Learning to identify and manage stress is good for our health and an effective way to reduce anxiety symptoms. Keep stress levels low and you are likely to feel better overall. Using a stress management plan is one way to ensure you are consistently addressing stress before it gets overwhelming.
Why is it Important to Have a Stress Management Plan?
Stress is a normal part of life and no one is immune to the various challenges life brings. Sometimes the stress is temporary and we successfully navigate it and move on. And other times, stress can be intense and difficult to manage without the use of effective techniques.
Moreover, when stress is continuous and prolonged, it can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. Anxiety is greatly influenced by the levels of stress we experience. And if you have an anxiety disorder, you may find that symptoms worsen when stress levels are elevated.
Anxiety symptoms will increase in frequency, intensity, or duration. Restlessness, sleep difficulties, concentration issues, and other symptoms can be exacerbated when dealing with stressful life events.
While prevention of stress is certainly the best way to go, it is not always possible in every situation. Especially if the source of the stress is out of our control.
However, the way we respond to stress is our own personal decision. We have the ability to make both healthy and unhealthy choices regarding how to reduce stress and therefore, control anxiety symptoms.
Confronting stress with healthy action steps has the potential to improve and maintain overall wellness in the long run. Having a clear and helpful strategy that you can rely on during difficult times is where the stress management plan comes into play. It is a go-to list of things you can try when you experience signs of tension and emotional pressure.
What Should a Stress Management Plan Include?
A stress management plan is one that is that is composed solely of things you identify as healthy and effective. It is unique and specific to you and your needs.
It will help to ensure that you are addressing stress in a helpful way that leaves you feeling more relaxed. No matter what you are facing, having an action plan that promotes wellbeing and introduces balance is important.
For example, think about the areas in your life that consist of physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual wellness. Next, consider your sleep habits, nutrition, exercise and physical movement.
Which of these areas do you believe needs a little bit more of your attention? Are any areas affected by stress? Which areas if not taken care of, will surely activate anxiety symptoms?
After answering these questions, you may find that it is difficult to tend to all of these aspects of wellness at the same time. This is common as life is very busy and requires so much of our energy and focus. We can get into a pattern of trying to address outside needs first. But, oftentimes, self-care is the most needed action of all.
The important thing is to begin working on creating balance and finding ways to care for yourself. An effective stress management plan will include many self-care activities to help you navigate stress with confidence.
10 Ideas to Include in Your Stress Management Plan:
Relinquish Control and Practice Acceptance
Accepting the situation you are in is an incredibly tall order. When things go wrong, we can feel frustration, anxious, overwhelmed, defeated, etc. This is normal and sometimes we can change things and make it better. And sometimes, due to the nature of the stressful event, we just can’t.
But, what if instead of consistently striving and trying to change things, you take a pause and a deep breath. Take a moment to acknowledge the difficult position you are in and let go of efforts to control the situation. Practice acceptance.
Acceptance means acknowledging the reality of the situation and letting go of the need to know all of the answers. It means letting go of the urge to continually think about, talk about, or attempt to alter the problem.
Instead, direct your focus and efforts toward embracing your inner strength. Know that you are strong and can get through difficult things. Acceptance offers you the opportunity to utilize other skills of flexibility, resiliency and patience. Doing so will lead your mind toward a more positive mindset when circumstances are not in your favor.
Practice Healthy Boundaries
Practicing healthy boundaries requires you to have knowledge and awareness about your own personal needs, values and belief system. When you act in ways that align with your personal values and belief system, you may feel less anxious.
And the opposite is also true. When you are doing more for others or following their values, it causes feelings of conflict and incongruity. Conflicted and mixed feelings often increase anxiety when these feelings are left unresolved.
Being authentically you and saying and doing what feels right to you is a way to practice healthy boundaries. You are allowed to prioritize your health over things that you think may have a negative impact on you.
For example, taking on too much or saying yes too often even can leave you feeling stretched too thin. With little time to take care of yourself, you may feel more stress and anxiety.
Practicing healthy boundaries does not mean that you are being rude or unhelpful. It simply means acknowledging areas in your life that need to be nurtured and protected. It is saying no to things that enhance your wellbeing and saying no to the things that harm you. These could be people, things, and places.
Including this practice in your stress management plan can have a positive effect on your emotional and mental health.
Tension from stress builds up in the body. Tight muscles can be felt as headaches, stomaches, neck aches, jaw pain, etc. Moving the body will increase blood flow to these areas and help to decrease production of stress hormone levels.
Physical movement does not have to take up much of your time. Start by setting aside 5 minute breaks throughout the day. For example, if you are sitting down for a long period of time, make an effort to stand up and stretch.
For example, movements such as stretching, yoga, going for a brief 15 minute walk, can be enough to recenter yourself. In addition, it can distract your mind from worrying and help you focus on relaxation.
Make Make sure to consult with your medical provider before adding any physical activities to your stress management plan.
Balanced Diet and Healthy Eating Choices
Stress can impact eating habits and behaviors. For some people, this can look like misunderstanding or missing cues related to hunger or feeling full. Stress-eating or emotional eating can negatively influence overall health and cause feelings of shame and guilt.
Adding a nutrition section to your stress management plan can help reduce temptations to choose unhealthy foods during times of stress. An example of this might be to add healthy options to your grocery list.
Select foods that nourish your body and are dense in nutrients and vitamins. This way you can ensure you have something healthy on hand that will support your journey to wellness. Furthermore, foods and beverages high in caffeine can actually increase anxiety symptoms.
Some people find it helpful to reduce caffeine intake for a period of time to see if it helps. Consult with your medical provider regarding how to maintain a healthy lifestyle before making any changes.
Get Adequate and Quality Sleep
Getting good quality sleep is linked to better health outcomes. This is the same for management of anxiety symptoms. Creating and following a consistent sleep routine every night helps promote good sleep.
Make sure to go to bed at a reasonable hour each night and are consistent. Start to prepare for bed at least one hour prior to your designated bedtime. This will help you unwind from the day and give you time to mentally shut down and transition into rest mode.
This is especially helpful if you tend to overthink and replay the day’s events at night. Leave enough time for relaxation and sleep preparation to help manage stress and reduce overthinking. Find ways to improve your sleep and get your sleeping schedule back on track.
Focus on the Positive
Worrying and anticipating things going wrong often increases stress and anxiety. Make sure to catch yourself when negative thoughts start to create feelings of self-doubt, worry, overwhelm and stress.
Practice looking at the big picture of the situation and imagine all of the positive things that can go right. Staying positive and imagining good things happening seems simplistic. But, the practice of positive thinking has been researched and proven to be effective.
A great stress management plan should include opportunities to eliminate negativity and address pessimistic thoughts. Practice reframing negative thoughts to positive statements when they arise. Allow yourself a chance to be hopeful and optimistic as this will fare better to reduce anxiety.
Protect Your Time
We all have the same 24 hours in a day. But, sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough time to get all the things done that we need to. Despite our best efforts, time can get the best of us. Distraction such as social media, demands from family, school, work are all around hinder growth and progress.
When you protect your time, you are essentially choosing to focus on one task or thing that will help move you forward. You aren’t saying yes to all of the things. Only the things that are most likely to help lower stress.
Can you carve out one hour for a therapy session? A walk around the park? To catch up on housework and organizing your home? Engage in a spiritual practice?
Using your time wisely and in a way that benefits you can have great impact on reducing overall anxiety.
Rest Without Guilt
Sometimes doing nothing at all is the best course of action. When the body and mind give signals for rest, it is important to listen. However, this can be quite difficult to do when there is a lot on your plate. You might feel guilty when you rest and still have an untouched to-do list.
But, a stress management plan needs to contain moments of mental and physical rest. Breathing exercises, practicing mindfulness, or spending quiet time can induce a sense of calm and respite from the day’s stress.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, take a break and practice resting without criticizing yourself for slacking. Remember that you are giving your body the attention that it needs. You are not being lazy or careless.
Plan for Pleasant Activities
A stress management plan must include activities that make you feel good, add fun and light to your life. Think about the things that bring joy into your life and make your feel relaxed, playful, creative, etc. And then do those things!
This could be a known hobby that you like, or trying a whole new activity that you’ve never done before. Anxiety tends to go down when we are engaged in pleasant and positively stimulating activities.
You can create a pleasant activities list that you can follow and check off as you do it. Experience the stress melt as you go.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Don’t keep your stress to yourself. A stress management that includes other people is an excellent way to feel less alone. Social isolation is often linked with depressed mood, loneliness, anxiety, and overall reduced life satisfaction.
Make sure to create opportunities to spend time with friends and family, attend social gatherings and community events. Select people and places that promote good feelings and good times.
Get Help for Anxiety and Stress Management
Counseling is available for New York State residents. As an anxiety therapist in Rockland County NY, I help my clients to lower stress and improve anxiety symptoms. Call for a 15 minute complimentary consultation.