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Effective ways to manage stress

January 24, 2014 General Wellness By Mary Kathleen O’Leary, PsyD

No one is a stranger to stress. We’ve all dealt with the symptoms before—headaches, difficulty sleeping, feeling overwhelmed, crying, mood changes, and irritability. Although almost everyone experiences similar symptoms, stress is an individual experience with different triggers for everyone. What one person finds stressful another may tolerable to another.

Take, for example, a rainy day. For a golfer, it can throw a wrench in their plans. For a farmer, it can be seen as a blessing. There is no clear-cut list of stressors; it can vary from environmental triggers like traffic, noise, and crowds to physical triggers like illness, disability, or developmental changes.

There’s no getting around it—stress is inevitable. It’s the way that our bodies and minds respond to change, and while we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control how we deal with it.

In order to manage stress in an effective and healthy way, the American Psychological Association (2007) recommends identifying your stress triggers, and trying to replace unhealthy behaviors that you use to cope with them--like binge eating or drinking--with healthy behaviors. Just like your triggers, these healthy behaviors will differ from person to person, but some common suggestions include listening to music or a sound machine, reading a book, calling a friend, stretching, deep breaths, or simply walking away. Ultimately, whatever you choose to do should be something that physically and mentally takes you away from what it is that causes you to feel stressed.

In addition to managing your stress through methods like these, don’t forget to turn to your family and friends for support. Don’t be afraid to accept help from them during times of crisis or extreme stress, and make it clear to them what they can do to support you.

Finally, don’t forget that one way to manage stress is to take care of yourself. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep can all affect your mood and how you react to your stress triggers. By taking care of your physical and mental health and setting aside time for yourself every day, you’ll be able to better control your reaction to unforeseen circumstances.

If you find that you are unable to manage stress effectively, feel that it is causing significant emotional distress or compelling you to unhealthy behaviors consider professional help. Main Line Health offers the services of a variety of mental health providers including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and licensed professional counselors who can help you learn more effective ways to manage stress. Call 1.866.CALL.MLH to make an appointment.

Mary Kathleen O’Leary, PsyD is a psychologist with Bryn Mawr Rehab Psychology Associates.