In today’s world, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to escape stress. We face all kinds of psychological stress on a daily basis. Unfortunately, too much stress is really, really bad for your brain and body. Therefore, it’s important to find techniques for effectively coping with stress.
Here are 5 stress management strategies that will help you keep your cool and support the health of your brain.
Stress Management Strategy #1: Gather Information and Avoid Assumptions
Identifying areas of your life where you have feelings of uncertainty and doubt and taking action to eliminate them is one of the first steps you should take for effectively coping with stress. Fear of the unknown can increase your stress and anxiety, whereas knowledge provides you with choice and control. Gathering more information—by asking questions and finding answers—and avoiding assumptions will help you manage the confusing and stressful situations that life brings your way.
Applying this stress management tip is absolutely critical when it comes to your personal relationships. If you are confused about a loved one’s behavior or believe that they are upset with you, pick a calm moment and gently ask for clarification. Otherwise, assumptions can take over and little issues can turn into big, stinky fish that ruin relationships.
Stress Management Strategy #2: Take Personal Responsibility and Gain a Sense of Freedom
As humans, we all make mistakes. However, rather than blaming someone else and feeling like a victim, take personal responsibility for what happens in your life and look for creative ways to solve your problems. This will instantly give you more control and help you eliminate stress. This approach to coping with stress can be uncomfortable at first, but taking personal responsibility will help you gain a greater sense of freedom in the long run.
Stress Management Strategy #3: Keep Your Pleasure Centers Healthy
Deep inside your brain reside your pleasure centers. These centers play an important role in stress management. More specifically, they respond to several neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. When your dopamine level is low, feelings of depression and lack of motivation are much more likely to occur. In other words, it can be harder to find your sense of joy and lift yourself out of a funk.
Fortunately, you can naturally boost dopamine production—and subsequently manage stress—by engaging in pleasurable and meaningful activities on a regular basis. For example, do work that you love, get lots of exercise, and take time to have fun with your loved ones!
It is equally important to avoid wearing out your pleasure centers through substance abuse or too many repetitive behaviors, such as gambling, video games, and compulsive eating or shopping.
Stress Management Strategy #4: Deal with Past Traumas
An essential part of coping with stress is to clean out the closet in your head of past or current traumas so they no longer affect and control your future. If traumatic memories are causing you to experience reoccurring stress, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with a psychotherapeutic treatment technique called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) may be helpful.
The focus of EMDR is to resolve or eliminate emotional distress by shifting how a memory is triggered in the brain. EMDR can be particularly useful for people who have a history of abuse or for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have also found EMDR to be helpful for dealing with past (perceived) failures that can drive anxiety and prevent peak performance. Please note that EMDR therapy should only be done by a therapist certified in it.
Stress Management Strategy #5: Build a Community
If you have ever felt euphoric after getting together and bonding with a group of friends, you have experienced the brain-boosting power of social connection! Spending time in a positive community of like-minded people is a wonderful way to boost your bliss hormones, such as oxytocin. Increasing levels of these hormones is one of the best methods for coping with stress—not to mention, supporting your overall health.
Numerous studies have indicated that those who feel close, connected, loved, and supported have a lower incidence of depression, anxiety, heart disease, infections, and cancer. Conversely, unhealthy habits can also be contagious, so bring awareness to the kind of company you keep and focus your time and energy on people who are positive and engage in healthy habits.
By incorporating these stress management tips into your daily life, you won’t only effectively deal with stress, but you’ll support the health of your brain and entire body too.