of stress then it is even more important to improve your relationship with chronic stress.
Personally, I was at the point of complete physical burnout before I started taking a different approach to stress. It wasn’t until I started having palpitations (with no clear medical cause) that I acknowledged that I had a problem. I needed to find a new way of managing chronic stress in my life.
5 Techniques for Managing Chronic Stress
The following list of evidence-based techniques are ones that I have used personally. I continue to use a combination of these techniques daily to prevent the cycle of stress from taking over again.
I recommend reviewing the list below and choosing 1-2 techniques that would be easy to incorporate into your own life. It may take time to find what works for you.
1. Using Breathing to Manage Chronic Stress
Breathing is a natural and automatic function that occurs whether you are conscious of it or not. Luckily, this means that you can go about your day without even thinking about taking a breath.
Unfortunately, shallow, upper chest breathing is typical in the stress response and in everyday breathing. When our beathing patterns become rapid and shallow, our system is no longer primed for healthy gas (O2 and CO2) exchange.
Relaxed, abdominal breathing improves gas exchange. Other benefits include reduced stress hormones, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved immune function, and increased wellbeing and energy.
One easy practice is called Box Breathing. To start, take a breath while slowly counting to 4. Hold the breath for a count of 4. Now, slowly breath over a count of 4. Pause for a count of 4 before taking your next breath.
2. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Meditation has become a popular method of managing chronic stress. While there are many forms of meditation, the basic concept of clearing the mind remains central to each. The practice is about letting go of the thoughts that enter the mind.
Meditation provides deep physical and mental relaxation. Studies show that people who meditate regularly respond to stress better and also recover from stressful situations more easily. They become more resilient when dealing with daily stress.
Mindfulness is one specific meditation technique. The act of being mindful involves the practice of being present in the moment. In other words, you become in tune with your breath, your thoughts, your feelings, and the physical sensations in your body in a way that allows you to process them and let them go.
The advantage to mindfulness is it can be done at any moment. For instance, the next time you take a shower, just notice how the water rolls over your skin. Similarly, as you sip your next cup of coffee, become present to the taste, the aroma, the experience.
A review of over 200 studies found that mindfulness was effective at reducing stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to reduce the effects of chronic pain and fatigue and boost the immune system.
Starting a mindfulness or meditation practice should be easy to incorporate into your daily life. Choose a quiet space with no distractions. Start with just a few minutes every day. It can be in the morning or at night, just choose a time that you can do it consistently.
3. Get Regular Exercise
You probably already know that the benefits of exercise are significant. Reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower risk of cardiac disease. Interestingly, the effects are more than just physical.
Exercise releases endorphins, which are “feel-good” chemicals that activate parts of the brain and act as natural painkillers. The regular release of endorphins has positive effects on the brain and have been shown to reduce stress and improve mood.
Exercise has also been shown to lower the primary stress hormone, cortisol, when balanced with appropriate rest. If you overdo it on the exercise though, cortisol levels may increase and reduce recovery. A healthy balance of activity and rest is necessary to maximize the benefits exercise.
Practice intuitive movement (or intuitive exercise). Learn to listen to your body before starting a workout. You might be scheduled for a 5-mile run but if you would rather curl up in child’s pose then be willing to adjust your schedule. Developing a refined mind-body connection will allow you to benefit more from the exercise you choose to do.
4. Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Sleep
Daily exposure to stress can interfere with the duration and quality of sleep you get each night. Importantly, stress triggers the fight or flight response. In response, the adrenal glands release cortisol. The release of cortisol is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and stimulates alertness and vigilance.
Similarly, the HPA axis also controls the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Chronic stress has been linked to HPA axis hyperactivity resulting in reduced sleep duration and reduced REM sleep. In turn, reduced sleep causes impaired memory, impaired recovery, reduced focus and poor mood.
Practicing healthy stress management techniques like breathing exercises and meditation can help to reduce stress, lower stress hormones and improve sleep. Also review your current sleep hygiene and see where you can make improvements.
Sleep Hygiene Tips
- Be consistent with what time you go to sleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and relaxing.
- Avoid having electronics in your bedroom whenever possible.
- Avoid large meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime.
5. Maintain A Healthy Work-Life Balance
Unfortunately, a lot of times, our home life has just as many stressors, if not more. At the end of a long workday you may have to pick up the groceries, clean the house, or walk the dog. You may have bigger stressors on your mind too. For instance, losing a job, the death of a loved one, financial insecurity, or a divorce.
So, it’s not just about work-life balance because stress is inherently present in both. Developing a self-care routine that focuses on stress reduction is critical to maintain a healthy balance in your life.
A self-care routine should include:
- practices that improve resilience like meditation or mindfulness,
- practices that reduce the fight or flight response like breathwork or getting out into nature
- health-focused efforts like eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and taking time to relax
- engaging in activities that bring you joy
- regularly connecting with supportive people in your life.
How do you currently manage stress?
I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to manage stress on a daily basis. Even if you already feel like you manage stress pretty well, there is likely opportunities for improvement. However, if you are not currently making it a priority, then review this list for ways to get started today.
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