It is an honour to be invited by Yurek Pharmacy to share some tips on reducing stress with our community. We are in a time where stress is rising, and it feels like there are limited ways to deal with it since most things are shut down during the lockdowns. It is very easy to turn to unhealthy ways to deal with our stress which ends up being a trap of our own devising and leads to diminished lives.
One woman described her use of shopping as, “This is how I medicate. When things are not going well, or I have a tough interaction with one of my bosses, I take a break. I slip out and go shopping. Until now, I just thought it was a normal break and getting away from it all. Now I can see … it’s medicine. It gives me temporary relief then there is the crash when the bill comes in.” Another person utilized Fantasy Football as he thought all he needed was a little stress relief, something to make him feel a little excited, and he could lose hours on his computer. Other forms this could take are utilizing alcohol, porn or food to numb ourselves to the situation around us.
Sex, food, good wine, hobbies, awards, good revenues, celebrations, wins, fun, exciting relationships and events, exotic trips, products and toys — they are awesome, fun and life enhancing. They should be enjoyed. But they will never fulfill you and provide lasting stress reduction. They just put a temporary hold on it. Ultimately the new car smell goes away, the trophy tarnishes, and the cool new relationship becomes less cool. Then you start searching for the next thing needing more and more of it to have the same effect it had in the beginning.
There are types of stress that we need relief from. One is in the moment when the adrenaline is flowing from a stressful day or a conversation when you are feeling overwhelmed. The other is when stress is ongoing in our life and we need to make life changes to learn to increase our resilience to stress. Let’s start with short-term strategies you can do from anywhere that can lower your stress immediately. These strategies are great because they can be performed anywhere, take little practise to master, are free and provide immediate relief.
Short-Term Strategies to Reduce Stress
Try Guided Imagery. Guided imagery is like taking a short vacation in your mind. It can involve imaging yourself being in your “happy place”—maybe picturing yourself sitting on a beach, listening to the waves, smelling the ocean, and feeling the warm sand underneath you.
Guided imagery can be done with a recording where you listen to someone walk you through a peaceful scene (Just do an app or internet search for “Guided Imagery” and there are a lot of free options). Or, once you know how to do it yourself, you can practice guided imagery on your own.
Simply close your eyes for a minute and walk yourself through a peaceful scene. Think about all the sensory experiences you would engage in and allow yourself to feel as though you’re really there. After a few minutes, open your eyes and return to the present moment.
Focus on Breathing. Just focusing on your breath or changing the way you breathe can make a big difference to your overall stress level. Breathing techniques can calm your body and your brain in just a few minutes. The best news is no one around you will even know you are doing them. So, whether you are in a stressful meeting or you are walking through a crowded grocery store, breathing exercises could be key to reducing your stress.
Get out in the Sunshine. Getting outside has a few positive effects. The vitamin D from the sun will increase your mood, a short walk is a fantastic stress reliever that can work in minutes, and probably most important right now, it gets you out of the house for a change in scenery. All of these can get you into a different frame of mind. So, whether you just need to take a stroll around your yard to get a break from a frustrating task or decide to go for a long walk in the park, getting outside is a simple but effective way to rejuvenate your mind and body.
Long-Term Strategies to Reduce Stress
Connect with People. This might seem odd right now when we are being warned to stay away from people to avoid the spread of Covid. The lack of personal connection is also the reason why many people’s stress is rising. There are many ways to make connections while staying safe through social distancing. Spending time with a friend or family member who will listen to you is a natural way to calm you and lower your stress. When you connect with people, your body releases a hormone that stops your fight-or-flight response. You relax.
Manage Your Behaviour. How you respond to people directly impacts your stress levels. Learning to manage your own responses is crucial to lowering stress. Here are the most common behaviours to change that will help reduce stress: Try not to overcommit yourself. Share the responsibility. Count to 10 before you respond. Walk away from a heated situation.
Take Time to Laugh. When you laugh, you take in more oxygen. Your heart, lungs, and muscles get a boost, and your body releases those feel-good hormones. Laughter also improves your immune system, lessens pain, and improves your mood for long periods of time. Watch a funny video, a comedy on your favourite streaming service or call a friend to joke around.
Talk Therapy. Talk therapy helps people learn how to deal with stress. One approach, cognitive behavioural therapy, helps you change negative thought patterns which is often the cause of increased stress. Your therapist can guide you toward ways to lower your stress and find healthy habits.
Improve Your Quality of Sleep. A common side effect of stress is that you may struggle to fall asleep. If this happens three times a week for at least 3 months, you may have insomnia, an inability to fall and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also add to your stress level and cause a cycle of stress and sleeplessness. Better sleep habits can help which could include: Drink less alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime. Set a sleep schedule. Don’t look at your electronics 30-60 minutes before bed. Try meditation or other forms of relaxation at bedtime.
These are just a few healthy tips to reduce stress. Utilizing the ones that work for you will provide results. Give them a try and find the ones that suit you best. If you have any questions, please reach out either to us here at HELPPS or to your local pharmacist at Yurek Pharmacy.
Trish Pauls, MA RP
HELPPS Psychotherapy Services