Managing stress through proactive thinking and stress reduction techniques

Part 1: What is Stress?

Stress is the feeling of emotional or physical tension and can range from trying out for a sports team or jumping out of an airplane.

Although stress is often seen as “bad,” stress can have some benefits.  According to Elon University, stress can help to sharpen your mind and reflexes, allowing your body to perform better or escape a dangerous situation.

“Stress produces a physiological reaction in your body. Hormones are released, which results in physical manifestations of stress,” according to the Elon University page for Mindful Stress Management.

These physical manifestations of stress, such as shaking, fast breathing, dilated pupils and flushed skin are indicative of our “fight or flight” response, that is, the physiological and psychological responses to stress that allow us to react to danger.

A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association found that the most common source of stress, indicated by 63 percent of those surveyed, is the future of the United States, followed by money, work, political climate, and violence and crime.

Take this quiz to find out how stressed you are.

Unconscious stress, which occurs while we sleep, can also lead to stress symptoms.

“Perseverative cognition can even continue while we are sleeping; after spending a day ruminating, we can experience very strong stress symptoms,” Leiden University professor Jos Brosschot said.

Although stress and anxiety are normal for all humans, they are manifested in different ways for each person.

“For some people, it’s time to seek help when your feelings begin to have a negative impact on everyday life and your ability to carry out daily routines or have normal relationships,” Licensed Clinical Social Worker Melissa Cohen, said.  “For others, it is when these thoughts and feelings begin to prevent them from being able to focus and enjoy the important things in life, when their stress and anxiety are the only things they can focus on, or when their thoughts and feelings begin to interfere with work or school.”


Part 2: How to avoid more stress?

Although nearly everyone experiences stress, there are ways to proactively combat this stress.  Below, find several ways to avoid more stress.

Tip 1: Get more sleep

Sleep is important for good health and well-being.  In addition to protecting physical health and safety, sleep plays an important role in our mental health.

As we sleep, the brain prepares for the next day, forming new pathways, processing information and experiences that occur throughout the day, and strengthening neural connections to form memories.

Tip 2: Get Organized

Organization does a lot for mental health and physical health.  Benefits of organization include improved sleep, increased productivity, reduced depression and anxiety and reduced stressed.  An organized house or workspace decreases the risk of fire hazards, dust and mold.

Although it can seem like a daunting task, getting organized does not need to be complicated.

“Consistency, rather than one large effort, is key,” LDS Hospital Mental Health Coordinator Katy Halverson said.

Halverson encourages people to follow a simple, three-step process when beginning to organize.  First, pull everything out.  This allows you to see everything that needs to be organized and to examine the space with which you are working.

The second step is to clean the area.  This includes wiping down shelves, dusting, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc.  Finally, sort all items into the following categories: trash, donate, sell, keep and undecided.

“You’ll be most successful when you take time consistently to organize your home or workplace,” Halverson said.

Tip 3: Maintain a healthy diet

Maintaining a healthy diet goes a long way in eliminating stress.  Even after a busy day (of online school) a balanced meal can help you relax.

“An important first step in a healthy eating plan is to go grocery shopping once a week, and plan the week’s meals when you do it,” Elizabeth Scott of VeryWellMind said.

Planning ahead helps to decrease stress associated with trying to decide what to eat each night.  Additionally, having simple recipes and ideas on-hand helps to ease the burden of coming up with new ideas each day.

“You can handle stress better when you are as healthy as possible, so eating nutritiously is a good defense against stress,” the University of Michigan Healthwise Staff said.

Part 3: How to reduce stress already present?

Tip 4: Exercise 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.”

Exercise helps to increase the production of the brain’s “feel-good neurotransmitters,” endorphins.  Regular exercise can also increase self-confidence, improve your mood and help you relax.

“Write down SMART goals — specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-limited goals,” the Mayo Clinic said.

Writing down these goals helps to reduce stress and makes it easier to stick with a new routine.

Tip 5: To-Do List

A To-Do list gives you a plan on how to tackle your day, week, or month. By giving yourself an itemized list of things to work on, you’re taking back control of a situation that may stress you out, and you’re eradicating any uncertainty about your day.

“For managing stress, I keep an agenda,” senior Stuti Ramana.  “I try to fill it in at the beginning of the week, whenever I can.  And I keep checking stuff off; that gives me a sense of satisfaction being like, ‘Oh, that’s good. Next task.’  That’s really helped (be less stressed.)”

Tip 6: Positive Thinking — 

Scott discusses the impacts of negative self-talk.

“If your self-talk is generally negative, you may be perceiving events if your life as more stressful than they need to be and creating unnecessary anxiety and stress for yourself.”

Scott provides tips for practicing positive thinking in our everyday lives.

“The first step toward change is to become more aware of the problem,” Scott said.

Scott lists the following as ways to stop negative thinking.

  1. Journal Writing

“Whether you carry a journal around with you and jot down negative comments when you think them, write a general summary of your thoughts at the end of the day, or just start writing about your feelings on a certain topic and later go back to analyze it for content, journaling can be an effective tool for examining your inner process.” It also gives people room to vent. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about your problems first, and putting it in a journal is a fast and easy way to let it all out.

  1. Thought-Stopping

“As you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, you can stop your thought mid-stream my saying to yourself “Stop”. Saying this aloud will be more powerful, and having to say it aloud will make you more aware of how many times you are stopping negative thoughts, and where.”

  1. Rubber-Band Snap

Another therapeutic trick is to walk around with a rubber band around your wrist; as you notice negative self-talk, pull the band away from your skin and let it snap back. It’ll hurt a little, and serve as a slightly negative consequence that will both make you more aware of your thoughts and help to stop them! (Or, if you don’t want to subject yourself to walking around with a rubber band on your wrist, you’ll be even more careful to limit the negative thoughts!) Your brain starts to correlate the minor pain with the negative thoughts, and will start to avoid thinking negatively.

  1. Replace Negative Statements

“A good way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with something better. Once you’re aware of your internal dialogue, here are some ways to change it:”

  1. Milder Wording

“Have you ever been to a hospital and noticed how the nurses talk about ‘discomfort’ instead of ‘pain’? This is generally done because ‘pain’ is a much more powerful word, and discussing your ‘pain’ level can actually make your experience of it more intense than if you’re discussing your ‘discomfort’ level. You can try this strategy in your daily life. In your self-talk, turning more powerful negative words to more neutral ones can actually help neutralize your experience. Instead of using words like ‘hate’ and ‘angry’ (as in, “I hate traffic! It makes me so angry!”), you can use words like ‘don’t like’ and ‘annoyed’ (“I don’t like traffic; it makes me annoyed,” sounds much milder, doesn’t it?)”

  1. Change Negative to Neutral or Positive

“As you find yourself mentally complaining about something, rethink your assumptions.1 Are you assuming something is a negative event when it isn’t, necessarily? (For example, having your plans canceled at the last minute can be seen as a negative, but what you do with your newly-freed schedule can be what you make of it.) The next time you find yourself stressing about something or deciding you’re not up to a challenge, stop and rethink, and see if you can come up with a neutral or positive replacement.”

  1. Change Self-Limiting Statements to Questions

“Self-limiting statements like “I can’t handle this!” or “This is impossible!” are particularly damaging because they increase your stress in a given situation and they stop you from searching for solutions. The next time you find yourself thinking something that limits the possibilities of a given situation, turn it into a question. Doesn’t “How can I handle this?” or “How is this possible?” sound more hopeful and open up your imagination to new possibilities?”

“Surround yourself with positivity so your mind remains more optimistic and positive,” Scott said.

Tip 7: Take a break

It might sound cliché, but taking a break can do wonders for improving your motivation, productivity and serve as stress relief.

“I take breaks throughout the entire day,” Ramana said.  “Since I’m at home, I don’t concentrate very well. So, I take a break after every two hours of working.  I set an alarm, I pause (what I’m working on) and I talk with my mom, eat a snack, or watch a TV show.  (Taking a break) helps me be more on top of my work.”