Top Ten Ways to Manage Stress
by Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
Could things be more stressful right now? People are trying to not get sick, determine which vaccine to get or not get, how to keep working, pay the bills, etc. It’s been kind of a shit-show for everyone these past twenty-four months. Warning: these suggestions may increase more stress or anxiety in your life. Consider them at your own risk.
Life is stressful right now. How do we handle it all? I’ve come up with my top ten ways to handle stress that may help you get through the winter, the end of the pandemic or just life itself. As a fan of the Tonight Show’s Top Ten List with David Letterman, I will start with number ten and save number one for the end 😉 Please note this top ten list may not be approved by the APA, AMA or any other important credentialing body.
- Prioritize. Sounds simple right? Some of us do the little things first to get them out of the way and keep the harder things for later. The problem with this method is often the bigger needs get waylaid and never get done. Others do the reverse order. I suggest that instead of how big or little your STD (shit to do) list is, prioritizing the most important or impactful ones on top makes the most sense. Big or small, accomplish the tasks that are most important, impact your (or your loved one’s) life the most and work your way down the list as time and energy permit. Why is this last on the list? Because most people (like me) suck at prioritizing!
- Take a Break. Notice this does not say take a nap. Taking short little breaks when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed may help alleviate some of your anxiety. This is recommended by doctors, psychologists, and other professionals. Breaks may include watching an episode of your favorite television show, taking a short walk, or having your favorite beverage in the quiet and solitude. There are literally millions of ways to take a break. I’m not a huge fan of this concept. I multitask constantly. While I work out, I’m learning Spanish; when I’m eating, I’m working, etc. I find that when you take a short break it ends up being a marathon and little gets accomplished. But hey, it must work for some people so give it a go.
- Eliminate Your Triggers. First off, I hate the word “trigger.” It has such negative connotations but again this method is highly recommended by professionals. Perhaps I’m not the professional I thought I was? Regardless of the word, the idea is that if you can identify the things, situations or people that cause you to stress, simply eliminating (or reducing) them should do the trick. Feeling stressed by work? Quit. Kiddos driving you nuts during the pandemic? Sell one off and keep the other. Are your bills piling up and your hours at work are decreasing? Shred the bills. Hmmm. This one isn’t working so well. Skip to number 10.
- Cook Something Different. I have this philosophy that if you can read, you can cook. Now other professionals will tell you to eat healthy, sleep, blah blah blah to manage stress. But honestly, most of us either overeat/oversleep or don’t eat/don’t sleep when we’re stressed so that is just not great advice in my world of thinking. But cooking is cool. Grab any cookbook you have. At the least, most of us have the old standby Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. If you don’t have this in your kitchen, why not? In fact, grab a recipe and a beverage (wink, wink) and then regardless of how bad a cook you are, at least you’ll be relaxed and have fun trying. I once made a challah bread for a dinner invitation and was so stressed about what to bring. When my friend asked for the bread, I thought this would be a no brainer. Wow that bread came out hard as a rock but I had a blast trying and my friend laughed when I brought it over. Of course, she had a spare ceremonial bread, just in case I screwed it up.
- Time for Yourself. I call this Tracy Time. You can call it what you will. Now the professionals call it meditation or mindfulness. My dad used to call it Benson after the Harvard doctor who penned the idea in 1975 to breathe and relax. At the age of 12, I would sit with my father as we practiced the Benson method together. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was time with my father in the sanctity of his office so whatever it was, I was doing it with my dad. Today, I lay prone on my bed and just let my wander to whatever is clogging up the inner processes from working their best. I literally lay still thinking about thinking. When I was in graduate school this was called metacognition. I find it incredibly relaxing, takes a ton of stress out of my brain and lets me focus on what I need to truly focus on for the time being. My daughter will tell you my favorite part of the day is laying “flat.” It’s my Time. And it’s now become hers as well.
- Get outside. Whether you live in the middle of West Side Manhattan or Upper Darby PA, the mountains of Breckenridge or the valley of South Park, just get yourself outside. Research has proven that being outside in nature is one of the most restorative practices we can do for ourselves. You don’t have to run or jump. You just need to look up and around. Put your technology in your pocket, take a deep breath, smell the air, and rejoice in nature’s beauty. Don’t think. Just be open to what you see, hear and smell. If that doesn’t work for you, you need to make an appointment with number 2!
- Physical Activity. Definitely not to be confused with number 3, physical activity is a definite go-to of mine. Whenever I feel like slamming the phone against the wall or screaming at the customer service person; I politely say, “I’ll have to call you back” and quickly slip on some Nikes and head for the road. A quick 5k gets my heart pumping and my head cleared before I even hit the first mile. Is running too much for you? 25 jumping jacks, 50 sit ups or anything that releases your endorphins which in turn is a shot of morphine to your brain will do the trick. No drugs needed. You’re welcome.
- Sexual Intimacy. Bet you didn’t see that coming. But research shows us that being intimate with someone has many benefits and not all of them are simply the happy ending. Touching, snuggling, sexual intimacy is in our DNA to soothe, relax and let off steam. In fact, it’s one of my top ten for insomnia, too. When you’re super stressed, find a friend, lover or your partner and get your sexy on. If you don’t have that friend with benefits, there’s a swipe for that or try adameve.com where the personal sexual toys are boundless.
- Talk to a Professional. The bottom line is that when you talk to a friend, they tell you what you want to hear. When you talk to a professional, they tell you what you need to hear. Big difference my friends. Talking to a professional (i.e., therapist, psychologist, etc.) helps you unload your stress and brainstorm #3 – #10 to determine which course of action is best for you, if any. It’s also great to just unpack and discharge all your stress and anxiety on someone who is trained to take it on the chin. If all else fails, try numero uno.
- Suck It Up Cupcake. So perhaps by now you realize this isn’t the most conventional top ten list of ways to manage your stress. Yet at the end of the day, how we react to every day normative events, is the differential between mental well-being and being unwell. My ex-husband used to say, “every day is a good day, some days are just better than others.” True that. If you take this to heart and realize that today may not be your best day, but tomorrow may be better. Stay the course. You will learn how to dodge and weave obstacles and frustrations that set you back on the days that simply aren’t that great. Life is truly short. When stress gets you down, suck it up and face the stress head on. Tomorrow may be better.
There you have it. My top ten for managing stress. I hope you’ll give these a try and let me know how it works out for you! @tehillphd or @silversagemagazine or centered_cbd – because Centered_CBD is awesome for helping people deal with stress and anxiety!
Photo credit by Adrian Curiel (Charleston Rad Carolina) @wick.sports