We’ve all been there: the car’s playing up, the bills all seem to come at once, and the hot water’s stopped working…
Stressful days like these are part and parcel of modern life – but that’s no reason to be terrified of the odd bad one. In fact, with the right coping mechanisms in place, you can take a tough day and turn it on its head, using simple strategies to restore balance to your world.
Without the right toolkit, stress and anxiety can take a bite out of your peace of mind, so it’s in your interest to avoid that! If you’re ready to take the fight to stress the right way, read on…
1) Tackle The Stress Hormone Head-on
To put our scientist hats on for just a second here, there is in fact a specific hormone responsible for the feeling of stress in our bodies: cortisol. When you’re faced with a tough situation, your brain releases a flurry of this stuff and it causes raised blood pressure, an increased heart rate, and those feelings of anxiety and (sometimes) dread.
Luckily, there are some methods you can harness to reduce cortisol in the bloodstream, including taking a long hot bath. Sounds odd, right? But it’s true, a long soak can reduce cortisol and increase melatonin, making you feel like yourself again. The key is to find soothing activities that switch on a system on your body known as the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system in your body that is responsible for calming you down and making you feel safe.
Other great idea to help reduce cortisol are to listen to calming music, light a candle and concentrate on the flicker of the flame, or to eat a pleasant tasting food. These ideas are unlikely to have large effects quickly, but the longer you use them, they will start to gradually work.
2) Move From The Mental To The Physical
On those really tough days it can be a hard task to actually stop dwelling on what’s bothering us. But going over it in our minds only serves to increase our anxiety – so you need to jab a stick in the spokes to stop that worry in the mind. And how do you do that? There are several techniques that can be useful for different people to help, but one is by writing things down!
As one of the core tenets of CBT and other modern therapies, writing down our thoughts and feelings can help reduce worry by isolating different aspects of the problem and working with them in a clearer way. If you just can’t stop your thoughts from racing, it might just be time to grab a pen and paper.
You can use your list as a memory jog for later on – so that you can focus your mind on other things right now whilst being safe in the knowledge that if the things on your mind are important, they will still be important later on when you return to your list. You can also use your list as a way of clarifying actual problems that you might face in order to help you make a decision about them. Click here if you need some ideas on how to make a decision.
3) Refocus You Mind With Mindfulness
Refocusing our mental dialogue is another important strategy in tackling stress. As we’ve discussed, the brain can often get caught in a vicious cycle of worry whereby we ruminate on the stressors in our lives. The practice of mindfulness teaches that by focusing on our moment by moment experiences in a targeted and non-juggemental way we can often gain clarity that can help us respond in helpful and considered ways, rather than reacting quickly. Whilst mindfulness isn’t for everyone it could be worth exploring further if you are experiencing frequent high levels of stress. One good place to start is by reading about the work of Jon Kabat-Zin. The video below gives a high quality introduction to the idea of Mindfulness for stress reduction.
4) Share The Burden
No man is an island, as they say, and this old adage very much applies to stress reduction. By simply confiding in a friend or family member, you can alter your perspective on your problems. You may end up laughing about them together, or your confidante may be able to give you a new angle that you’d never considered. In any case, trying to tackle all of your problems alone is often not the most effective solution. So even if it’s against your nature, you may be surprised at just how helpful sharing your problems with others can be. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all.
You’ll notice a running theme in most of the solutions we’ve offered here, and that’s refocussing. By giving yourself a break and refocussing on something else (whether that’s the written word, a conversation, or simply nothing at all) for a period of time, you can start to transform your mental wellbeing and will be more prepared to take the sting out of any bad day.
So next time you have the day from hell, open up your freshly stocked mental toolbox, and discover a power you never knew you had!