Updated: Sep 30
Most people feel stressed out now and then. In fact, stress is how our bodies naturally respond to demanding external conditions. Although we associate stressing out with a modern lifestyle, stress is nothing new. Even our ancestors faced stressful situations once in a while. Imagine a person living in a hunter-gatherer society coming face to face with a deadly predator while picking berries. To survive, this individual would most likely choose between fighting the predator or running away to safety. This type of survival mechanism is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response.
Once triggered, the fight-or-flight response prepares our bodies to overcome a potentially harmful event by increasing our alertness and providing us with a temporary boost in energy (Dhabhar, 2018). As with any other emergency response, stress may only be helpful and effective against a short-term hurdle. Therefore, stressing out over an extended period may undermine your well-being. For example, stressing about the deadlines for your work or school calendar, the pile of bills on your coffee table, or the health or relationships can take a toll. Regardless of the cause, stressing out can drain your energy and leave you even more frustrated. Hence, recognizing when stress arises and taking action may help you manage stress more effectively.
What to Do When You Are Stressing Out
Not all stress is bad. Stress allows us to push through difficult situations and overcome obstacles. However, when stressing out becomes excessive, it can interfere with your daily activities and your quality of life. Here are a few suggestions you may want to try when you feel stressed out.
1. Practice Mindfulness and Other Relaxation Activities
Mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment and accept your sensations and feelings without judging them. Research suggests that mindfulness-based therapy is effective against stress, anxiety, and depression (Khoury et al., 2013). Similarly, doing yoga or breathing exercises can help you relax your mind and reduce your heart rate (Perciavalle, 2017). You can practice mindfulness and other relaxing activities on your own, with a friend, or with various instructional videos and smartphone apps.
2. Go Out in Nature
Many people’s lives are disconnected from nature, contributing to their stress and anxiety. Even brief exposures to a natural environment may boost positive emotions and reduce stress (Nisbet, Zelenski, & Grandpierre, 2019). The good news is, even urban green spaces provide most of the mood-enhancing benefits of nature. So, when you feel stressed out, try spending some time in a natural environment.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
Lack of sleep is linked to stress and anxiety (Minkel et al., 2012), and getting sufficient sleep may help you fight off stress. If you have trouble falling asleep, you may try limiting your caffeine exposure later in the day, eliminating your screen exposure close to bedtime, and meditating to unwind before going to bed.
4. Do Something Fun
Hobbies and fun activities can help you shift your focus elsewhere and elevate your mood. By engaging in a hobby, you may be able to channel your energy into improving a skill, learning something new, and using your creativity.
5. Get Moving
Human bodies are not meant to remain seated all day. Research has linked physical inactivity to stress, and regular physical activity can diminish or reverse its adverse effects (Tsatsoulis and Fountoulakis, 2006). Moreover, exercises that moderately elevate your heart rate also help you fight cardiovascular diseases. If you can’t commit to an exercise plan, you might try taking movement breaks during the day, using a standing desk, or sitting on an exercise ball instead of an office chair.
6. Limit Multitasking
Our minds can pay attention to only one task at a given moment. When you attempt to multitask, you end up switching your attention quickly between distinct tasks. It may ease your mind if you prioritize your tasks and entirely focus on one task at a time.
7. Watch What You Eat and Drink
Caffeine may wake you up and give you a brief energy boost, but consuming too much of it may make you feel irritated and jittery. Similarly, consuming alcohol during stressful times can help us relax in the short term but may add to stressing out later on. Moreover, some of us may be emotional eaters, making poor food choices when stressed out, such as eating an entire tub of ice cream. Given that unhealthy food choices can hurt your waistline, cardiovascular health, and immune system (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010), eating a balanced diet may help you avoid these health problems.
8. Foster Real Connections
Humans are inherently social creatures, and most people thrive when they have meaningful, healthy relationships. Therefore, surrounding yourself with supportive people and interacting with them in meaningful ways may ease your stress and anxiety.
● Dhabhar F. S. (2018). The short-term stress response - Mother nature's mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 49, 175–192.
● Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., ... & Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 33(6), 763-771.
● Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2010). Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosomatic medicine, 72(4), 365.
● Minkel, J. D., Banks, S., Htaik, O., Moreta, M. C., Jones, C. W., McGlinchey, E. L., ... & Dinges, D. F. (2012). Sleep deprivation and stressors: evidence for elevated negative affect in response to mild stressors when sleep deprived. Emotion, 12(5), 1015.
● Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Grandpierre, Z. (2019). Mindfulness in nature enhances connectedness and mood. Ecopsychology, 11(2), 81-91.
● Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., Buscemi, A., Di Corrado, D., Bertolo, L., ... & Coco, M. (2017). The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences, 38(3), 451-458.
● Tsatsoulis, A., & Fountoulakis, S. (2006). The protective role of exercise on stress system dysregulation and comorbidities. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1083(1), 196-213.