Stress is an inevitable part of life, but how you deal with it can make all the difference. Dr Ciara Kelly shares four ways to deal with stress and stressful situations
Hands up who’s felt stressed before? Hands up anyone who’d love to know some ways to deal with stress? Yep, my hand is high in the air too. Stress is something we’ve all experienced at some point, but the triggers for it will be a little bit different for everyone. Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a ‘stress toolkit’ for myself, to bust open whenever life gets a little bit too hectic.
In this article, I’m going to share with you some of the most valuable tips and tricks I’ve learnt along the way.
Tip 1: Deepen Your Inhale & Lengthen Your Exhale
We’ve all been told to to take ten deep breaths when stressed, but how many of us actually do this? Until this year, I hadn’t. But trust me, breathing techniques for stress are game-changers. There are many options out there, but I’ve found two particularly useful. Box breathing and 4-7-8 breathing. Both are super simple. For box breathing, as you can see in the picture below, you picture a square box in your mind, then move your breath around the box as you inhale for 4 seconds, hold, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold. Then go again. Repeat until you’re feeling even a smidge more zen. On the other hand, 4-7-8 breathing is a little bit easier to try. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. You’ll be surprised how different it is to your typical deep breath! One key thing to remember is that when all else fails, just deepen your inhale, and lengthen your exhale. Repeat. You will find the way that works best for you.
Tip 2: The Magic of Mindfulness
Mindfulness was defined by the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction Jon Kabat-Zinn, as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally’. I first tried it this year using the Calm meditation and mindfulness app, and to say it’s been life-changing is an understatement. There are many apps out there (Headspace is another popular one), and they’re a fantastic way to get started. But they’re also not for everyone. So here’s a couple of simple ways to make your day more mindful without technology.
Tomorrow morning, as you sip your coffee or tea, really take in the flavour. Savour it. Appreciate it. Smile. Have a look around you, whether you’re outdoors or cosy inside, and take in your surroundings. Pay attention to the people, music and vibes. Just enjoy that moment. Then, on your next walk, whether it’s for pleasure or for commuting, look UP. Yes, UP from your phone. What colour is the sky? The leaves on the ground? Take the time to tune in and notice these things. Be grateful for them!
Tip 3: Work It Out. With a Friend!
The benefits of getting active don’t stop at your physical health. Exercise has an equally powerful and positive effect on your mental health too. Even when it feels like it’s the last thing you have time for, or want to do. The shortest burst of movement can completely change your perspective on a challenging situation. However, it’s important to be mindful of the types of exercise you undertake when you’re going through a stressful time. Exercise itself is a physical stress to our bodies, and although that can be beneficial as I’ve said, very intense exercise might not be what your stressed self needs. Personally, I love going for a walk or a yoga class to break up a busy day. It returns me to the tasks at hand, feeling a bit lighter and clearer. Why not make it social with a friend or family member? A problem shared is a problem halved, and often chatting (or venting!) about a stressful time can take a weight off your shoulders you didn’t even realise you were carrying.
Tip 4: Spot Your Self-Talk
What is self-talk? Well, quite simply, it’s how you talk to yourself. You know that inner voice of your thoughts, that part of you that can your best friend or worst enemy? Yes, that voice. When we’re experiencing a stressful time, our self-talk often runs headfirst into the negative, full of ‘I can’t!’, ‘What if I fail?’ and ‘HELP!’ But that’s where you remember this crucial point. YOU control your self-talk. YOU are that inner voice, and YOU get to be the writer of the masterpiece that is your life. We are always hardest on ourselves when stressed. But a rule I’ve set for my self-talk is simple. If I wouldn’t say it to my best friend, I definitely won’t say it to myself. Give it a try. The first step is recognising how you speak to yourself, and then taking control over and changing it for the better.
Now, go forth armed with your stress toolkit guys – you’ve got this!
Ciara Kelly is a medical doctor who’s passionate about incorporating nutrition and fitness into her daily life. She believes that through empowerment, everyone can find balance and the lifestyle for them. For more information, visit irishbalanceblog.wordpress.com