Can stress make you stronger? When you have solid coping mechanisms in place, the answer is yes.
Recently, the health writer Tara Parker-Pope wrote an extensive guide for The New York Times in which she categorized stress into six main areas, and offered wisdom from neuroscience, psychology and other disciplines to help you cope better with each. The guide, called “How to Be Better at Stress” is informative without being overwhelming, and it is well worth a read.
The six categories Parker-Pope identifies are a handy checklist for when you’re feeling stressed. Can you take a step today to shore up your coping strategies in one or more of these areas?
1. Emotional Health
The most effective emotional hygiene habits don’t actually involve avoiding stress. Instead, they involve facing stressors honestly, being flexible with solutions to stressful problems and displaying resilience. Key to each of these strategies is cultivating a positive outlook, even if that means being patient until you are better able to handle your stress.
2. Physical Health
There are so many health conditions that are exacerbated by poorly managed stress. Heart disease, digestive healt, and the immune system are among the top areas of concern. If you are wrestling with poor physical health, be mindful of the physical changes stress can bring about—and brainstorm steps you can take to lower your stress by any amount possible.
3. Exercise and Fitness
Exercise is a great stress-reducer for a number of reasons, including the way exercise affects mood-boosting brain chemicals like endorphins and dopamine. A healthy balance of cardio activity like walking, biking, swimming plus weight-bearing exercise like weight training or Pilates seems to produce the best results. And if you can exercise outside, all the better!
4. Mental State
Mindfulness is a buzzword these days, but it is a practice worth incorporating into your wellness vocabulary. When your state of mind is frenetic and overwhelmed, you have less access to your coping skills. But when your mind is at peace, you can consider your stressors from a quiet, calm place—and work through issues with more ease. Meditation and journaling are two tried-and-true techniques.
The food you choose to put in your body can direct your stress response. Managing caffeine, sugar,and other stimulating foods can help stave off “energy crashes.” Eating mindfully can help you stay aware of when you are hungry and satiated. And looking closely at your stress response patterns can help you make better choices when a stressful day has you reaching for sugar, salt or fat.
Feeling connected to another, whether through marriage, friendship or just a smile in the grocery checkout line, is a key component of healthy stress management. Being supported by others—or supporting others yourself—helps remind you of the broader community in which you live. And it almost always validates your feelings that life is stressful—everybody is going through something!