Manage Stress: Learn techniques and tips to reduce stress
Manage stress. A complete guide to learning how to control and manage stress. Learn to recognize stressful situations, discover the most common mistakes that make you lose control and feel overwhelmed. We will give you the best advice and techniques that will allow you to reduce your stress levels in everyday life, when you should ask for professional help and how a psychologist can help you.
How to manage stress?
In today’s busy world, the daily responsibilities and tasks we face often overwhelm us.
The first step to manage stress is learning to identify the situations that stress us and overcome them. Each individual experiences stress symptoms differently. Some people may feel irritable or angry, others may suffer from insomnia, headaches, or upset stomach, etc. Triggers can be work, relationships, money, health problems, etc. Once we understand the source and symptoms, we can devise strategies to manage stress.
Signs and symptoms may appear at different levels:
- Cognitive: Lack of concentration and attention, memory loss due to stress, obsessive and distressing ideas, catastrophic evaluation of reality, etc.
- Emotionally: sadness and feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sudden mood swings, inability to relax, difficulty enjoying life, impulsive behavior, etc.
- Physical: Lack of energy, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, skin problems, hair loss, weight change, etc.
- Behavioral: Impulsive behaviors (anxiety, eating in large amounts, spending too much money, drinking or smoking excessively, etc.), irregular sleep hours (insomnia, sleeping too little or too much), neglecting responsibilities, isolating oneself from the world, biting one’s nails, etc.
In order to manage stress, it is important to know how it affects us and to take specific measures. CogniFit cognitive assessment is a highly recommended tool that is often used for many therapies. This clinical tool allows us, through a simple cognitive exercise test, to detect possible deficits or problems in some of our main cognitive abilities. This tool is very easy to use for anyone not specialized and accessible through a computer. It is capable of identifying how cognitive stress affects us. To start using it you only have to register here.
Once we know the signals and how they affect us, we can begin to manage them. Improving executive functions with validated cognitive stimulation programs can help us reduce cognitive stress symptoms and improve our quality of life.
We all feel stressed at one time or another, and it is a normal and healthy reaction to a change or challenge. However, prolonged stress can have a negative impact on our health. Learn how to manage stress with these strategies and techniques!
Don’t try to manage stress by using unhealthy strategies
We often try to manage stress by engaging in unhealthy behaviors. Perhaps this strategy may work for a while, but these behaviors harm us and make the symptoms worse. We’ll discuss some examples of unhealthy behaviors that we sometimes use to manage stress but that we must get rid of or flee from:
Eating too much to manage stress
If you want to control your stress levels, you’ll have to run away from these kinds of behaviors. “I eat because I’m anxious” “I take one cookie and then I can’t stop””I need to eat sweet things.” Eating is a pleasure, however, when we lose control with food, and rather than eat, we devour our food, we are ultimately hurting ourselves. These behaviors, rather than help us manage stress, they will give you pain, make you feel guilty and create a sense of helplessness.
Drinking alcohol to manage stress
If we want to manage our stress levels we must avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol causes relaxing effects in humans, but alcohol also damages our brain. Drinking can help us manage stress momentarily, but how are you going to feel the next day? You’ll have wasted time instead of performing tasks that would’ve helped managed stress. Using alcohol is always counterproductive in stress management.
Using drugs to manage stress
We should never resort to drug or substance use as a strategy to manage stress. Some people may be tempted to resort to substance use to avoid and forget about problems, but this will only make them worse. There are substances that can help reduce anxiety (anxiolytics) or raise our mood (antidepressants), but it is important to keep in mind that they can cause dependence, tolerance, and addictions. In the end, they will just become patches that don’t solve anything.
Sleeping too little or too much to manage stress
Stress can affect the quality of our sleep. Some people are unable to fall asleep or wake up at night, haunted by their problems. Not getting enough sleep is detrimental to our daily performance and aggravates stressful symptoms. Sleeping too little produces physical and mental fatigue and worsens our performance and efficiency. Feeling tired, apathetic and weak is harmful to our ability to manage stress.
Other people, to try to control their stress levels tend to sleep too much. This disorder is called hypersomnia. Sleeping more hours than necessary alters our body’s biological clock, reducing our metabolic rate, and causing fatigue during the day. It will cost us more work to do our daily chores and we will be less eager to work or study while minimizing our ability to manage stress efficiently.
Manage Stress: Common mistakes that increase your stress in everyday life
- Don’t differentiate between leisure and work: You can correct me if I’m wrong, but we spend the day thinking about what isn’t important. You watch a movie and you are caught thinking about that work project you have to finish. You start working on your project and you keep thinking about the holidays. This is a mistake because you are not entirely in the moment you are living. In order to learn how to manage stress, it is important that we learn to concentrate and pay attention to the activities we are practicing.
- Technology: We live in a world where technology is the main thing, we live surrounded by screens. We are always overwhelmed with news and the need t know everything. However, our brains are not ready for that and it creates a great strain on our brains having to pay attention to all the stimuli at the same time. In order to manage stress, we need rest.
- Repressing emotions: Being able to express ourselves liberates us. On many occasions, we don’t say what we think to avoid conflicts, because “it is not so important”,”I will get over it”, “it is not worth it”. Not saying how we feel in that moment can increase our daily stress. It causes our thoughts to revolve around what makes us feel bad and not solve the problem. Expressing our emotions assertively will help us manage stress efficiently.
- Over-exertion: This is the “mother of stress”. We were wrong to think that stress comes from doing a lot of things. The truth is, stress comes from considering ourselves incapable of accomplishing all the tasks to which we have committed ourselves. We should learn to recognize our limits and know how far we can go. Avoiding situations in which we feel like it’s out of control will help us manage and lessen everyday stress and make us more effective.
- Bad postures: Our work, for example, can cause long periods of sitting time. Many times, we adopt bad postures that may cause pain which in turn might affect our emotional state, causing frustration if we can’t eliminate it and even anger and displeasure.
Tips and techniques to manage stress:
- Avoid stressful situations: There are situations that always generate tension or anxiety. For example, there are people who get stressed out if they don’t arrive on time, others who get stressed out if they don’t have routines, others who get stressed out if they don’t exercise. A good way to avoid it is to go out early, plan your routines, look different times where you can exercise. Try to control the things you know that get you a little off track.
- Evaluate cognitive stress symptoms and transform your cognitive weaknesses into strengths: Recent data conclude that people with stress problems have the same pattern of cognitive deficits.
- Exercising helps us to manage stress: When we exercise, our body secretes a series of hormones (dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) that make us enjoy physical activity. Find out how to exercise helps the brain.
- Learn new techniques to relax: There are many currents that teach you how to live in the moment, taste and enjoy it. For example, mindfulness, yoga, breathing, meditation. There are also those who do Pilates. This is a good way to stretch muscles and oxygenate the body.
- Perform pleasurable activities to manage your stress: Just as we have said that with physical exercise is secreted serotonin (pleasure hormone), we also do it by performing activities that we find satisfying. If you don’t like running or swimming, maybe you like painting, playing the piano, enjoying a good book or cooking, anything can get your serotonin going.
- Looking for alternatives to manage stress: By looking for alternatives, I don’t just mean having the ability to solve problems and cognitive flexibility to overcome circumstances. There are times when worrying is useless. Therefore, the best thing for you would be to look for an alternative way of thinking along the lines of “SinceI can’t solve it, what else can I do? For example, I’m late for work because I missed the bus, which just left when I got to the bus stop. This shouldn’t make us angry, even though it’s a normal reaction, try to rethink what solutions do you have. Maybe renting a bicycle or taking a cab there.
- Taking care of your diet will help you manage stress levels: We often eat anything for lack of time, we don’t even sit down to eat. We eat in the subway, on the way to work, between shifts, can generate even more stress. Yes, there are times when it is inevitable, but this stresses us. In addition, it causes poor digestion and intestinal problems. If you want to learn how to handle it, it’s important to take care of your diet, find out which foods provide the necessary vitamins to our brain.
- Rest well to reduce and manage stress: Stop to think about your mood when you’ve slept too little, had a bad night or haven’t been able to rest. This affects each and every one of us. If you can’t sleep well, look for professional help to regulate your sleep cycle.
- Physical therapy: As we have mentioned, stress causes muscular tension, cervical and lumbar contractions, cramps, etc. If this happens to you, try to get regular physical therapy. It will lessen your pain, improve your posture and help your mood. In the picture, you can see all the consequences that stress can have if it is not managed.
When should you ask for help to manage stress?
Some signs that can help you identify when it’s convenient to ask for professional help to teach you how to manage stress in a more adaptive way are:
- You feel that stress disables you in your life and you are giving up doing things you used to do before.
- You can’t control your mood. You’re angry about everything and you don’t know why.
- You can’t sleep, you lose your appetite, visible symptoms appear on the skin.
- Your hair’s falling out more than normal.
- You binge on food or are starting to take pills to overcome stressful situations.
- You start to drink alcohol or other relaxing substances.
- Extremely lazy and apathetic. You’re lacking motivation and you don’t feel like doing anything.
How a psychologist helps you manage stress?
The number of clients who want to “learn how to handle it”,”lessen their anxiety”,”feel less stressed” is very large.
The psychologist treats this with problems related to work, family, interpersonal, etc. What the psychologist does is to provide people with tools so that they have a greater repertoire of response to stressful situations. Once these possibilities are known, he trains them with the client.
The psychologist is not responsible or there to eliminate stress but to provide us with techniques and strategies that allow us to deal with it in a more adaptive way.
Some of the techniques psychologists use to help reduce and manage stress are:
- Relaxation Techniques: A technique widely used is the Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique. This strategy focuses on stretching and relaxing the body through muscle groups. The psychologist, in the first training sessions, explains aloud to the patient what he or she should be doing and noticing. The main objective of this technique is for the person to identify when their muscles are in tension and when they are in relaxation. It’s great for people who suffer from muscle tension due to stress or anxiety because by recognizing that tension, they can manage stress by applying relaxation. If you want to try it out, I’ll leave you with a video explaining step by step how to do it.
- Stress inoculation therapy: Through this technique, we learn how to manage stress in order to be more effective in achieving our objectives. It is a technique that is widely used with athletes in general since, during competitions, there are times when you need to have a high activation to perform better. For this technique to be effective in managing stress, conscious training and exposure to stress situations (through the imagination) are essential, always accompanied or guided by a specialist who masters the technique. In the end, if everything is done correctly, the patient will be able to increase or decrease their activation depending on what the situation demands. It is common to use this technique in conjunction with relaxation and breathing techniques, in order to reduce activation when it is too high.
- Cognitive therapy: Cognitive therapy is based on using a Socratic dialogue between the psychologist and the client. It is based on a model in which thoughts (images, self-dialogue, interpretations and beliefs) are a determining element of psychological problems. It has nothing to do with “think positive and be happy”. Rather, it is about seeking alternatives to our beliefs. The psychologist confronts the client’s irrational ideas, cognitive distortions, and nuclear beliefs through a series of questions and answers. It is necessary that the psychologist who performs cognitive therapy have a good repertoire in his vocabulary and that he uses the language in a correct and adapted way to the person with whom he is dealing with.
- Decision-making: Many times, we suffer stress because we can’t decide. “What do I do?”,”and if I’m wrong?”,” What if it goes wrong?”. In the end, many of us choose to sleep on it, but the result a sleepless night. How does the psychologist help you deal with this stress that comes with the difficult decision? A decision-making technique is used. This consists of formulating all the real and feasible alternatives that we can think of. Many times we discuss between A and B and we do not realize that the best option is C. After being absolutely sure that we don’t have more viable options, the patient then starts discarding the ones that are not suitable for him. Afterwards, each alternative will be evaluated and quantified numerically and at the end, a decision will be made based on the results obtained.
Stress is something that worries us because it makes us feel bad on many occasions. However, if you learn to control and manage it, it can make you more productive and effective.
What did you think of this article? What other things do you do to manage stress? Have you tried any of these? I invite you to comment below!
This article is originally written in Spanish by Patricia Sanchez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism. She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles. As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.
This post is also available in: Korean