Better Your Mental Health: Stress-Relieving Tools and Strategies

The Wellness Universe supports wellness holistically.

We know supporting mental health is a foundation for a healthy life filled with wellness. As we expand on the self-help points from the article Ways to Better Mental Health Drug and Doctor-Free, this week we will discuss some stress-relieving tools and strategies.

We thank Catherine Gruener for her contribution to this article.

Catherine Gruener, M.A., M.A., LCPC, NCC, BC-TMH, PDTC is an Adlerian-trained licensed clinical professional counselor and nationally certified counselor with 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She works with adults, children, and families, supporting them in learning practical skills to create the lives that they want to live.

Stress! We all Experience It

Stress is your body’s response to a challenge. That challenge can be real, imagined, outside your body, or within, a thought, or a task. Regardless of where the challenge is coming from, stress causes our bodies to react, or speed up. The body’s “stress response” is a physical reaction. A physical reaction to your thoughts and to what is happening in the environment. When we have negative thoughts or we are responding to a challenge in the environment, our bodies react. Our hands can get colder, our hearts can beat faster, our breathing can become quick, our muscles can tighten, our hands can start to sweat, and our minds begin to focus on either finding the cause of that stress or fixing the reason for the stress.

What Triggers Stress?

Any unusual demand, any challenge, any threat, or anything that requires you to adapt and change causes a stress response. From unreasonable deadlines, competition, work overload, boredom, fear of failing, unclear expectations, non-supportive co-workers and bosses, conflict with your family members, unclear communication, academic or work pressure, and even personal goals like creating new habits. Good things can cause stress too, like vacations, marriages, births, promotions, and winning the lottery! Yes, in all of those cases, your body is reacting to different levels of the stress response.

When Stress is Harmful

Our bodies and minds are programmed to quickly resolve extreme stressors. We fight, run, freeze, or faint. But in everyday life, there is not a lot of use for the fight, run, freeze, or faint response. Can you imagine your boss asking you to get a report to her in 2 hours and you faint on the spot? Not so helpful in fixing that problem. So, what about those daily stressors that keep agitating your body, that keep agitating your mind, or that keep adding up? What happens to that energy? Where does it go? KABOOM! If we are not relieving stress, stress begins to add up, starts to tear down the body physically and emotionally, and can result in yelling, screaming, crying, headaches, stomachaches, or even serious medical and mental health problems.

Warning Signs of Too Much Stress

  • Tense muscles irritability concentration problems.
  • Inability to relax nightmares racing thoughts.
  • Desire to run away crying over or under eating.
  • Sleeping problems hives worrying all the time

Here Are 5 Stress Relieving Tools and Strategies

General strategies for relieving stress are creating routines with built-in downtime, moving your body for 10-20 minutes daily, eating a healthy diet, getting 6-9 hours of sleep each night, and balancing me-time with responsibility time. The following are specific strategies and tools so you can build it downtime and move your body in less than 5 to 10 minutes.

1.           Belly Breaths

Strategy: Place your hand on your stomach and try to make your hand rise and fall when you breathe. Focus on your breath, breathe in through your nose to the count of 4, then out through your mouth to the count of 5, slowly. Concentrate on seeing the numbers in your mind. Do this for 2 minutes, and up to 5 minutes.

Tip: Set a reminder on your watch or phone to stop and count belly breaths daily, especially during activities that you know cause you stress. This is a quick way to get your body and mind re-aligned. You will sink your body and mind together when you visualize and breath at the same time.

2.           Stretches

Strategy: Raise your arms overhead with your fingers laced together and stretch up. Bend to one side, stretch up, and bend to the other side. Sit up straight with your fingers interlaced behind your head and lift your chest and elbows back-hold for 10 seconds. Lastly, roll those shoulders, bringing them up to your ears, rotating them back, down, forward, and then up again.

Tip: Many people hold stress in their neck and shoulders, this is great to do when working at a computer, at a desk, or if you are in one position for a long time. Please don’t do this while operating a vehicle or other equipment.

3.           Sensory Break

Strategy: Go outside and get some fresh air, take a stroll, take a warm bath or shower, squeeze a stress ball, cook, put on your favorite music, drink a cup of herbal tea, look at a travel magazine or daydream.

Tip: Remove yourself from stressful situations and help your body to relax by soothing your senses with things that make you feel good.

4.           A Twist on the Morning To-Do List

Strategy: First things first, start with an affirmation or write down the 2 best things that happened yesterday. Next, write down the most important thing you have to do today, and then write out your to-do list.

Tip: Knock out the most important thing you need to do first, and then write down the time you will do the different tasks on your to-do list. Schedule it. Be realistic. Be forgiving. Focus on what is most important first. Break tasks down into their smallest parts.

5.           Make You A Priority

Strategy: You and your mental health and wellbeing are the most important priority. Yes, you have lots to do, but if you are not well, you can’t do any of them. When you accomplish your most important task of the day, you have had a successful day. Tomorrow you can prioritize another most important task.

Tip: Be kind and gentle to yourself.

Tips for Getting Started

A stress-less life is a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Build stress relaxation tools into your schedule for life.
  • Stress relaxation tools and strategies are daily habits, not problems for solutions.
  • Choose one technique and practice every day for 7 days then add another.
  • If you do not achieve immediate results, do not become discouraged. Wellness is a habit and a lifestyle, not a cure. Each time you practice, you are training your body how to relax and relieve some of that pressure. So, you skipped a day, today is a new day, try again.

– Catherine

*Originally published on July 26, 2019.

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