Put yourself in charge of resisting the effects of stress
People respond differently to stressful situations. For some, stress impedes performance, reduces well-being, and triggers other physical and mental problems. For others, the experience of stress can be minimal, or even positive, improving their focus. If you’re in the first group of people, don’t worry—resilience to stress can be developed. Here are seven ways you can learn to keep a cool head under pressure.
Problem-focused coping strategies are unique to the particular stressor you are facing. For example, if an upcoming exam is causing some worry, learn time-management strategies or memory techniques. Think about the cause of your stress, brainstorm ways to reduce it, and put your best three ideas into practice.
Meditation has been shown in numerous research studies to reduce stress. In fact, continued practice actually causes the brain areas associated with the stress response to shrink. Start with 20 minutes of practice per day, and find guided mindfulness meditations on YouTube or with an app like Calm or Headspace.
Exercise has a huge impact on mental health, primarily by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters in the brain associated with positive mood. Exercise also improves cognitive functions like learning and memory, putting you in a mental state much better suited to dealing with problems.
Sleep researchers have established a strong link between positive mental health and a good night’s rest. To improve your sleep, start winding down at least an hour before bed. Turn the lighting down and don’t look at screens with a backlight. This is a good time to do your daily meditation practice. Keep your bedroom fairly cool, don’t eat large meals in the evening, and avoid caffeine after 2pm.
We are social creatures, and contact with other humans is essential to our well-being. Even in high-security prisons, where the most violent and dangerous offenders are sent, the supreme punishment is solitary confinement. Make an effort to spend time with your friends, family, colleagues, and any other other positive, supportive people you know. Don’t wait for them to contact you.
Spend time in nature
Psychologists have known the positive impact of nature on mental health since the 1980s. This research is summarized by the “Attention Restoration Theory,” which states the natural environment allows the brain to rest and recharge. Take time regularly to get out of the urban environment and into nature. Find a park or hiking trail, or head to the coast if you can.
Food can influence how you feel. In fact, the gastrointestinal system contains 100 million neurons that detect and respond to your gut bacteria, passing the information to the brain. To positively impact your gut bacteria, eat a diet high in vegetables and low in processed food, and minimize caffeine and alcohol consumption. If you eat dairy, use probiotics—studies have demonstrated significant improvements in mood after introducing probiotics to diets.
If you want resilience to stress, it’s important to use these methods regularly, even when nothing is stressing you out. Make them a routine, and when difficult problems come around, you’ll be stronger and better placed to deal with them.