Stress Awareness Month: Tips to De-Stress
April is Stress Awareness Month, and a good way to celebrate it is by reminding ourselves how we can live healthier lives. Although everyone deals with stress differently, understanding the causes of stress and how it affects the body and mind can make a difference in our overall well-being.
So, what can we do to de-stress? Hani Henry, chair and associate professor of psychology; Carie Forden, psychology professor; Anne Justus, associate professor of practice in psychology; and Ola Morsy, acting director and senior consultant psychiatrist at the Office of Student Support and adjunct associate professor of psychology, highlight several things we can do to lower stress levels.
1. Identify the Nature and Causes of Stress
According to Henry, it is critical to understand the nature of stress before applying stress management techniques. “In psychology, the stability of body functioning is referred to as homeostasis, which is the body’s ability to regulate its inner environment to ensure stability,” he explained. “If the body is exposed to a condition that violates its stability or normalcy, it can affect our homeostasis, which leads to stressful reactions.”
Recognizing stress triggers is an important step in applying stress reduction techniques appropriately, Justus noted. “Sometimes the causes of stress may be more than one thing, and the accumulation of many small stressors can have a big impact,” she said. “Stressors can include work, family expectations, money, relationships and major life events like marriage or attending a new school.”
Justus also pointed out that it’s common for people to use unhealthy stress reduction mechanisms to deal with stress, which actually results in more stress. “Unhealthy mechanisms include the use of alcohol, cigarettes, shisha, drugs, eating too much or too little, and eating too many carbohydrates or sugars,” she explained.
2. Meditate and Become Mindful
One of the best ways to combat stress is by participating in stress reduction behaviors. “Meditating, keeping a healthy balanced diet, sleeping seven to nine hours and attending fun events are helpful in relaxing the mind and body,” Forden said. “Finding peace in your mind and living the present moment can make a difference, even if it’s just taking slow breaths and paying attention to your surroundings.”
Forden noted that stress occurs because we run out of emotional and practical resources. “Engaging in activities where you can relax and build up resources will strengthen your ability to deal with the challenges you face,” she said.
According to research, physical activity releases endorphins: chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. “If the exercise is challenging and requires focus, it can also distract you from your worries,” Forden added. “Exercising will help you sleep better at night and relax, so it helps with building up the resources you need to cope with stressors.”
4. Social Support
Build healthy relationships with people who provide you with emotional support and uplift your mood. “Searching for any kind of social support is fundamental, regardless of your situation, but you’ll need to take the necessary step of asking them for help,” said Forden.
While having someone to lean on during difficult times is good, it’s also healthy to avoid negative relationships. “Avoid people that bring negative energy,” said Morsy. “These types of people carry a pessimistic and negative attitude toward life, which will eventually reflect on you.”
5. Change your Thinking Patterns
Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts is stealing moments away. “One way of dealing with negative thoughts that lead to stress is to observe them without judgment, which would eventually lead to inner peace,” Henry noted. “We should also use humor to deal with stress. We should watch comedy, smile and make jokes. Egyptians are very good at creating jokes out of real-life situations that are stressful, such as political and economic issues in the country.”
Another technique to change negative thoughts is reflecting on positive experiences. “Everyone should appreciate and keep record of their accomplishments in life,” said Morsy. “Buy a journal and reflect on your positive experiences throughout your day. Don’t push yourself too hard and work instead on having a more optimistic output in life.”
Every once in a while, we should try to escape reality, noted Morsy. “For at least 15 minutes during the day, try to avoid being active on social media, reading your emails or watching TV,” she said. “Simple things like reading, listening to music, taking a warm bubble bath or doing your favorite hobby help reduce stress.”
Also making the list to unplugging tips are adult coloring books. “The growing trend of mandala coloring books are useful in helping the mind relax,” added Morsy. “Coloring, in general, helps stimulate brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity.”