Therapists Explain 7 Steps To Dealing With Stress Better

by Carina Wolff and JR Thorpe
Originally Published: 

It's important to get a hold of stress to make it through whatever's causing you issues. When you're caught up in the moment, though, it's not always easy to keep yourself calm. If you don't handle stress well, having these strategies in the back of your mind can help you when the going gets rough. It's not uncommon to get overwhelmed whenever stress hits, but it's important to figure out ways to manage your mental state to prevent anything from spiraling out of control.

High stress levels can negatively impact your health by raising blood pressure and increasing your risk for anxiety and depression. That's why it's pretty crucial to make time for self-care, from calming mantras to professional help if you need it. "Healthy self-care helps us create a well of resiliency," psychotherapist Megan Gunnell LMSW tells Bustle. "It helps us pause and make conscious decisions about how to respond and react." With the right bundle of techniques, you can meet the challenges of pressure head-on.

If you're finding that your stress levels are causing you problems, try these seven useful tricks to help out.


Have A Daily Ritual

It can be hard to fit in stress-relieving activities once your day gets started. So before you even have your coffee, schedule in something that will help keep you relaxed at regular intervals where you know you'll have some time to yourself. "Pause throughout your day to help put the brakes on," clinical social worker Jihan Madyun, LICSW, tells Bustle. "Take five seconds to pause before you get out of the bed, before you get in the shower, get to work or go on to your next task." She recommends taking that time to write or think about what's gone well that day and how you're currently feeling, or just doing some gentle breathing, in and out. "Make this a regular daily habit, and your feelings won't feel so scary."


Figure Out How Your Stress Is Making You Feel

Whether it's anxiety, anger, insecurity or sadness, the emotional fallout of anxiety can be deep. It's valuable to figure out how your stress is making you react emotionally. "Get in touch with the feelings underneath your stress," Madyun tells Bustle. "Oftentimes we have feelings that we don't want to feel." When you're experiencing a lot of anxiety or pressure, try to look at what's causing it and what emotions it's causing. This may help you cope better. "You can be compassionate about these feelings," Madyun says.


Try This Breathing Exercise

You know that breathing is a way to cope with stress, but some breathing techniques do double duty. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises, which use patterns of deep, regular breathing from the diaphragm, can help reduce stress and muscle tension, studies say. "They are very easy to learn," clinical psychologist Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit Ph.D. tells Bustle. "I would recommend downloading an app that specializes in relaxation and listening to the instructions, then practicing two to three times a day, for three to five minutes each time." She says that diaphragmatic breathing reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol secretion, so doing it regularly can help your stress levels lower over time.


Talk To Someone

Humans are social creatures, and we thrive when we have help and support from others. "Having a heart-to-heart conversation with a family member (a parent, a partner, a sibling, etc.) can diminish your stress," Sadeh-Sharvit says. "Not only that, the other person will provide important perspective, instrumental support and emotional feedback." If you're not close to your family, a friend is just as good. Even if you don't feel capable of talking about the difficult situation itself, some social time can still help; Sadeh-Sharvit says a conversation with somebody who cares about you can help you feel better and increase your optimism.


Use A Stress Tracker

Although some people have an idea of the things that cause them anxiety, not everyone understands the root causes of their feelings. "To help with this, begin with taking an inventory of your stressors with a stress tracker," psychotherapist Rwenshaun Miller says. "Write down the things that add stress to your life, [including] when and where it happens and how you mentally and physically respond." He says that patterns may become evident when you track your stressors over time, helping you formulate plans to tackle them in the future.


Try Mindfulness

"Mindfulness invites us to bring our attention back to the present moment and simple practices like meditation or breath work can help us return to a sense of groundedness and peace," Gunnell says. Mindfulness can reduce stress through daily meditation, even for a few minutes, that helps you get in touch with your body and the world around you. There are a lot of mindfulness guides available if you've never practiced it before, including the app Headspace and the Mindful Movement's videos on Youtube.


Consider Getting Professional Support

If you're struggling a lot with stress, it can be a really good idea to talk to a therapist or another kind of mental health professional. "We use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy to learn how to stop the thought process, and think carefully about whether or not the thought is based in reality or distortion," Gunnell says. She advises that if you find your stress is starting to impede your functioning, including your performance at work, your sleep, or your relationships, you should seek more support. "It might be time to see a therapist to help you build a better coping toolbox," she says.


Megan Gunnell LMSW, psychotherapist

Jihan Madyun LICSW, RYT, TCYMT

Rwenshaun Miller, psychotherapist

Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit Ph.D

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