Reducing toxic stress is essential to living a healthy life. It’s important to remember that not all stress is bad stress. You can learn more about the different types of stress in our other blog post What is Toxic Stress?
All people experience stress from time to time. Usually, stress is temporary and we are able to return to our normal states in our minds and bodies after the stressor has passed. Stress only becomes toxic is when it is lasting, severe, and begins to affect your ability to function, your mental health, and/or your physical health.
Here are a few strategies you can try
1. Strengthen your support network and personal relationships
A huge factor in healthily overcoming stress and developing resilience is having a network of support. People who care about you can buoy you up when you’ve experienced a tragedy or traumatic event. They can provide words of support, help you feel loved, included, like you belong, and that you’re not alone. When we feel stressed, it's a common response to want to withdraw and push people away, but isolation only worsens symptoms of toxic stress. Even if you don’t feel like it, reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, and support groups. Make intentional efforts to bring people into your lives and make plans with them.
2. Focus on daily, varied activities for improved mental health
Just like you need to eat a variety of foods each day from many different categories to nourish your body and give it the energy you need to accomplish tasks, so too, should you provide your mind with a variety of activities and exercises to keep it healthy on a daily basis. We need time to focus, play, connect with others, learn, sleep, recharge and refuel, laugh, exercise, and let our minds wander. When we experience stress, we’re much more likely to fall into unhealthy habits or focus too much on one area of the list I just mentioned.
We may binge watch a show on netflix, overeat or drink too much, spend too much money on some retail therapy, withdraw, or neglect our responsibilities and relationships. These habits that may initially provide some relief can worsen over time and lead to long-term mental, physical, and relationship problems.
3. Find healthy coping skills and practice relaxation techniques to destress
Making relaxation a part of your normal routine is one of the most effective ways to address stress. A consistent, daily practice of relaxation will have a more significant impact on your stress than the occasional, long session of relaxation exercises. Some things you could try include:
Mindfulness practices (there are so many great exercises on youtube! And so many fantastic apps now to help us)
Do a guided meditation
Begin a yoga practice or take Tai Chi classes
Progressive muscle relaxation exercises
Body scans and breath awareness exercises
Immerse yourself in a creative outlet
Call a support person
Listen to relaxing music
4. Spend your energy and attention on the things you CAN control
So many stressors that have chronic and lasting effects are often out of our hands. They are things we may not be able to control—such as a chronic illness or someone experiencing abuse and/or neglect. When an we focus on the things we cannot control, we will feel more stressed and overwhelmed. When it is possible to take action or control of your situation, you can and should certainly do so in safe ways to address root issues. While you are in a situation where you cannot control or change your stressors, try to focus on your response to the situation or stressor. Find time to relax. Invest time and energy into something healthy that makes you feel better or fills you with positive energy.
5. Set goals and make plans
Focusing on the future may not intuitively feel like the way to address your toxic stress, but guess what? Tunnel vision and a lack of control over our stressors only set us up to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. When we take the baby steps and embrace the courage to look toward the future, even when we’re not sure we can see what lies in store for us, we can set goals and find an increased sense of purpose and direction. Goals and plans will help you to feel a greater sense of meaning and purpose, as well as optimism about your circumstances and that they’ll improve.
Risk Factors & Protective Factors
You can learn more about toxic stress by taking inventory of your life and stressors, and learning about the risk factors that can lead to toxic stress.
Emotional and physical neglect as a child
Physical, sexual or emotional trauma
Socially or economically disadvantaged
Few social supports
Separation or loss of a relationship
Unemployment or underemployment
Unhealthy lifestyle choices
Pessimism, self-blame, poor coping skills
Living in a high crime neighborhood
Poor or limited access to healthcare
Single parent household
Existing physical or mental health condition
Less severe/direct impact or exposure
Strong problem-solving skills
High self-efficacy (confidence in abilities)
Ability to understand/accept emotions
Effective coping skills Financial stability
Strong belief system that helps a person cope
High levels of social support and connection
Higher levels of hope and optimism
Higher education and IQ
Consistent nurturing from an adult (as a kid)
Involvement in social/leisure activities
Resources and tools
You can take an ACES questionnaire to learn more about any adverse childhood experiences (aka traumatic experiences) you have had and how these could be affecting your mental health. Calculate your resilience score to learn more about protective factors that can help you to reduce your risk of toxic stress and its effects on your health.
Check out this “Toxic Stress Guide 101” page from Harvard.
Try out a self-assessment to learn more about your stress levels.
Learn more in general about stress and its effects on your health.
Check out tools to help children deal with stress.
A few more ideas
There are a TON of resources out there and there’s no way we can cover all of them, but here’s just a few more suggestions of things to try to address and mitigate stress in your life.
Meditate with Jellyfish - The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California gives virtual visitors a look inside their jellyfish tanks, and other exhibits, for a series of breathing exercises designed to send stress away.
Reduce your time spent online. If you feel overwhelmed by push notifications, use these iPhone and Android guides to turn them off. If you find yourself getting stressed while using particular apps, use these iPhone and Android guides to set limits on your usage.
Track your sleep with a fitness watch, tracker, or app.
Listen to a mindfulness podcast.The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has a weekly podcast covering a variety of topics related to mental health, including self-compassion, coping with anxiety and cultivating joy.
Remember to stretch your body. Take 90-second breaks at least every hour to stretch and move. Indiana University has a photographic guide to workstation exercises you can use anywhere.
Make sure to get in that physical exercise! Research shows that all kinds of exercise can help you manage stress.
Get out in nature, take a hike, spend time outdoors!
Finding humor in stressful moments is great for your mental health. Watch a funny movie, attend a comedy act, go to a play, or do something simply silly. As part of its Great Performances series, PBS is streaming a classic comedy of manners, “Present Laughter” by Noël Coward. This taped stage production features a Tony Award-winning performance by Kevin Kline and characters that will make you feel better in no time.
Create a calming music playlist you can go to anytime you’re feeling stressed.
Check out MentalHealth.gov, there’s a ton of resources there.
Are you ready to connect with a therapist but feel a little overwhelmed by all the options?
Speak with our Front Desk Navigator who can listen to what you’re looking for in a therapist and help pair you with the best possible fit. Call today 385-223-0777