WASHINGTON — For the first time in 10 years, stress levels are on the rise.
A recent study from the American Psychological Association shows that despite a gradual decrease in stress since 2006, more Americans reported feeling stressed between August 2016 and January 2017.
A number of sources are to blame for the increase in anxiety, including the current political climate, money, work and even technology . And while all of these triggers may be inescapable, Teri Harbour, a stress management instructor at Frederick Community College and creator of the card game Arjuna , says there are some simple ways to better manage stress on a day-to-day basis.
This advice may sound pretty simple, but Harbour says breathing is the first forgotten fundamental when tensions are running high.
“We often chest-breathe when we’re stressed and we get through our whole day and we realize, ‘Oh, I didn’t really take a deep breath all day,’” she said.
Harbour suggests taking a break for a few minutes every few hours to close your eyes and breathe deeply. This exercise can even be done at your desk.
“It brings in the feel-good chemicals and it really does relax us, if you just take a moment to do that, and it gives us that moment to pause. When we’re breathing, it’s just that little tiny reprieve from the chaos. It feels really good,” Harbour said. (Thinkstock)
Use your imagination
Harnessing the power of the imagination isn’t just child’s play. Harbour says creative thinking enables one to see things from a different angle. Visualizing the best can put a positive spin on an otherwise stressful situation.
“We so often use our imagination to worry and to fear. Let’s flip that around to use it to envision the best and to seek out the positive,” Harbour said.
“We’re going to feel better if we’re doing that. We’re going to have less stress; we’re going to be fortified against the stress that’s coming at us.” (Thinkstock)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, detach yourself from the situation. Harbour says not to confuse detachment with lack of caring or indifference. Rather, it’s simply not getting too caught up in material reality “and other people’s dramas.”
“We’re choosing to get a little bit of distance so that we can think clearly because stress limits our peripheral vision. When we’re stressed, our bodies are designed to just focus on the stressor,” she explained.
“When we’re [detaching], we have a wider vision. We can see our options better; we have more creative problem-solving ability.” (Thinkstock)
A little bit of muscle movement can work wonders during a stressful situation. Don’t worry: There’s no need to train for a marathon. A few slow stretches at your desk, a quick walk around the office or the use of a stress ball can help relieve built-up tension. (Thinkstock)
Take a break from the screen
Consuming minute-by-minute news and information from all over the world can take its toll on one’s emotional and physical well-being.
“With the digital age, we are living a very fast-paced life, and I think stress affects everyone more today than ever before because things are so instant with technology,” Harbour said.
“It can be very overwhelming and we sometimes don’t even realize how stressful it is.”
When you don’t need to be on your phone or in front of your computer, put it away. Some experts suggest designating a “no screen time” block of time in the evenings after work. (Thinkstock)
Write down your goals and check in
If you find yourself unhappy with a work or life situation, set some goals for where you want to be. Then, check in with yourself regularly on your progress toward achieving those goals.
“Ask yourself on a daily basis, ‘Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to my goal, or is it getting me further away?’” Harbour said.
“We spend a lot of our time just putting out fires all day, and then we realize at the end of the day, or even unfortunately, at the end of our lives, we didn’t really do what we wanted to do.” (Thinkstock)
(Getty Images/moodboard RF/moodboard)
Practice makes perfect
Harbour says the more you practice the aforementioned stress-management skills, the easier time you’ll have when faced with a stressful situation.
“We have neural pathways in our brain that are entrenched, depending on whatever behaviors we do over and over … and so those become our habits, our default habits,” she said.
“When we’re stressed, we just rely on our default habits. We don’t think clearly when we’re stressed. It takes a lot of practice to change a habit, so the more we do these types of activities, the more healthier ways of being will become our default habits.” (Thinkstock)
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