How to cope with stress: Stress management and relief

Coping with stress is a difficult process. It’s not a typical ‘illness’, and although the symptoms of stress are all too present, the ‘cures’ can be harder to find.

However, although stress management is a long-term journey, there are a number of ways to make things easier along the way.

Here, we look at stress relief strategies from conversation to medication, to help you find the right option for you.

How to cope with stress

Practice ‘flow’ activities

When you’re stressed, sometimes the best strategy can be distraction – especially when it’s with a simple task that makes you feel in control and has a series of steps to follow. Psychologists call these ‘flow’ activities, switching off the conscious brain and putting you into a calming, meditative state. Think baking, cleaning or organising, all processes which give you a clear, easily achievable goal and give you a massive satisfaction boost when complete.

Address your triggers, where possible

Stress can stem from any area of life, but some of the causes people struggle with most often include relationships, work or money. It’s important to identify the cause of your stress before you try to tackle it – make a note of times when you feel most stressed, and see if a pattern emerges.

Know when to switch off

If your stress is particularly prevalent at work, it’s important to set clear boundaries for your home life. Even small changes, like not opening your inbox after a certain hour in the evening, or leaving your work phone behind at the end of the day, can all make a real difference. Your job is of course, important, but when it’s consuming your entire day, every day, it could be time to take a step back.

Accept that there are some things you cannot change

Be realistic – whilst many positive changes can and will be made, there are some aspects of life which are innately stressful, and generally out of our control. The important thing here is to stop presuming the worst, and recognise that you can cope with them day-to-day. That’s where the following strategies come in.

Take up a new hobby or interest

A new focus or challenge is a great way to help yourself feel motivated and distract yourself from negative thoughts and energies. De-stressing with exercise is a brilliant option – as the NHS states: ‘exercise won’t make your stress disappear, but it will reduce some of the emotional intensity that you’re feeling, clearing your thoughts and enabling you to deal with your problems more calmly’. Another idea is volunteering – there is some evidence that helping others can improve feelings about your own situation.

Talk to someone you trust

Hearing your problems aloud makes them easier to process and rationalise – sometimes all you need is someone to listen. A sympathetic ear can come from many sources, from friends to family members to colleagues, but if you don’t know anyone personally who you’re happy to speak to, consider seeking the support of a counsellor or therapist, who will provide a safe enviroment in which you can unravel your thoughts.

Try relaxation techniques

Everyone differs in what they find relaxing, but activities like yoga, deep breathing, massage and meditation are all known for their stress-busting properties for a reason. Colouring has also become a popular option for stress relief recently – our best colouring books for adults are a good place to start.

Practise mindfulness

Put simply, mindfulness means creating an awareness of ourselves in a present moment, by paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, noticing the world around us and reconnecting with the sensations it brings. Mindfulness can aid mental wellbeing – when you’re having a moment of stress, take a moment to stand back and reflect. You’ll notice how busy your mind can get, and mindfulness can help to slow it down.

Vent in short, sharp bursts

It can help to let off steam every now and then by loudly letting out any tension or anger you have. In fact, there are now classes that offer this as a relaxation technique – The Tantrum Club encourages its members to relieve their stress by whacking beanbags with baseball bats, stamping on bubble wrap, yelling loudly and writing their angriest thoughts onto balloons before popping them.

According to some experts, traditional relaxation methods may not be as effective anymore because of our levels of stress, thanks to the pressures of modern life. ‘Calming approaches like mindfulness, talking therapy and meditation don’t work for this generation of stressed women, who are already highly tense,’ explains trauma therapist Adele Theron, who founded the Tantrum Club. ‘These women are too irritated and angry to reach a calm place. They don’t know how to wind down. So you need to support them in releasing the anger.’ So next time you’re feeling out of control, it might just help to yell about it…

Live a healthy lifestyle

As previously mentioned, exercise is an excellent source of stress management for many people, but it’s most effective when coupled with other healthy pursuits, like a nutritious diet and quality sleep. This isn’t to say that you have to give up chocolate and socialising and be virtuous 100% of the time, but some healthy dinners and early nights can go a long way towards your overall wellbeing.

Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms

At the other end of the spectrum, smoking, drinking and binge-eating are all commmon coping strategies amongst people who are stressed, but turning to vices isn’t a legitimate way to process your emotions. Take steps to remove these options, whether it’s not keeping cigarettes in the house or making a weekly meal plan so you can’t order takeaways, to help youself to stop relying on these unhealthy habits. The short-term release is exhilarating, but they’re likely to make you feel worse in the long run.

Speak to your GP

If you’re beginning to feel unable to cope with your symptoms independently, it may time to seek help from your doctor. There are a number of solutions to consider, from local stress management classes to therapy to medication. As Michael Mand of Anxiety UK says, ‘dealing with stress is important in order to prevent it from escalating into anxiety’, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. The world will look a lot brighter once you do.