6 Coping Hacks If You Have Trouble Dealing With Stress, According To Experts
Sources of stress can be found pretty much everywhere these days. Whether its your job, your relationship, or something else entirely, chances are something in your life is making it harder than it needs to be. And while some people seem to be wired to handle whatever curveballs come their way, others get more shaken up by stress. If you have trouble dealing with stress, these coping hacks can help you manage sources of stress and potentially become more resilient over time.
"Functioning your way through stress is different than coping with it," Erica Curtis, LMFT, and author of the upcoming book, The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy, Successful Kids through Art, tells Bustle via email. "Some people deal with stress by putting one foot in front of the other. That doesn't necessarily mean they have addressed it. In these cases, stress can sometimes 'pop out' in unexpected, or seemingly unrelated, ways, such as an eye twitch, snapping at your partner, or other." Curtis says that what our individual "tipping point" is, and how we respond to stress, "can sometimes be linked to early experiences and resulting beliefs about ourselves and the world."
If you find that you’re easily overwhelmed, or that stress really knocks you down before you’ve had a chance to fully process it, then you might need to re-evaluate some of your stress responses. People who handle stress well tend to have, in one way or another, really on-point self-care. Coping with stress isn’t just left to chance. People who are "resilient" — the psychological term used to describe the ability to cope with adversity — often have tools and techniques in place that help them deal with distressing emotions and events. Fortunately, with a few new strategies and some practice, you can get stronger in the face of challenging life events.
"'I should be able to handle this', 'I shouldn't feel upset', 'I'm not able to handle this', 'I'm sensitive', 'I'm not good enough', etc., are all too common beliefs that people knowingly, and unknowingly, carry with them. These beliefs can turn a manageable situations into something that feels stressful or overwhelming," Curtis says.
Variations in brain wiring, physiology, and even social support, can mean the difference between thriving in the face of adversity, hitting burn out, and various responses in between. If you find that you’re not handling stress all that well right now, it might mean that you’re lacking adequate emotional support. No matter what the reasons are, if you’re getting dragged by stress, there are some things you can try to build up your resilience.
1. Get A Self-Care Routine Going
"A study [from] Yale University indicates that some people are wired for better stress resilience," Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, certified yoga teacher and vice president of clinical outreach for the Newport Academy, tells Bustle by email. That said, Wilson suggests that by developing a strong self-care practice, you can boost your resilience to stress over time. If dealing with stress isn't your strong point, exercising at least three times per week, getting outside regularly, getting enough sleep every night, deep breathing exercises, and journaling about your day before bed, can all help you get stronger in the face of stressful circumstances.
"We can all increase our stress resilience — through developing better coping skills and through practices, such as yoga and meditation, that increase vagal tone, which is closely related to parasympathetic nervous system ('rest and digest') activity," Wilson says.
2. Get Connected To Community
Many studies show that adequate social support is integral to both physical and psychological health. According to a 2007 study published online in the journal Psychiatry, social support helps build up your resilience to stress.
Finding ways to connect with other people in meaningful ways can, essentially, make you stronger on multiple levels. By taking a class, volunteering, or finding an online or real time support group, you can gain greater access to the social support you need to successfully navigate life's difficulties.
3. Practice Acceptance Of What's Happening
Practicing acceptance of what's happening in the moment does not mean that you don't take action when you need to wrote Erin Olivio, PhD, for Psychology Today. It means that, by being fully present with a stressful life event, you can actually take more effective action moving forward.
"I’m not saying you should be passive or never make an effort to avoid or change something you don’t like. But practicing this kind of acceptance works more immediately to dial down your stress level. Finding acceptance is often what allows you to be ready and able to make a necessary change," Olivio wrote.
4. Reframe Your Perspective
"Cognitive reframing is a time-honored, psychologist-recommended method of looking at things in ways that create less stress and promote a greater sense of peace and control," wrote Elizabeth Scott, MS, for Verywell Mind.
Essentially, there's what's happening, and then there's how you perceive what's happening, Scott wrote. By learning to examine your thoughts, question them, and then shift your perspective, you can help lessen your reactivity to stress over time.
"In some cases, we can transform stress into eustress, which means positive stress," Wilson says. "Studies from Harvard Business School involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance showed that people who reframed their pre-performance anxiety as excitement performed better than those who simply told themselves to stay calm when feeling stressed. Think of stressful situations as opportunities to learn and improve."
5. Find Some Humor In The Situation
Finding ways to laugh while you're going through hard times can be a simple but powerful way to boost your stress resilience. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter increases feel-good endorphins produced by the brain. It can also stimulate circulation, ease tension, increase your oxygen intake, and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Basically, laughing can provide some major stress relief, so whether you like a good stand-up routine or your favorite rom-com, making some time to lighten up can help ease your stress response in some pretty immediate ways.
6. Cultivate Gratitude
Cultivating a regular gratitude practice can significantly reduce the effects of stress, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.
Amy Morin wrote for Psychology Today in 2015 that, according to a growing body of research, gratitude can significantly increase mental strength and overall mental health. Whether you keep a gratitude journal, write thank you notes, or just take some time each day to meditate on all the things you're grateful for, practicing gratitude can help ease your stress levels when tough times hit.
When you first adopt stress-busting "tools and techniques" it might take time to notice the benefits, Curtis says. "Just because something doesn't work right away doesn't necessarily mean you won't reap the benefits if you keep a regular practice of it. Remember, stress is in our lives for a very good reason. Like any feeling, we want to use it as information. Listen to it, understand why it's there, and address it's need."
Building up your stress resilience is not unlike going to the gym to build muscle strength. With repetition and practice over time, you can get stronger in the face of life's inevitable challenges.