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Use These 7 Coping Strategies to Lead a Stress-Free Life

We can't prevent stress. But we can manage it properly.

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We'll never outrun stress. The key is to learn to manage it. Unchecked stress can have serious implications on your health. When you're stressed, you might feel irritable and frustrated, or, if the stress is chronic, you might experience symptoms like frequent headaches, libido changes, digestive troubles, depression, decreased energy and sleeping trouble

In honor of National Stress Awareness Day, we wanted to go through the steps you can take to maintain your well-being in the midst of difficult situations. These seven tips can help you effectively relieve stress.

You'll also learn common anxiety triggers and which anxiety myths you can stop believing today. 

Why do I feel stress?

Stress is natural. It's your body's physical, mental or emotional response to external situations. It's different for everyone. What stresses you out might not phase your friends. 

In stressful situations, our bodies respond by activating the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the autonomic nervous system known as the fight-or-flight response. Your heart starts to beat faster, and you start to sweat and tense up. It's a chemical process that prepares your body to physically react to being under attack. 

Even when you're not in physical danger, your body still reacts the same way to things that are overwhelming you. You're more susceptible to stressful situations when you're not getting enough sleep, not eating well and don't have a solid support system. 

How to relieve stress

Remember that your way of dealing with stress may be different from that of others, and that's okay. Ultimately, reducing stress is a personalized approach. Many of the tips are pretty general; this allows you to find your middle ground and decide what works for you. Use these tips to get started on your journey to getting rid of stress. The best part is that they're free and you can do them anywhere. 

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1. Exercise to boost your mood

Exercise can act as an intervention for anxiety and depression. A study of university students found that two days of aerobic exercise greatly reduced perceived stress and improved self-reported depression. Long periods of inactivity are associated with greater levels of mood disturbances and higher stress. Exercise can benefit your mood and help you "break the cycle" of stress. 

The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. You don't need a gym membership or special at-home machines; it's achievable at home and easier than you think. If you feel stress symptoms creeping up, try going for a walk. A 20-minute walk outside will decrease your stress hormone levels.

2. Incorporate self-care into your routine 

What is self-care? Think of it as refilling yourself in healthy ways by doing things that promote emotional and physical well-being. It's easy to get into a negative space when you are stressed or burnt out. Integrating self-care into your daily routine will help you stay positive and acknowledge that some things are out of your control without feeling overwhelmed. A 2018 study conducted on medical students concluded that those who practice self-care regularly report lower levels of stress and high quality of life ratings. 

Another part of self-care is focusing on positive self-talk. During times of stress, it's easy to let negative thoughts take over. Positive self-talk isn't ignoring the bad things; it means you approach the situation with a positive attitude. Research shows that positive self-talk is associated with lower levels of depression, stress and greater life satisfaction

Self-care and positive self-talk should be a part of your daily routine. It's not something you have to save until you are running on empty.

3. Practice mindfulness or yoga

When you're stressed, your sympathetic nervous system triggers your fight-or-flight response. Your parasympathetic nervous system is the counterpart that returns your body to a balanced state. Breathing exercises during stressful situations activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help you relax

A meta-analysis of over 200 studies concluded that mindfulness-based therapy reduces depression, anxiety and stress. Daily meditation is another powerful tool for increasing attention and mood, even in short bursts. 

Yoga is one of the most popular tactics for getting rid of stress. Studies have found that yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety while increasing overall well-being. 

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4. Drink less caffeine

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks worldwide, with the average American drinker having just over three cups a day. Short-term benefits associated with caffeine include increased alertness, attention and concentration. This happens because caffeine activates your fight-or-flight response. 

Additionally, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which facilitates sleep in the body. The adenosinergic system is involved with both the origin and the treatment of mood and anxiety. This suggests caffeine can exacerbate symptoms in people with an increased risk of anxiety disorders. 

Everyone has a different tolerance for caffeine, so you can be healthy and drink coffee. Finding your ideal balance is as easy as making a note of how you feel after each additional cup. If you start feeling jittery or nervous, you can replace that extra cup with water or tea in the future. 

5. Don't sacrifice sleep

If you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, your sleep can suffer. It can become a vicious cycle of being stressed and tired and then unable to turn your brain "off" enough to go to sleep. The more sleep you get, however, the more your perceived stress level goes down

So how do you get quality sleep when you're tired? It all comes down to getting your body ready for bed. The adrenaline and cortisol in your body keep you from going from an overwhelming state to sleep. To combat this, you can try to implement relaxing activities into your nightly routine. Not only does your body start to expect to go to sleep after your routine, but it also helps you relax enough to fall asleep. A nightly routine will look different for everyone -- common activities include reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music or yoga. 

6. Make meaningful connections

A support system of friends and family can help reduce stress, especially during transitional life stages like college. However, if your family is the source of your stress, it's also important to set boundaries for yourself and others. Boundaries are an essential way to protect your mental health and can keep you from taking too much on. The boundaries you create are completely up to you -- it can be as simple as "please call first before you stop by." Studies have found that the better you are at establishing boundaries in both your personal and work life, the bigger buffer you have for stress. 

Pets are another source of stress reduction. Hugging your pet signals to your body to release oxytocin, which is one of the feel-good hormones. People with pets tend to have lower levels of loneliness and anxiety. So if you're feeling particularly overwhelmed, take a minute and go hug your pet. Science backs the benefits. 

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7. Set realistic goals

Reaching for the stars is great, but so is setting realistic goals for yourself -- whatever they may be. It's important to be aware of what you can control and how that impacts what you want to achieve. It's normal to want to reach the goals and expectations we set for ourselves. Putting them outside of your reach -- even optimistically -- has the chance to backfire and leave you feeling overwhelmed. 

Unrealistic goals can be a source of stress that leaves you feeling down when you don't reach them. 

Too long; didn't read?

Feeling stressed is a natural response our body has. It's completely normal to have waves where you are more or less overwhelmed. Since we can't change everything and completely get rid of stress, learning to manage it in a healthy way is essential. Identify your stress triggers and use these simple tips to manage those negative feelings. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.