What to Do When Stress Feels Overwhelming

Stress is a fact of life; there is no way to avoid it altogether. Sometimes we anticipate its arrival while other times, it is thrust upon us without warning. The best thing we can do for ourselves in the face of stress is to ensure we know how to manage our response to it. Thinking about this in the present can help prevent misfortune or missteps now and in the future.

Reacting to Stress

When we experience stress, both our mind and body become engaged and respond. Sometimes we are aware of our response; we can feel our muscles tense up or our breath become shallow. We can observe ourselves becoming more on edge or reactive. We may notice changes in our concentration, appetite, and energy or a whole host of changes in our behavior. Other times we are less aware of how we are affected in the small ways, and before long, we feel overwhelmed.

When Stress Is Bottled Up

You may know this from experience, and it is worth pausing to reflect on experiences of past stress. What has happened to you in the past when you have not prioritized dealing with your stress? When you don’t find outlets for stress during a challenging time, you are bottling up what is weighing you down. Think of yourself as “content under pressure.” If you don’t eventually have an outlet, your emotions may explode. Fortunately, this can often be prevented. The things you do to take care of yourself along the way can help buffer the impact of stress.

When you don’t find outlets for stress during a challenging time, you are bottling up what is weighing you down.

5 Tips for Managing Stress

The trick is to pay attention to your regularly needs and to find stress management strategies that allow you to let it out. Once you’ve identified your strategy, you’ll then need to take action and put it into practice. Regularly finding healthy outlets for yourself is key to successfully navigating daily challenges and maintaining emotional health. The following are tips to help guide you:

  1. Know yourself. Consider what your usual ways of dealing with stress are. What is your first line of defense when it comes to stress, and what are things that have worked well in the past? For example, do you have someone reliable you can call on? Do you head to the gym? Do you reach for your meditation app? When in need, by all means, rely on the usual standbys. The bottom line is that the things you have done in the past to decompress or overcome stress can offer comfort now.
  2. Tap into your creativity. Stressful situations can quickly drain your resources. One way to feel replenished is to get in touch with your creative side. This may be what you intuitively gravitate toward, but for those who don’t consider themselves creative at all, remember that everyone has the ability to be creative. Does the idea of cooking dinner from scratch, frosting cupcakes, or re-arranging the layout of a room excite you? Does playing a musical instrument or even creating a playlist of your favorite songs get you energized? Some of these suggestions will resonate while others won’t, but they were suggested to get the ideas percolating. Whether you draw, dance, or write, tap into a creative outlet.
  3. Practice healthy habits. So many lifestyle choices that we practice or neglect to practice ultimately affect how we feel each day and how we approach and respond to stress. When we are well-rested, for example, we are less vulnerable to the negative effects of stress. We may be less irritable and better able to think clearly. Being mindful of our eating, drinking, and sleeping habits, physical activity levels, social activities, online activities, and regular engagement in other self-care practices will contribute to your resiliency in the face of stress. Taking a slow, deep breath may help as well.
  4. Distract yourself. Immerse yourself in an activity to take your mind off of your stress. Dedicate some time to yourself to do something you enjoy. Listen to a podcast, watch a movie, pick up a novel. Take a walk outside. Volunteer. Focus on a home project. Changing the pace by focusing on a task that is not stressful will help you recenter and gain back some perspective.
  5. Talk to someone. Find someone you trust to share the stressful moments and doubts with who can help you work through decisions and allow you to vent when you need it. This person can be a family member, a friend, a professional, or anyone who you find is helpful to you. The important thing is to know that you don’t have to go through stress alone. To find a therapist who can help you with stress, start here.

Taken on their own or taken together, integrating these tips into your day regularly will boost your resilience to the impact of the stressors that you face in everyday life as well as the larger challenges you face. Recognizing the need for outlets and routine maintenance will go a long way.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marni Amsellem, PhD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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