• Stephanie Sullivan

Top 10 Tips for Proactively Preventing Stress

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

You have probably heard someone say that you cannot control the environment around you, you can only control your reaction to it. This is partially true and partially untrue. Yes, some things in our environment are outside of our control; however, we can definitely take proactive steps to make our environments less stressful. Below are my top ten (10) tips for proactively preventing stress, and my #1 tip for controlling your stress response.

Reduce demands and triggers

1) Reduce commitments — Identify at least one of your current commitments (home/work) which is bringing stress, high effort or less value, joy, or fulfillment than you would like. Now decide whether you will a) eliminate or pause that activity, or b) delegate it to someone else. When new meetings, kids’ activities, or social engagements arise, do not feel obliged to accept. Thank the person for the invitation or opportunity, and then take some time to think about your current commitments, available time, and priorities. Declining or delegating some activities will avoid over-committing yourself, making you more available and present for the things that really matter to you.

2) Time-shift – When you cannot eliminate or delegate activities, time-shift them to a less stressful time. Identify the most stressful times of your month, week, or days. Spend a few minutes thinking of activities happening then which you could time-shift (to another time of day, different day or week). For example, if your stressful time of day is mornings, then make your breakfast and organise your things the night before. If your stressful time is leaving work by a certain time to pick up kids, then block out your calendar preceding your departure time. During an exceptionally demanding week, postpone some meetings to the following week. For families with young kids, its often the evening rush of dinner, baths, bedtime, so move your dinner prep to a different day or earlier in the day. Using a slow cooker is a great way to time-shift your dinner prep to earlier in the day, or even the night before.

3) Remove triggers – Wherever possible, minimise things that trigger stress, negativity, frustration. Unfollow people whose social media posts are typically negative or trigger frustration or anger. Unplug from the predominantly negative, and often sensationalised, nightly TV network news program, and instead read or listen to something you enjoy. Steps like these will help preserve your energy and resilience so you can be present and capable of handling stressors that arise in the more important areas of your life (like family and work). If your work is extremely stressful, maybe its time to change jobs.

Self-care maintenance steps to prepare yourself for handling stress

4) Sleep – Sleep deprivation results in being more easily agitated, and less equipped to handle the unexpected events that come your way. It is generally recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and most teens need more.

5) Hydrate – Hydration is key to combating the physiologic effects of stress on your body. What’s interesting is that stress can cause dehydration, and also dehydration can cause stress, so this can easily become a vicious circle. When your body and organs are deprived of water, it produces more cortisol (“the stress hormone”). Water also supports the adrenal glands, which are vitally important in the body’s ability to respond to stress.

6) Eat healthy – Eat foods that bring you energy, and avoid sugary foods and drinks. Sugar intake can send your body on a blood-sugar roller coaster, which can result in drastic drops in mood and energy. If your energy and mood are already crashing, you are not going to deal well with new demands or unexpected events.

7) Relaxation — Schedule regular times for stress reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, and/or down time. Visit somewhere you love and find relaxing (for me this is the beach or mountains). If you can’t physically get there, listening to nature sounds via a sound machine or app can also induce relaxation.

8) Exercise – Exercising produces endorphins which improve your mood and reduce stress. Even a walk around the neighbourhood can be beneficial. Incorporate fresh air or music for an added uplift.

9) Connect -- Increase meaningful connections with positive friends, family, neighbours and community (passionate causes or volunteering). Even during lock-down, you can still catch-up with a friend or family member via a video or phone call, and then make plans to catch-up face-to-face when feasible.

10) Medical Check-up – If you are regularly feeling down, low energy, or stressed, please see your GP. They can provide support and also check if any deficiencies may be contributing. A simple blood test can check your hormone levels, thyroid function, and identify if you are low in important vitamins (D) or minerals (iron). If you live in a “grey” climate (less sunshine) in winter, vitamin D levels should be checked in both summer and winter.

What to do when stress arises

Despite your best efforts to reduce demands and stress triggers from your environment, inevitably stress will arise at times, as we cannot completely control or eliminate it. The good news is that there is a very quick, easy and effective way to reduce your feelings of stress. Breathe! Breathing is one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce stress. With approximately one minute of simple, deep breathing, you can effectively turn off the stress response in your body (physiologically), slowing your breathing and heart rate, decreasing your blood pressure, relaxing your muscles, and moving into a relaxed state. One of the easiest breathing techniques is the 5-5-7 method. Simply breathe in deeply through your nose while you count to five, then hold the breath while you count to 5, then exhale slowly through your nose while you count to seven. Doing this five times takes ~45 seconds, and ten times is ~90 seconds. For some other great ways to relieve stress when you are feeling it, please see my Top 10 Tips for Relieving Stress:

Note: This article is also published at The Natural Parent Magazine: 10 Tips for Proactively Preventing Stress – The Natural Parent Magazine

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