No doubt it’s impractical to try to ‘cure’ stress in the sense of eliminating all occurrences. But there are several practical short-term and effective long-term strategies for minimizing it and its effects.
Most individuals under stress will let it build, ignoring it for too long. They cite the need to get a work project completed, or view their situation as unchangeable. “That’s life,” many will say. But no form of ill-effect is inevitable, nor is it necessary or wise to passively accept one.
The first step is always to increase awareness in two directions – outward and inward. Be conscious of your internal state and evaluate it as realistically as possible. Be objective about external circumstances. When you recognize a circumstance as legitimately worrisome, reacting with concern and a degree of stress is normal and healthy. Unreasonable fear and obsession are not.
Then, take a moment to breath – literally. One of the most common reactions to stress is tension, usually muscle tension. The neck muscles will stiffen and breathing will often be more shallow. Focus on this, check for it and, if present, consciously loosen up neck muscles with a gentle side to side motion of your head. Take a deep breath or two.
There’s no need to overdo the exercise. You’re not practicing yoga and you don’t want to hyperventilate. Slowly move the head and shoulders and relax the chest muscles. A slow deep breath or two is often enough to break the tension.
But those suggestions are effective primarily for acute stress – the type that is produced by an isolated event and lasts a short time. For chronic stress – that which results from ongoing circumstances and evaluations and persists – additional techniques are needed.
Something as simple and old-fashioned as a walk in the park can be helpful. It’s not simply an old wives tale that fresh air and sunshine can be relaxing. It’s also true that moderate exercise helps relieve many of the accompanying physical symptoms of stress.
Playing music of certain types is helpful. Seeing a comedy on TV or at the movies is beneficial. Laughter is a great mood lifter. A creative activity can be helpful, especially if there is some accompanying physical activity. It could be as simple as making a birdhouse or as advanced as painting or sculpture.
A talk with a sympathetic friend could be useful, but it’s a good idea not to spend too much time talking about the circumstances causing stress or the stress itself. A good airing is beneficial, but too many times it’s an excuse to obsess over the problem. Some people are too much inclined to seek out only those who will reinforce negative evaluations.
Just keep in mind that these are all techniques to help relieve symptoms, they don’t address the underlying causes. As such, they are only one (albeit important) component in curing stress. For that, more in-depth action is needed.