5 Ways to Reduce Stress, Anytime

What stresses you out?

When someone asks you that question, or you ask it to yourself, a few things might come to mind. It could be work, relationships, bills or childcare. And also...we’re living in a world full of multiple pandemics: COVID-19, racism, and ableism. Yes, we’ve all learned to adjust (somewhat) to this new normal, but when we think about the work it takes to survive in this kind of climate, it’s not small. The pandemic, more explicit and visible racism, and blatant ableism within the last year-and-a-half have made it apparent that even when society is suffering, we still have to go to work, manage relationships, pay our bills, figure out childcare, and more. The stress we’re experiencing is valid.

The American Psychological Association (APA) indicated that 77% of adults in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 73% encounter psychological symptoms of stress in 2014. This was years before the pandemic when the world was its normal, bustling self. Most recently, there has been nearly 24/7 news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic because it has become such a normal, yet dysfunctional, part of our lives. We see the news about the outbreaks, the number of new cases, numbers of death, the constant fight to wear masks to protect safety, and the frustrating cries to get vaccinated toward those who have fears against it.

We also have experienced the double-edged sword of the increased awareness of systemic racism in our society. Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) have gained more visibility in the last year with the BLM, but at the price of dehumanizing images and violent acts against those in the community. BIPOC folx are, once again, forced to endure another wave of awareness with fingers crossed that action may follow. Asian Americans have endured hate-crimes that were spurred during the last year by anti-Asian rhetoric with public, documented assaults against the elderly. This deep, painful crime says the model minority myth really is what it is: a myth.

The ableism we have seen in the last year has evidenced our society’s invisibility of disabled folx. Accommodations to work from home suddenly became possible despite disabled folx advocating for these for years, perhaps decades. We have known that we can adjust the way we work to make jobs more accessible, though it was not made available until non-disabled folx felt it necessary for themselves. The hypocrisy this community has seen is painful and frustrating.

There are likely other pandemics that we are experiencing but have limited awareness to see. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list or explanation. If these stories of recent times resonate with you and you have felt stressed by these things, we see you. We hear you. We are right there with you.

All of this to say, it is stressful. We are living in a stressful time where the systems that hurt us are so ingrained and seemingly unending that we are adjusting to a chronic response. Many of us functioned in that world where stress was somewhat manageable pre-pandemic. However, some of us may be, for the first time, struggling to deal with the symptoms of stress in the form of anxiety and depression. It’s hard to see the extent of the impact and consequences these events have all had on our mind and body until it becomes far more apparent. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis, a collective trauma in that we are all experiencing some forms of exhaustion, oppression, and drive to be productive. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we take a look at mental health.

We recognize that the tone of this post feels bleak so far, but rest assured: it is not all doom and gloom. There are things we can do to manage the stress of our current world while we navigate it, and many of them can be done throughout your day. This is possible, and we’re here to help guide you.

  1. Engage in mindfulness. Mindfulness, or the awareness of one’s current state and experiences without judgment or being carried away in it, can help us focus on the present moment rather than fluttering away with our anxieties. When we engage in mindfulness, we are more able to put ourselves in a position to remind ourselves that we are safe, we are capable, and we are okay. You can do this in a number of ways:

  2. Box breathing is a breathing technique that’s easy to remember. Just think of the number 4: inhale slowly through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 counts, and then hold again for 4 counts. Repeat this as many times as necessary and focus on your counting or even the way the lungs fill with air.

  3. Engaging your five senses is another technique that only requires you to remember them all. Whisper to yourself or think quietly about five things that you see, four things that you can touch/feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. If you want to take it a step further, describe to yourself what each sensation is like for you. What does your water bottle look like? Does the shirt you’re wearing have a certain texture? What does the air freshener in the room remind you of?

  4. Running your hands across a textured surface is another method. It’s similar to engaging your five senses, but you’ll be focusing on the sensation of touch. If you run your hands across your sweater, what does it feel like? If you’re touching your pet’s fur, focus on the sensation of the softness. If you have a throw pillow with intricate patchwork, what does each ridge and stitch feel like beneath your fingertips?

  5. Tune into your body’s needs. Many of us learn to endure the entire work day with our brains focused on the task at hand or the ones that make the list. This can put us in a state of unawareness about the basic needs our body requires to function at its best throughout the day. Throughout your work day, take a moment to pause, close your eyes, and feel the sensations that your body has. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do your eyes feel heavy? Do your legs feel restless? When you notice these things, try to satisfy the needs so your body can recharge. Grab a snack, drink from your water bottle, give yourself a few seconds to stretch, or engage in movement before getting back to work. Your body will thank you for it in the present and your mind will thank you for it in the future.

  6. Reach out to supportive loved ones. Social support is a known protective factor against the effects of stress. Those who are able to confide in reliable, supportive loved ones are more likely to have the effects of stress on their mental health mitigated or reduced, even in cases when one is experiencing acute or very high stress. This could mean engaging in activities with loved ones who you trust and have shown themselves to be understanding in your life. A friend, a family member, or an intimate partner could be that person. Asking for their support in ways that clearly state your needs can help them know how to best support you, even on your toughest days.

  7. Repeat a neutral affirmation to yourself. Oftentimes, this may put people off because it could fall into the realm of toxic positivity or looking on the bright side when you’re suffering. While the intentions may be to redirect attention, affirmations rooted in toxic positivity might not be the most helpful. Instead, try neutral affirmations that will help you speak more gently to yourself in ways that aren’t absurd or disproportionate to the distress you might be experiencing. Here are a few we like that are super simple:

  8. I am trying.

  9. I’m not feeling the best, but I can get through today.

  10. It’s okay that I’m having a hard time right now.

  11. I am learning.

  12. I can be patient.

  13. Engage in Self-Care. When you hear the term “self-care,” what often enters the mind is the image of bubble baths, pedicures, or spa days. In reality, this isn’t the case. Self-care can look like a range of things, but what it addresses is the needs of your body, mind, and soul. It’s also best if it’s done a little bit every day! You can imagine your stress like a cup, and every stressor is another pour of liquid into it. Self-care helps us pour some of the water out of our cup so that we can function without spilling over. Self-care can look like engaging in joyful movement like walking through a park, listening to your favorite song, or making sure you brush your teeth. It can be basic actions that help you recharge. And while the media might make it seem like they need to be extravagant or pricey, that’s not the case. Anything that helps you, now or in the future, feel rested and well is self-care.

Reducing stress is a journey that all of us are facing together. These skills are going to take time and practice, and you’ll very rarely meet someone who has it down pat. There will be days that are harder than others, but there will also be days where you feel wonderful. You are capable of feeling both and everything in between, as it’s a part of life.

Of course, another way to explore methods of reducing stress that work for you is visiting a mental health professional. The way that your best friend or sibling reduces stress might not be the perfect method for you. This doesn’t mean you’re reducing stress wrong or you’re failing; it means that you haven’t found the option that works just right yet. And by no means is one change going to be the fix for everything (though we all wish so badly that it will). A therapist can help you build your arsenal of coping skills to help you manage your stress and function with flexibility in ways that feel congruent with your values, wants, and needs.

Whenever you try these coping strategies, we’ll be cheering you on. And if you’re thinking about starting your therapy journey, we’ll be here for you when you’re ready.