Building a toolkit to cope with stress

178371670Stress is part of all of our lives. Demands from work, school, family, and relationships can cause physical, mental, and emotional stress. While most of us can manage short term stress (something like a big project) pretty well, chronic stress that builds over time wears on our minds and bodies.

Building an effective toolkit to manage your stress is key to managing the psychological and physical wear and tear that stress causes. An effective toolkit is one that helps us manage the demands on our resources (time, financial, psychological) and increase our resources for managing these demands.

Everyone’s toolkit is going to be different, you have to figure out what works in your life. Think like a scientist and test different strategies to lower your stress. Keep what works and discard what doesn’t. When you find some tools that work, use them consistently, whether or not you’re feeling stressed, to build good habits.

Here are suggestions for tools to incorporate in your toolkit:

  • Take 10 minutes each day for yourself
  • Breathing exercises – slow breathing, series of deep breaths
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – tense up your muscles and then release
  • Prescribed worry time – Write a list of your worries and set it aside before bed – it will be there to worry about the next day rather than before you go to sleep
  • Practice mindfulness – Focus on the present moment
  • Spend times with loved ones or other people you care about
  • Get adequate sleep – Avoid screens and spending time in your bed for anything other than sleep and sex.
  • Exercise – Stay active and get sweaty four to five times per week
  • Creative outlets – Journaling, crafting, painting

To see which methods are most effective, rate your level of stress before and after applying one of these tools to see if the activity decreased, maintained, or increased your level of stress. Write down what works so you can have a list handy when you feel too stressed to figure out how to relax in the moment.

If you have a good toolkit and your stress level continues to interfere with your life, consider seeing a clinical psychologist or seeking other professional help. For information about the UofL Depression Center, click here.