Have you ever been so acutely, extremely stressed that once you are able to relax a bit you notice your muscles are sore, as though you have had a good workout? That happened to me recently. I am often tense from my social anxiety, but never have a felt muscle soreness as a result. My recent stress involved work, but we experience stress for so many different reasons throughout life.
I dealt with my stress in both good and bad ways, which is why I am writing a list of ways to manage stress levels and maintain good mental health. Most of these actions apply whether you have a mental illness or not, because either way everyone experiences stress at times, and everyone needs ways to protect their mental health.
~1. Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene (not to be confused with my cats version of sleep hygiene) is comprised of many factors. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, not using your phone or other electronic screens before bed, and having a nightly routine are a few examples of good sleep hygiene.
~2. If you take medications, be consistent with taking them. This may seem simple enough, but it is easy to grow distracted and forget to take a dose.
~3. Recognize when you begin to feel too overwhelmed and take a brief break. Take a walk, even if just around the room, take a series of deep breaths, practice mindfulness, or engage in another calming activity. It might seem counterintuitive to take a break when you feel like you have too much to accomplish, but taking 5 minutes to decrease the distracting way your body is feeling stress can help you get more done in the long run.
~4. Stick to an eating schedule AND eat healthy foods. This is a two parter, first, try not to change your eating schedule. Skipping lunch to get work done might seem like a good idea at the time, but your body relies on the energy it gets from food. Your brain requires 20% of your energy, and food is your body’s primary energy source (when you don’t take enough calories in, your body will begin to break down it’s own fat and muscle). Not only does your brain need the energy, but it’s also really distracting to be hungry. Healthy food is good for so many reasons, but in this instance I think that the slower digestion of vegetables and whole grains is helpful because unlike refined sugars it prevents spikes and drops in energy.
~5. Stay hydrated! Being dehydrated feels bad and can become dangerous if taken too far. Dehydration can also cause fatigue (I have personal experience with this) and when you’re stressed the last thing you need is to feel run down when the fix would be as simple as keeping a bottle of water with you.
~6. If you are seeing a mental health professional during the time of your stress, be honest about how you are feeling and how you are coping. They can help brainstorm things you can do to get through this stressful time, as well as help monitor to make sure your mental health isn’t taking too large of a hit.
~7. Listen to something you find relaxing. You can either try to do this in the background, as a part of your break, or while driving. It could be music, a podcast, or something else. If I only have a few minutes, I find listening to cats purring to be calming, the Purrcast (not to be confused with the Purrrcast) is a great resource for short clips of purring cats.
~8. Promise yourself a reward at the end of the tunnel. If it’s a brief period of extreme stress at work, take a few days off after things have calmed down. Or promise yourself a small gift from you to you at the end, like a book, or to go see a movie, or a day to do nothing.
Everyone experiences stress from time to time, some of us more than others. Stress can occur whether a person has a mental illness or not, and we all find different things stressful. It’s important to recognize when you are experiencing stress and take the proper actions to take care of yourself. There are plenty of other ways to keep yourself healthy during stressful times, the above eight were just the ones that stood out to me. If you have a go-to way to deal with stress, let me know!
Thank you for your column. I have been incorporating some of these things into my life lately and it makes a big difference.
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Excellent advice to follow!
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