The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself- and Everyone {Including Two Strategies to Make it Happen}

As much as we might try, there are things in this life that are beyond our control. From the weather to a 2 year-old having a meltdown in the isle of a store, there are things we cannot completely control in this life. However, we can control our reaction to them. And the best gift you could ever give yourself which will positively affect everyone in your life is to improve the way you react and manage stress. Recognizing when we are stressed and taking steps to handle our own stress rather than passing that on to those around us is the greatest gift you could give yourself and will bless the lives of those around you. There are two main keys to learn to make this gift a reality for you–recognizing your stress level and implementing a healthy stress management plan.

Key #1: Recognize when you are stressed. How do you know when you are stressed? Does it seem like you realize that you are stressed only after you have maxed out? Do you ever feel like the Hulk just emerges without much warning? It can be difficult to recognize when we don’t know what to look for.

Why isn’t is easier for everyone to identify? There are a few good reasons we all struggle sometimes to identify when we are stressed until we tend to explode. For one, stress itself is not bad–we need some stress in our lives in order to function–we couldn’t function without it. So, we are used to feeling some stress and get accustomed to it. Second, just like a frog sitting in water that slowly heats up will end up being a boiled frog–sometimes when it is a slow accumulating stress we don’t tend to recognize it. Adding one more guest to a party– even adding one every few days over the week isn’t going to alarm us as much as the same number added the day before the party which can then be absolutely overwhelming. And finally it is sometimes difficult to identify because we all feel stress differently. We can’t always look to our parents, partners or even kids to see how they experience stress because it is completely unique and their experience for themselves will be different from ours but they are a great source to ask when they know we are stressed. My daughter says, “oh no–mom is getting her stressed eyes!” My eyes tend to get large when I am stressed so it has become a good indicator for me.

While we all experience stress differently, there are some things we all have in common. We all will feel stress in our bodies. While some people might have their breathing quicken, others actually unconsciously hold their breath and don’t breath as often. Some people’s muscles tighten while other’s get lightheaded. Some people’s heart race and blood pressure rises and they can feel chest pain. Some people feel stress in their stomach and can feel nauseous. Some people’s appetite changes where they have little appetite or tend to overeat. Stress can trigger headaches and migraines. It can make you feel fatigued or cause you not to be able to sleep. Most of the time, we feel it in more that one way in our bodies. What is important to note is that we can recognize the signals our body is telling us when we feel stress so that we can manage the stress level before it manages us.

Strategy: Implement stress self checks. Knowing that it is difficult to always recognize the stress level we are feeling in our lives, doing a stress check throughout the day is a great way of being able to manage our stress. Check your body and how you are feeling and assign it a number between 1-10 and then you can implement strategies needed to keep you in the optimal stress performance zone.

Key #2: Implementing a Healthy Stress Management Plan. I think that one of the greatest myths is that we only need a stress management plan when we are stressed, but in reality this plan is needed when we aren’t necessarily in a state of stress trying to troubleshoot what to do. Everyone will experience stress in this life. You make better choices and can control your reaction better when you have plan. So, what do you do to handle your stress? We all have ways of coping when we are stressed out–some more healthy than others. Here is a link to my favorites: https://practicallyspeakingwithbrita.com/2019/02/28/top-9-proven-strategies-to-manage-stress-including-the-science-behind-how-they-work/

It is also important to recognize the coping methods or cards that we use and to increase the cards as they can’t be played every time. For instance, obviously taking a nap is not an option when you are stuck in traffic, so you are going to need to play a different card like deep breathing or listening to uplifting music etc. The more healthier cards you know and can have in your card deck, the better.

There is a game I will play with young clients to help them understand this concept. The game is called UNO Attack and it takes UNO to a whole new level and instead of drawing from the deck when you don’t have a card or have to “draw two”, you actually hit a button and sometimes you get no cards and then sometimes a whole bunch of cards are popped out at you. This simulates how life is–sometimes things happen and you end up with a lot of extra cards or stress in your life but knowing how to manage that is the key to winning UNO attack and to be successful in life.

Strategy: Create a Stress Management Plan. Make a conscious effort to figure out how you are handling your stress and take a step to add a healthier card to your deck. For instance, if you are finding that you are often stressed in the car, add some healthy snacks or chocolate or create a cool playlist of music. A stress management plan is key whether you are currently stressed or not.

So get to know yourself and ask yourself these two pivotal questions: How do I know when I am stressed and what do I do to handle my stress? Implement a stress management plan. There really is no greater gift that you can give yourself and managing your stress becomes a gift for everyone.

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Top 9 Proven Strategies to Manage Stress {Including the Science Behind How They Work!}

Managing stress is a life skill that we all need to learn. These are 9 top strategies that are scientifically proven to help alleviate and manage stress.

#1: Meditation (Prayer): Research suggests that daily meditation or prayer may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress. A study conducted by Harvard Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that meditation rebuilds the grey matter in our brains in just 8 weeks. It is important to remember that mediation does not mean to ’empty your mind’ but rather is the process of letting your thoughts and feelings flow without judgment. You do not need to be in any particular position (standing, sitting or kneeling etc), but it is a state of peace and self-awareness.

#2: LOL! A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally, it lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood.

#3: Deep Breathing: Deep Breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It also allows more oxygen to go to the brain which slows down the amygdala and allows the prefrontal cortex to return to functioning.
Basically you can break your brain into two parts with two distinct functions- a part that feels and a part that is logical and makes plans. When the one side of your brain gets overwhelmed or flooded, the logical side that calms and creates a plan on how to address being overwhelmed stops working. By simple just breathing you allow necessary oxygen to the logical side of your brain allowing yourself to come up with a plan. Try it out- before you make a big decision or begin to get mad at your children or upset at a coworker, take a deep breath and notice how much better you are able to think and thus make more logical, thoughtful choices rather than reacting to the emotions. There is true power in the deep breath, so just breathe!!

#4 Music: Listening to soothing music has been proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Test this one out for yourself: Listen to 30 seconds of each song and see if you notice a difference in your heart rate and mood.

#5: Get Active: All forms of exercise can ease stress by helping the brain to release feel-good chemicals including endorphins, domamine and seratonin.
A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology revealed that regular exercise increases the level of tryptophan in the brain (an amino acid used to manufacture serotonin). While the research differs on how long to exercise in order for the body to release the chemicals, studies suggest it varies between 10 -30 minutes.

#6: Be Grateful: Gratitude has been shown to activate the hypothalamus in the brain which is responsible for regulating all kinds of bodily functions- including hunger, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and how the body grows. Studies done by researchers at Indiana University and at Harvard have discovered that these neurological benefits experienced by their study participants were shown to be longer lasting. Something as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days in a row significantly increases your level of optimism, and it holds for the next six months.  Journaling about gratitude can be a fantastic way of being able to focus on things in your life which bring joy and that you should be grateful for. Cultivating gratitude is a game changer.

#7: Sense of Smell: This one is bound to raise some eyebrows, but your nose can become a powerful ally and can transport your thoughts quicker than almost anything. It highlights a different area of your brain and can highlight positive memories and the feelings associated with those memories instantaneously. Lotions, chapsticks, gum, cookies, flowers-really anything with a fragrance can change your mood in a split second. If you haven’t tried it, this is one that might just surprise you.

#8: Get Outdoors: A change of scene also forces your brain to be able to reboot as it has to process new visuals, hearing, even sense of touch from the difference in the weather. Being outside in the sun allows your body to absorb vitamins that also affect your brains ability to function.

#9: Holding Your Loved Ones (Even Animals!): “Cuddle” Hormones (oxytocin) can actually turn off stress hormones. So go cuddle with a loved one and watch a movie or spend time with a loved pet. Connection is a powerful way to alleviate stress.

Learning to manage stress is an important tool that everyone needs to learn in order to be successful. These 9 strategies are scientifically proven to help you manage the stress you experience as a part of life- test them out and see what impact they make in your stress level. Remember, practically speaking: