The 3 Absolute Worst Things You Can Do To Cope With Stress
Stress has gotten a bad rap but it’s actually a perfectly normal and useful response that we need to get things done. Stress helps us to perform under pressure, motivates us to do better and even keeps us safe when danger looms. But when stress becomes overwhelming because we don’t know how to deal with it effectively, it has the opposite effect. And instead of motivating us towards action it can paralyse us with inaction.
Stressed Out Rats
The University of Minho in Portugal found that a funny thing happens to stressed-out rats. They fall into a rut. They can learn to press a bar for food. But, unlike their unpressured peers, they don’t know to stop when full or adapt to changes in the environment.
So under stress, behaviour become habits more easily. Habit-forming regions of the brain expand and goal-directed ones shrink when these rats are stressed out.
Become Bad Habits
Knowing this it would be safe to assume that this could affect us in the same way. And that it may be easier to form habits and harder to break habits the more stressed we are.
That’s a problem because life is full of frustrations, deadlines, and demands and many of us don’t even realise how stressed we are. And what’s more, many people don’t realise that they are trying to control that stress with strategies that are increasing their stress levels instead of decreasing them.
Don’t Do This If You’re Stressed
When we use negative behaviours to try and mitigate our stress we may inadvertently be creating more stress to stress about. By recognising these destructive coping mechanisms, you can take the first steps to reducing its harmful hold and improving your quality of life. Here are the top 3 behaviours that will keep you from ever getting a grip on your stress levels.
1. Become A Sloth
It’s normal to want to sit back and relax after a stressful day, but a consistent sedentary lifestyle will ultimately lead to more stress. Inactivity is not only bad for you but it also leads to even more inactivity and the less you do, the less you want to do.
The Fix: Get Moving. Getting active has been shown to increase energy, mood and emotional resilience. And best of all this is something you can do right now to help yourself start to feel better. Activities that require moving both your arms and your legs are particularly effective at managing stress. Rhythmic exercises like walking, running, swimming, dancing, and aerobic classes are all good choices to combat stress.
Pro Tip: Exercise mindfully. Focus your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move. Mindful exercise is a way to become “unstuck” and move on after the immobilisation stress response kicked in.
2. Eat Your Feelings
Emotional eating in general isn’t a good idea. But it turns out it’s even worse when we’re stressed. According to a study by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser at The Ohio State University, under stress, our bodies take longer than usual to clear saturated fats from our blood stream. These are the very fats associated with inflammation, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Stress also slows down the rate at which food moves through your intestines and colon, possibly leading to weight gain and more inflammation.
The Fix: Eat Healthy. Certain nutrients like Omega-3 reduces stress-related inflammation and as a bonus helps to reduce anxiety. Re-examine your existing diet and experiment with new ways to eat that promotes mental health. Find a meal plan that helps to relieve stress, boost your energy, improve your outlook and stabilise your mood.
Pro Tip: Eat slowly and mindfully. Focus your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you eat and take your time to savour your food. Pay attention to how it tastes and stop eating once you feel satisfied. Mindful eating is a meditative practice that will help you feel calmer, more relaxed and in control. And as a bonus it prevents overeating.
3. Become Negative Nelly
Some people feel the need to unpack, analyse and justify every negative feeling or emotion. When this happens and you dwell on and overanalyse every slight, every nasty look, every perceived injustice all it does is it causes you to experience those feelings and emotions over and over again. You’re basically programming yourself to feel that way all the time and instead of coping you’re really just escalating the stress you’re already feeling.
What many people don’t realise is that stress can also be internal and entirely self-generated. Here are a few of the most destructive internal practices that ultimately lead to depression:
- Chronic and excessively worrying about something that may or may not happen or something that has already happened.
- Indulging in irrational and pessimistic thoughts about yourself others.
- Negative self-talk and bullying.
- Unrealistic expectations, striving for perfectionism and having an all-or-nothing attitude.
- Believing that everyone thinks the way you think, lack of flexibility and inability to adapt to changing situations and
The Fix: Change Your Outlook & Attitude. Hopeful and optimistic people are often more stress-hardy. They tend to embrace challenges, celebrate themselves, have a stronger sense of humor and accept change as an inevitable part of life.
Pro Tip: If it seems impossible to change your outlook and attitude start smaller by setting aside relaxation time. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the state of stress. You’ll find that it becomes easier to change your outlook once you feel rested and relaxed.
Keep in mind that it took the rats four weeks to get out of their ruts completely once stressors were removed. So likewise, if you’re using some of the destructive things on this list to cope with stress you may have to be patient and consistent in your practices for a while before you start felling better. It takes time for your body to regenerate neurons in brain regions related to goal and decision making.
What do you do to cope with stress? Let me know in the comments below.