Stress is all around us. It was present before COVID-19, and during the pandemic, I’m certain you have experienced even more stress than usual. Stress impacts mental health, and the ability to manage stress in healthy ways absolutely impacts mental health. Here are some stress management techniques which may be helpful for improving your mental health in terms of the body, mind and spirit.
Stress causes a reaction in our body that includes a hormone cascade to assist us in addressing the stressor. This process is meant to heighten our abilities for a short period of time with the expectation that once the stressor is removed, our bodies can return to a relaxed state. But, when we experience chronic stress, our bodies do not have the chance to return to that calmer state. We can only sustain this heightened response for so long before being impacted, usually in negative ways. Here are a few suggestions to mitigate the stress response and improve mental health in the process:
Exercise – 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week is recommended. Exercise generates the “feel good” chemicals in the body, which helps to offset those generated by the stress response.
Food – When stressed we often reach for salty or sugary foods that give us a quick boost of “feel good” hormones. But, our body will likely crash once that quick-fix ends. The better choice is to increase vegetable intake, cut back on sugar, fried foods and junk foods, and eat healthier overall. This helps to regular blood sugar and prevents spikes and crashes.
Water – Even mild dehydration can impact our ability to think clearly. Water is important to help flush out toxins created in the body by stress and keep our organs working well. An easy recommendation to follow is to divide your weight in half and drink that number of ounces of water every day (180 pounds/2=90 ounces of water). Cutting back on sugary drinks and caffeine will also help.
Sleep – Getting enough sleep and good quality sleep is so important for our bodies and minds to repair, restore and renew. Strive for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
We all have an internal dialogue of some kind. And many of us struggle with a bent toward negative thinking patterns. Here are a couple of helpful tips to cultivate healthy thinking:
Challenge your thoughts – Scripture instructs us to take every thought captive into the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Not every thought you have is truthful. Sometimes we can get stuck in negative or self-destructive patterns of thinking. Challenging your thoughts is one of the best ways to break unhealthy thinking patterns. Ask yourself questions like – Is this thought true? Is this thought helpful? Where does this thought come from? Then, take steps to replace any faulty thinking patterns with truth from God’s Word.
Take a break – Sometimes our brain just needs to take a break from problem-solving or decision-making. Allow yourself some downtime, optimally a few minutes several times a day, so your brain can rest. Meditation is a great tool to use and actually energizes your brain so that you can re-engage problem-solving or work tasks with more focus and energy.
Chronic stress and a prolonged sense of suffering or despair can have a negative impact on our spirit as well. Here are some ideas to address this issue and increase a sense of hope and motivation:
Scripture – The Word is full of verses that uplift and offer hope. Write some of your favorites down on sticky notes or note cards and place them in areas where they will frequently be seen to remind you of God’s love, hope and salvation. You could also listen to sermon podcasts that you find encouraging.
Prayer – Lifting your praises and burdens to the Lord can be a great source of strength and hope. Make time in your schedule for regular communion with God through prayer.
Solitude – Make time every week for moments of solitude where you can turn off the “noise” of technology devices, social media, news cycles, etc. Even a couple of minutes each day can be very helpful.
Music – Make a playlist of music that you find calming, inspirational or joyful and listen as you have time each day.
Nature – For some, being in nature is a great way to connect with God and renew the spirit. Make time to walk or sit outside and just be – listen to the noises of nature, take in the beauty of God’s creation, breathe in the fresh air and feel the breeze or sun on your skin.
Gratitude - Practicing gratitude is a great way to lift your spirits and redirect your focus on God. Every night before you go to bed, identify three things you are grateful for, from the day.
Start where you can. Don’t think of this as a to-do list and stress yourself over all the things you aren’t doing or don’t have time to do. Pick 2-3 of these strategies that you can start incorporating into your life, and when you’ve developed a habit of doing them on a regular basis (which usually takes about 3 weeks), then consider adding in a couple more.
Through implementing some of these ideas, you can learn to reduce stress and you can improve your mental health.
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philippians 4:8, The Message)
To learn more about Texas Baptists Counseling Services visit txb.org/counseling.