12 Quick Tips for Managing Stress
Northern Pain Centre is committed to giving patient’s practical steps for managing many of the challenges they face as a result of their pain. Welcome to our 12 Quick Tips Series.
Here are our 12 quick tips for managing stress:
- Try to identify the cause of your stress. Whilst some stresses are easy to identity, such as major life events (changes to your health, moving house, changing jobs, losing a job, financial issues, relationship issues or the death of a loved one), other’s are a little harder to understand (loneliness, your daily to-do list, things that happened to you as a child or anything else that causes you stress). Identifying them is the first step in the 4 A’s of stress management: avoid, alter, adapt and accept.
- Work on a way to avoid the trigger for your stress. This might mean learning to say no and being less available, reprioritising where you spend your time and who you spend your time with, removing things from your life that cause you stress or reducing the number of commitments you have in a single day.
- When it is impossible to avoid the cause of your stress, work out ways to alter it. This might mean communicating more assertively, finding ways to compromise or create a mutually beneficial solution, or adjusting your schedule to lessen the load (download the SMART Goal Setting Worksheet and Planning your day Worksheet)
- If you can’t change the situation, work on changing yourself by adapting. This might mean looking at how you view the stressful events you face each day, it may mean relabelling your “stress” as a learning opportunity or challenge, it may mean reframing your thoughts, it may mean focusing on what you have and not what you don’t, or it may mean lowering your standards (download free reframing worksheets here)
- Learn to accept that things are what they are. Acceptance is not the same as resignation, it simple means observing the moment without resistance not giving in to it. This may mean learning to take a step back and stop trying to control other people and their actions, communicating how you’re feel more freely, learning to forgive or working on strategies to change the things you can change.
- Write it all down. Whether it be your to-do list everyday to help you reassess your priorities or the thoughts you are having about the stressful situations you are facing, writing can be a very therapeutic way of dealing with stress.
- Get outside and move. Regular movement reduces your stress hormones levels (adrenaline and cortisol), increases your “feel-good-calmer” brain chemicals (noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine) and can also increase the production of endorphins (which reduces pain) and endocannabinoids (which is thought to be responsible for the “runners high”). There has been recent studies that show how exercising outside increases the levels of “feel-good-calmers”in the brain (learn more about moving more here)
- Learning to deep breath in moments of stress can put the brakes on your stress response (learn more about this here). A good practice for stressful moments is the STOP practice:
- Stop what you are doing and be present right here and now
- Take 30 seconds to take 10 long deep breaths in and out
- Observe what you are thinking, feeling and doing. Become aware of your body in this moment
- Proceed with what you are doing
- Look at your diet and remember you are what you eat. Whilst comfort eating during stressful periods can lead to the release of those “feel-good-calmers” in the brain, they can also lead to a host of long-term issues to your health, weight, sleep, mood and pain. Eating a well-balanced diet feeds your mind and body (learn more about improving your diet here)
- Get a better quality sleep. Sleep allows our brain to better manage the stress response, increasing our willpower and hunger, our ability to maintain patience and perspective, and manage our pain (learn more about getting better quality sleep here)
- Talk to someone. A problem shared is a problem halved. When we talk about what is causing us stress, it allows us to process the challenge differently and gain insight from another person’s perspective. Often just voicing our concerns, allows us to hear the problem and process it in different regions of our brain. Talking also helps to normalise the feelings, thoughts and things we do; when we talk we learn we are not alone in our struggles.
- Find out what relaxes you. When we are relaxed, we have a physiological shift within our body which is opposite to the stress response. It allows us to rest, recover, heal and feel calm. Learning how you relax, is unique to you, much like your fingerprint. Whilst some people find meditation, yoga and tai chi useful, others find socialising, dancing, listening to heavy metal works. Whatever your choice, as long as it breaks the circuit on stress and calms your mind and body, then introducing it into your day can help keep stress at bay (learn more about relaxation techniques here)
Here is a list of some useful resources for helping you learn more about stress management:
- Book: The Stress-Proof Brain. Master your emotional response to stress using mindfulness and neuroplasticity. Melanie Greenberg, PHD
- Book: Rushing Woman’s Syndrome. The impact of a never ending to-do list on your health. Dr Libby Weaver
- Book: Neuroscience of Pain, Stress, and Emotion. Magne Flaten Mustafa al’Absi (link here)
- Website: Institue for Chronic Pain: Chronic Pain and Stress (link here)
- Website: Help Guide: Stress Management (link here)
- Website: Positive Psychology: 62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies and Activities (link here)
- Website: Zety: Burnout: Prevention, Treatment, and Advice for Employees & Employers (link here)
- Website: Psychology Today: The Connections Between Emotional Stress, Trauma and Physical Pain (link here)
- Journal Article: Chronic Pain and Chronic Stress: Two Sides of the Same Coin? (link here)
- Journal Article: Pain in Times of Stress (link here)
- Journal Article: Anxiety and stress can predict pain perception following a cognitive stress (link here)
- Journal Article: The stress model of chronic pain: evidence from basal cortisol and hippocampal structure and function in humans (link here)
- Website: Harvard Health: The Pain-Anxiety-Depression connection (link here)
- Website: The Stress & Chronic Pain Cycle (and how to break it!) (link here)
- Website: The American Institute of Stress (link here)
- Website: Cureable: Chronic Pain a cycle of stress and pain (link here)