5 Ways to Get a Better Handle on Stress, Straight From Therapists
No matter how well things are going, every single person encounters stressors and stressful situations, ranging from mild annoyances to the types of anxieties that keep you up at night. Another universal truth: some coping mechanisms are decidedly healthier than others (like going for a run instead of immediately opening a bottle of wine). Whether the source of your stress is related to work or school, finances, relationships, or all of the above, you can never have too many strategies at your disposal. We asked therapists to share their best stress management techniques, and here's what they had to say.
Stay Physically Active
"When you're very stressed, your body produces a stress hormone called cortisol," Emin Gharibian, PsyD, founder and director of Verdugo Psychological Associates, told POPSUGAR. Cortisol is part of the body's natural "fight or flight" response, but large doses of the hormone can increase your risk of heart disease.
Dr. Gharibian explained that regular exercise helps "flush cortisol out of our bodies." Physical activity doesn't need to be extreme to help decrease stress. Some examples include going for a walk once a day, riding a bike, hitting the treadmill at the gym, or hiking. "The whole point is, get out there and be active," Dr. Gharibian said. "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it's something you enjoy and can do consistently."
Carve Out Leisure Time
A common source of stress is the long list of work and activities that we have to do. When we're overwhelmed and stressed, it's easy to forget the importance of doing things we actually enjoy. Dr. Gharibian recommends finding a hobby and engaging in it consistently. "This is important because a hobby that you enjoy will help clear your mind and let your brain recharge and revitalize," he explained.
What you choose to do is up to you: it might be something physically stimulating, or something that exercises your mind, or something that simply helps you relax. "It can be as simple as cooking, baking, reading, or even playing video games," Dr. Gharibian said. "The most important thing is to do that hobby consistently. Pencil out some time that you can engage in that hobby and unwind."
This is especially important if your job is a significant source of stress. If you're glued to your phone and laptop on evenings and weekends, Dr. Gharibian emphasized the need to set boundaries and stick to them. "Being stuck to the screen during work is one thing, but when you come home, put your laptop and phone away and learn to unwind," he said.
Some people use their laptops for more enjoyable activities outside of work hours — and that's all well and good unless you can't resist checking your work email or getting a jump-start on a project. "I recommend people set a schedule for work, and when that work time is over, it's time to put your laptop away," Dr. Gharibian said.
Set a timer if you need to and remind yourself that unless the task at hand is urgent and time-sensitive, it can wait until tomorrow. Additionally, Dr. Gharibian noted that if you give yourself time to relax and unwind in the evenings, you'll be more efficient when you arrive at work the next day.
Grand McDonald, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and therapist at Clarity Clinic, told POPSUGAR that setting boundaries is an effective way to manage stress — and this doesn't just apply to your work-life balance. It's also important to set boundaries with friends or family members who demand too much of your time.
"While friends and family are people we love, adhering to what they expect from us can be very stressful, especially if you can't meet their expectations," Dr. McDonald said. If you're in this situation, she recommends letting the person in question know the times you're available to talk or setting a limit on how much time you can give to them. If you need a weekend to yourself, tell them that. "It's important to use 'I' phrases when communicating with loved ones what you need and why," Dr. McDonald advised. "When you set your boundaries, others usually respect them, too."
Maintain a Healthy Diet
"Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial to relieving stress," Dr. McDonald told POPSUGAR, noting that everything in the body is connected. Plus, "it can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure."
She recommends making meal prep part of your daily routine, focusing on healthy, whole foods. (You should drink plenty of water, and avoid skipping meals or overeating, too.) "Oranges, spinach, complex carbs, fatty fish, black tea, pistachios, and avocados are only a few of the foods that have a positive impact on stress levels," she said. Everyone's body is different, so if you're unsure what constitutes a "healthy" diet for you, talk with your primary care physician or meet with a dietitian.