Coping strategies that work will vary from person to person. The important thing is finding something that works and sticking to it. Ideally, it is a good idea to have something that works in a moment of stress, as well as other activities that can be used daily or weekly, to help ward off built-up tension. There are no right or wrong ways to cope with stress - common strategies typical include leisure activities, exercising, creative endeavors and cooking.
No matter the technique, most importantly, it is important to breathe. Often when we are feeling stressed or panicked, we start taking short, quick breaths. When this pattern of breathing escalates, it can lead to hyperventilating. Focusing on your breathe is one of the most important skills to master for stress management.
Deep breathing techniques are useful both in the moment when we care facing an anxiety trigger, as well as later on when we are trying to relax.
Secondly, many people become tense while stressed or anxious. The exercise used to relieve this negative energy is called progressive muscle relaxation. While sitting or laying comfortable, begin by taking a few, long, deep breaths as described above. Then, starting with your neck and shoulders, tense the muscle group for several seconds, allowing the tension to build. When you tense the muscle, you want to engage the muscle group and hold the position. For example, when tensing your shoulders, squeeze them up towards your ears. For your feet, stretch and point your toes downwards. As you exhale, slowly release the muscles. Concentrate on the sensation of tension, versus the sensation of being in a state of relaxation. Repeat this sequence with each muscle group: arms (upper arm, forearm, hands), stomach (abdomen), legs (thighs, calves, ankles and feet) and face (eyebrows, nose and mouth).
A quicker way to achieve the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation is to take a few long deep breaths and clench your fists for several seconds before slowly releasing. Hugging a pillow tightly is another option. Lastly, pairing stretching with the deep breathing can also be a great way to relieve built up tension.
Deep breathing relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation have been shown to be helpful with anxiety. Additionally, medical professions have linked long term benefits of deep breathing relaxation to improvements with migraines, insomnia and hypertension, among other medical illnesses.
- Nicole Andreoli, PhD