April 3, 2012

Ten Things to Stop Doing If You Are Stressed

Many of the stressors we face in life are not under our control. However, our responses to these things can have a heavy impact on our stress levels, and these responses are definitely under our control. What's more, many of the thoughts we have and actions we take when stressed can contribute to our stress levels by creating new problems for us, or intensifying the already-negative feelings we may have. Therefore, it's wise to look at what we can control, stop doing things that perpetuate and exacerbate our stress levels, and focus on what we can do to help ourselves feel less stressed. The following are 10 things that are commonly done by people under stress that make things worse; stop these things, and you will have a much greater handle on your stress.

1. If You Are Stressed, Stop Ruminating

We all face things that cause us stress. It's natural to think about these stressors to see what we can do to better understand the situation so we can change it. But sometimes we can slip into a type of thinking that is unproductive, overly negative, and borders on obsessive. This type of thinking is known as "rumination." When we fall prey to rumination, we intensify the stress we are already feeling by focusing on the negative and continually reliving it. When we're in this pattern of thinking, our focus is more on what went wrong than on what we can do to fix things.

Rumination is more common than you may think. According to a poll on this site, for example, roughly 70% of readers find themselves ruminating quite often, and only around 5% find that they are able to let things go almost immediately. (Keep in mind that this is not a representative sample, and that those who are reading about stress and rumination may be more likely prone to it, but this is still a pretty staggering percentage.)

Rumination can become a habit. The good news is that habits can be broken--even habits of thought. The following resources can help you to better understand rumination and its role in your life, and see what you can do to stop ruminating.

2. If You Are Stressed, Stop Losing Sleep

Many things contribute to our stress levels, but sleep deprivation is one factor that makes a bigger impact than we may realize. When we don't get enough sleep, not only are we more reactive to stress, but our cognitive functioning isn't as sharp, which can contribute to mistakes made, which can lead to--you guessed it--more stress!
Stress can also impact our ability to get quality sleep, so lack of sleep can lead to increased stress and more lack of sleep--a vicious cycle. Fortunately, many stress relievers that promote relaxation can also aid sleep, so it really pays to include these techniques in your stress management plan.

3. If You Are Stressed, Stop Eating Junk

What you eat can impact how you feel. Just as lost sleep can impact your reactivity, so can the wrong diet. If you have ever crashed from a caffeine high or a sugar rush, you already instinctively know this.
Stress can also impact what you crave, and lead to emotional eating. This can present an even greater challenge for those who are stressed and trying to eat better, but it can (and should) be done!

4. If You Are Stressed, Stop Leaning On Frenemies

Relationships can be fantastic sources of stress relief. When we experience times of stress, the emotional support, the helpful resources, and the stability that friends bring us can be quite a buffer against the challenges we face.

Additionally, many people (especially women) find themselves looking to relationships the most when under stress--a response known as the tend-and-befriend response. This response, like the more commonly discussed fight-or-flight response, can help us to get our needs met when we are experiencing stress. This response drives us to connect with others and share support.

That said, the stress of a conflicted relationship can take a heavy toll on your health and wellbeing--more so than many other types of stressors because it can be felt as more of a personal threat than, say, a traffic jam or long to-do list. Relationships that are sometimes supportive and sometimes unpredictably conflict-riddled can be particularly difficult because there's an underlying sense of uncertainty and tension.

Because of this, it is very important not only to know when to let go of a toxic relationship, but to know how to keep all the relationships in your life as healthy as possible. The following tips can help you to let go of those with whom you have a conflicted, love-hate relationship ("frenemies"), and keep your other relationships healthy and happy.

When we are too busy, even if the schedule is filled with exciting things, we can feel more stressed, simply from a lack of down time. If the schedule is cluttered with stressful or unnecessary activities, it becomes even more draining. Learning to say no to demands on your time and cutting out the things in your life that stress you are great strategies for cultivating inner peace. The following resources can help you to develop the skills to keep your schedule as open as possible.

6. If You Are Stressed, Stop Your Cognitive Distortions

Thinking patterns can be habitual, and what you habitually think about colors your world and contributes to (or relieves) your stress levels. This can be good news if your thought patterns have an optimistic bent; it can be quite damaging if your thinking patterns tend toward the negative. Because the stress response is triggered by perceived threat, an attitude that maximizes the negative can lead to us more often feeling threatened and, therefore, stressed. Learn more about how thought patterns can lead to stress, and see what you can do to change your views on things, and change your experience of stress in the process.

7. If You Are Stressed, Stop Putting Off Exercise

Exercise can help you to feel less stressed in the short run, and build your resilience toward stress in the long run. Many people know this, but have a difficult time getting off the couch on a regular basis, especially when stressed, or too busy to get onto the couch in the first place! It's ironic that sometimes when we would most benefit from exercise, that's the last thing we want to do. Don't give up. There are specific ways to easily use exercise as a stress reliever, and great reasons to do so.

8. If You Are Stressed, Stop Thinking You Can't

When we don't have control in a situation, we are more likely to feel stressed. And, interestingly, we sometimes sense that we have less control than we actually have! Recognizing the choices we do have--even if they are not the choices we wish we had--can help us to feel more empowered, and less the victim of circumstance. (Remember, even in situations where we have very little control of our circumstances, we can choose our attitude and response.)
Learn more about locus of control (a concept that's closely tied to all these things), and see how you can shift your attitude from "can't do" to "I think I can!"

9. If You Are Stressed, Stop Missing Opportunities

When stressed, we can often feel defeated or tired of the fight, and miss opportunities to take charge of a situation. Other times, we may meet disappointments or personal failures, and neglect to keep trying, which makes what could be a temporary setback into something much larger. Developing an optimistic attitude can not only help you to feel happier and more grateful for what you have, it can help you to see opportunities you may otherwise miss if you focus mainly on the things that stress you. Develop a positive outlook with the following resources, and stop missing opportunities that may be hiding within the challenges you face.

10. If You Are Stressed, Don't Ignore Your Stress

Elizabeth Scott, M.S., at About.com Stress Management
People often don't address their stress in a proactive way until they feel overwhelmed by it, and often then, they tend to be reactive rather than proactive, which doesn't always lead to the best decision-making. Stress management is an ongoing process, not a one-time act. It is important to have an overall stress management plan that includes not only cutting out stressors and managing stress that you feel, but actually remaining aware of the stress you are experiencing, and not letting your stress levels get too high.
If you feel stressed too much of the time, it's a good idea to create a plan for managing stress before your stress levels create obvious health issues. You can use the resources on this site to create a cohesive stress management plan that includes short-term stress relievers, long-term resilience-builders, and a basic education in stress.

If your stress levels are unhealthy and you feel you need more support and resources, consider getting help; remember that you can talk to your doctor or a therapist about stress relief if you need more than this site can offer.

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