alive logo

Stop Stressing

Tips for healthy mind management


Stop Stressing

Each of us has our own coping style to deal with stress. But managing stress successfully requires an awareness of our stressors and a plan to deal with them.

Our society is progressing rapidly, at what sometimes feels like lightning speed, and it is a challenge to manage the ever-increasing demands that go with it. It’s no wonder it is such a feat to keep all the balls in the air. Yet we do it anyway—or at least we try.

Learning how to manage the inevitable stresses of a changing world is important. As long as we’re alive and active, stress will be present in our lives. But how we cope with the stressful situations in our lives determine how much impact they’ll have on us.

Perception is key

No two people respond exactly the same way to a given situation, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). We all see things differently, and respond based on our perception of the situation. Our thoughts determine whether a problem exists.

According to the CMHA when a situation occurs, we evaluate the extent to which it feels threatening and respond accordingly. The extent to which we believe the demands exceed our abilities determines how stressful we see it. Building on our skills can help us cope with stress more effectively.

Coping styles

Research suggests that how well we adjust to demands, threats, and challenges is indicative of how well we are coping. And just as we are each affected differently by stress, we also all have specific coping styles. For instance, problem-focused individuals evaluate the situation and take action to deal with it head-on.

Emotion-focused people deal with their response to a situation, and seek out support systems with the goal of getting their feelings out of the way first.

Distraction-focused individuals prefer to occupy themselves with work or activities to distance themselves from the situation for a while.

These styles work well interchangeably—they provide the option of dealing with matters individually or with support—depending on the situation and our needs at the time. However, studies on coping styles have found that utilizing multiple coping strategies leads to reduced stress and greater well-being.

Foods to combat stress:

Fruits and orange and dark green vegetables are rich in stress reducing vitamins such as B, C, and iron, and contain antioxidants to fight the buildup of sugars and fats in your system from stress.

Whole grains stabilize blood sugar levels.

Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, and herring reduce the risk of inflammation, heart disease, and mood swings, which are all linked to stress. Protein from fish also stimulates the production of serotonin—the feel good chemical in the brain.

Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews contain essential antioxidants and magnesium. Pistachios have been found to have calming effects, reducing elevated blood pressure that is caused by stress.

Managing stress

Regardless of the methods we use, the goal is management—having the skills and resources needed to cope, so we can feel in control of the impact that stress has on our lives. The following are ways to manage stress.

Be aware of stressors. Think about the situations that cause the most stress. Pay attention to thought patterns, what happens in the body, and to specific emotions. Once we know our triggers, then we can reduce or eliminate them, or create an alternate plan for dealing with them.

Learn from experiences. Draw from the strengths that got us through stressful times in the past.

Have supportive connections. Having people we can talk to is important for getting our feelings and frustrations out. Friends may also be able to provide solutions to our problems or know of resources that can help. Communication is key.

Get physical. Exercise reduces tension and burns off adrenaline, hormones, sugars, and fats that are released into the system when we are stressed. It increases energy, releases endorphins, strengthens the heart, and improves sleep quality. And the breathing, meditative, and stretching qualities of exercises such as yoga are great for relaxation.

Be realistic about our expectations. Having goals is great, until we burn out from cramming things into an unrealistic time frame. We must consider our limits, what’s most important, and how much we can comfortably take on.

Challenge our perceptions. It is important to pay attention to our thoughts about a situation, and whether these thoughts are based on truth or fear. Instead of viewing the situation as a threat, we can think of it as a challenge and create alternative ways of dealing with it.

Determine our needs. What requires attention right now? Making a list of which needs are being met and which are not can help. This can include physical and emotional aspects, such as sleep, diet, support, or fun.

Be assertive. Expressing our needs and concerns can help us feel more in control of our circumstances. It’s the middle ground between being passive and aggressive—extreme ends of the communicative spectrum—which contribute to stress. We can determine what we want, communicate it (without blame?I feel or want?), and create an action plan, clearly defining the solution.

Create “islands of peace.” This concept, coined by Dr. Doug Saunders of the University of Toronto, refers to giving the body a chance to repair itself from the wear and tear of stress—such as the damage to the heart from the rhythm changes associated with a heightened physical response. He recommends, “actively doing something that’s restful and rebuilding, activities that positively absorb your attention so that you lose track of time.”

In addition to yoga and meditation, Saunders suggests pleasurable activities, such as reading or painting.

Add more meaning. Saunders suggests that reducing stress isn’t just about eliminating it, or “running away from the tiger” as our ancestors did. He associates the additional stress we face as a society to a loss of things that are meaningful to us, in addition to increasing demands. We can add things that bring joy to the mix of the hustle and bustle, to even out the scales.

Managing stress is a balancing act between demands and resources. The more we utilize and expand on our repertoires of coping skills, the more prepared we will be to successfully deal with the situations we encounter.

Stress-busting supplements

A broad spectrum vitamin B formula can help to ease feelings of stress.

Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that also help in stress reduction and system support.

Magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) boost the nervous and immune systems—both of which are depleted during stress.

Adaptogen herbs to support adrenal function, such as ginseng, licorice root, or Ginkgo biloba, are recommended as well. Always consult your health care practitioner before taking herbal supplements for stress, especially if on any type of medication.



Exercise Is Critical to Maintain Your Brain

Exercise Is Critical to Maintain Your Brain

Brendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipABrendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipA