Stress is a physical, mental, and emotional response to any demand. The stress response can be helpful when it motivates us to solve problems. When the source of our stress is out of our control, however, even our best problem-solving skills won’t help us. When stress becomes chronic, it can take a toll on our mental and physical health (Read: How Unmanaged Stress Can be Harmful to Your Health). Employing healthy coping skills can help to interrupt the stress response and promote wellness.
Here are 7 fundamental coping skills for managing stress:
1. Prioritize sleep, nutrition, and exercise
Physical health is foundational to mental health. Under stress, we may find it more challenging to find the time or motivation to exercise or prepare healthy foods. It can also be difficult to get enough sleep when we’re stressed because it’s harder to relax, plus sleep might be the first thing we sacrifice when it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. All this is valid and understandable. However, when we remember how fundamental these pillars of health are to our ability to function and thrive, it can help motivate us to make efforts to prioritize them.
2. Seek social support
During times of stress, we’re able to be more resilient when we have support. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to do it alone.
3. Get outside
It’s true: spending time outdoors can be an effective way to boost mood and reduce stress. To learn how you can optimize your time in nature, read 3 Strategies for Achieving the Mental Health Benefits of Nature.
4. Practice meditation, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation
Our bodies are intricately linked to our thoughts and emotions; promoting a sense of calm and relaxation in the body can help to quiet the mind. When we’re stressed, our thoughts tend to race, our breath becomes quick and shallow, and our muscles tense up. This is our sympathetic nervous system, or the “fight, flight, or freeze” system at work: it evolved to help us survive in the face of a threat. The opposing system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest and digest” system. We can “hack” our own systems to bring about this calm and relaxed state by taking long, slow breaths, practicing non-reactivity to our thoughts (which is an essential tenet of meditation), and relaxing all of our muscles through progressive muscle relaxation strategies.
5. Check your thoughts for negative bias
Our thoughts and attributions about ourselves, others, and the world tend to be full of errors and biases, but we forget to think critically about our own ideas. Left unchecked, our biased thoughts and judgments can make us feel down, bitter, and hopeless. Learning how to reframe our thoughts can help to improve our mood and outlook.
6. Don’t neglect your favorite activities
When life gets busy, too often we are quick to let our favorite activities take the lowest priority. It’s important to remember, however, that promoting wellness involves not only reducing stress but also seeking joy. That thing you love that makes you feel joyful? Don’t give it up when times are hard.
7. Get professional help
Practicing healthy coping strategies is an important component of maintaining your mental health. Talking to a licensed therapist can be another important component of taking care of yourself.
How do you know when it’s time to get help? Here are 5 Signs It’s Time to See a Therapist.
Great Lakes Psychology Group makes it easy to get started with a licensed mental healthcare professional either online, in-person, or both. If you’d prefer to get started with online therapy during the pandemic but anticipate you’d like to switch to in-person therapy at some point, you have the option of choosing a GLPG therapist located in your community.
Click here to learn more about our online therapy services.