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Tips for coping with stress

Published in General, For the Health of It Author: Ryan M. Engdahl, PhD, LP Coordinator, Integrated Behavioral Health Services

Stress /Stres/
— a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

“Stress” is an ever present part of our lives. The definition above suggests that it is often the result of the “not-so-enjoyable” events. We often overlook the fact that typical day-to-day life and even “very enjoyable” things may serve to deplete our resources just the same. Insert — new job, moving, pets, children, and in-laws — here. All enjoyable and yet still potentially draining.

The way we that we experience or feel stress varies from person to person. It is important that we increase our awareness of how we are feeling so that we have the opportunity to “recharge the batteries” when we need to. Imagine a built in radar system to help identify early signs of being overwhelmed so that you can intervene before it becomes a bigger problem. Early signs might include headaches, trouble sleeping, upset stomach, muscle tension, cynicism, fatigue, and ________ (whatever your experience may be).

Naturally, we all find ways to cope with our experience of stress. In my practice I tend to break down coping into two very simple categories: Healthy and Not-Healthy. Both categories count as “coping” technically but the latter typically results in spending more energy or resources and rarely leaves us any better off than where we started. Things like alcohol use, chemical use, overeating and other negativity tends to fall into the “Not Healthy” category. Healthy coping in general is very broad and what helps us to recover our resources will absolutely be very different from person to person.

Some examples of “Healthy” coping might include: exercise, playing or listening to music, reading a book, taking a walk, cooking, riding a bike, sitting on a couch, talking with a friend, going to church, cutting the grass, relaxation exercises, yoga, mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing. It’s important to remember that this or any list is not all inclusive. How you relax, connect, and recharge will be personal to you. Figuring out what works before you’re in need of a boost is of utmost importance.

When to use healthy coping? Daily and consistently. This is about increased awareness, preparation and having tools at the ready. Simple mindfulness exercises can be done on the drive to work, in between appointments during the day, on lunch break, before bed or during any other free moment. Have you ever noticed what it feels like to be wearing your shirt? Can you feel it sitting there on your shoulders? I’d bet you can now. I’m also confident that in that moment you weren’t thinking about work, what to make for dinner or what bills still had to be paid. Self care is about allowing yourself some space, focusing your attention — even if only momentarily — away from the stress and struggles of life.

Finally, there are times when that stress of life may overwhelm even the best laid self care plans and healthy coping skills. Remember that professionals like psychologists and other counselors are in the business of coping. A little support, training and coaching along the way can make a big difference in the long run.

I asked the St. Cloud Hospital Behavioral Health Clinic providers how they cope with stress and got the following responses:

  • Watching baseball
  • Gratitudes
  • Roller derby
  • Riding motorcycle
  • Laughing with friends
  • Waterskiing
  • Woodworking
  • Running
  • Walks with my spouse
  • Regular family meals
  • Going to plays
  • Vacation
  • Taking a bath
  • Art crawls
  • Dinners without TV
  • Driving without the radio
  • Movies
  • Spending time alone
  • Walking
  • Chipotle
  • Netflix
  • Chai tea
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Deep breathing
  • Daily mindfulness
  • Walking mindfully