There’s no denying that, as a society, we are more stressed-out than ever. In 2020, Americans were faced with a year of health concerns, a shaky economy, and a tumultuous election season. While we are finally seeing a positive trend upward and more unity as a nation, it’s no surprise of the toll that last year had on people’s mental health (and what it will continue to have).

“Nearly a year into the pandemic, prolonged stress persists at elevated levels for many Americans. As we work to address stressors as a nation, from unemployment to education, we can’t ignore the mental health consequences of this global shared experience,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA’s chief executive officer. “Without addressing stress as part of a national recovery plan, we will be dealing with the mental health fallout from this pandemic for years to come.” – (APA)

While we don’t have much control over what has been going on in the world, we can (to some extent) control how we let it affect us. Being able to recognize and manage our stress is incredibly important to our mental health. While these aren’t a replacement for professional help or a way to get to a place of solving all of your stressful problems (wouldn’t that be nice), we’ve compiled a list of ways to help manage your stress and its effect on you!

Focus On Your Sleep
You may think this a no-brainer, but it is worth mentioning. Sleep affects so much more of our day-to-day than we realize, whether or not we are “tired.” A lack of sleep can contribute to higher cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and irritability. And it’s more than just your bedtime – it’s the quality of the sleep you are getting. Which starts with getting off your devices. Our phones and computers, when used before bed are proven to a lower quality of sleep and create more difficultly in falling into deep sleep. So challenge yourself to stop scrolling and truly get a good night’s rest.

Take A Break From Social Media
In case you missed our previous blog post, we talked about just how much social media contributes to individual stress and the importance of taking a break from it every once in a while. We’ll echo that sentiment here as well! While social media is a really amazing tool to stay connected with people and get information, if you find yourself annoyed, discontent, or irritable after scrolling, it may be time to take a break. The first couple of days may be hard, but by the time you come back, you’ll be feeling much more refreshed and calm.

Connect With A Friend
Friends can be some of the best medicine for reducing stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, call up a friend just to talk or make plans to grab coffee, take a walk, or go see a movie. Make it as relaxing and fun as you want – just be sure to really soak up the time you are spending together. Often, when you do that, the stressful moments of life feel a bit more manageable.

Get Outside
Changing up our scenery may not seem like it would contribute to reducing stress but it helps more than you realize.

“Research shows a link between exposure to nature and stress reduction. Stress is relieved within minutes of exposure to nature as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity. Time in green spaces significantly reduces your cortisol [levels]. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which promotes happiness.” (Ontario Parks)

Not only is it beautiful, but it’s good for you! Now, if that’s not a reason to get outside, we don’t know what is.

Ask For Help
This is maybe one of the most important points…don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that means having someone come over to watch your kids when the stress just seems to be too much or seeking professional help to assist in processing through what you are feeling, asking for help is okay! We often think that we need to be able to balance everything in life perfectly (the good, the bad, and the ugly), but that’s not true. Some things in life are just straight-up hard and each and every person has a threshold of what they can handle without feeling overwhelmed. So don’t hesitate to ask for help from a friend, family member, or professional…odds are they’ve had to do the same at some point as well.

While it’s not possible to completely eradicate all of the stressful parts of life, there are ways to manage, and hopefully alleviate, some of it. 

This week’s task: take inventory of where in your life you are feeling stressed…now, pick one thing to focus on from the list above and pay attention to if your stress-levels reduce because of it.