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stress management tips
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5 Tips to Manage Stress and Keep Things Zen

By Reading Time: 10 minutes

If you, too, feel you’ve been living in a Groundhog Day of your own this past year, you’ll know repetition doesn’t equal tranquility. 

There’s nothing calming about switching between going to work, the movies, and a restaurant within the same four walls. 

A good thing that did come out of this time of turmoil, though, is the gold mine of relatable memes we can all appreciate. Like this tweet:

https://twitter.com/Krystiiiiina/status/1267527694306213888?s=20

Jokes aside, for many of us, the sudden paradigm shift added never-before-seen challenges. Just as most of you around the world, we at Printful sought answers to unforeseen problems. Our offices moved to our homes, our production became limited, and questions arose about how to deal with the stress of it all as each day set off as a test of fortitude.

On the Printful Blog, we typically strive to help you grow an ecommerce business and share the latest marketing trends. However, as May is the Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to take the opportunity to talk about what is stress management and how to lower stress to help you be a happier, healthier version of yourself. After all, your well-being is the most important thing you’ve got, and without it, reaching any goal at all seems like a daunting task.

Writing this blog, I had a chance to look back at the past year and see what made my stress worse, what helped me to de-stress, and what I wish I’d made a part of my daily routine sooner. Now, these solutions to stress aren’t revolutionary but they’ve made a big enough of a difference for me to stick with them since. Besides the personal mental health benefits, it’s important to learn about ways to relieve stress because it has become a bigger collective issue than ever before.

Note that this blog post isn’t medical advice. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, please speak with a licensed professional.

The mental toll of the pandemic

I’m convinced that we’ll still be dealing with havoc wreaked by Covid-19 in the foreseeable future. Besides the ongoing financial hardships and fear of getting infected, social isolation is one the major causes of emotional stress today.

According to research conducted in the UK, in September 2020, 36% of respondents revealed feeling lonely during the pandemic. And as reported by the Department of Mental Health, more than 1 in 4 US adults with no prior history of a mental health condition experienced distress in the early phases of the pandemic.

Unless public health measures go beyond physical health and incorporate wider well-being impacts in terms of what people are free to do or be, we’ll be seeing longer graphs of stress related issues.

The following bar chart from 2021 shows the percentage of workers reporting higher, equal, or lower levels of stress since the coronavirus outbreak.

With so many people fighting symptoms of emotional stress, it’s important to learn stress management skills to both maintain your health and be able to recognize when others are struggling.

The many faces of stress

By now, we’re used to fast-paced life and taking on more than we can handle, so stress in a way is normalized. The word is also commonly used in its negative sense as the enemy of our mental well-being. However, not all stress is bad.

Positive stress is also known as eustress. Eustress usually arises when we face challenges we’re looking forward to. When we feel positive stress, we feel fulfilled and excited, and the tension it creates is more pleasure than pain.

We can change our thought patterns to trick our minds into doing almost anything. That means we can also turn distress into eustress. So, rather than trying to avoid stress completely, why not practice looking at tense situations as positive challenges?

Emotional stress is a type of distress which can be especially painful and hard to unravel. One of the common causes of this is a problem in interpersonal relationships. From my experience, in times of emotional stress, it’s best to try and get to the root of the cause (as scary as it seems) rather than searching for new stress management activities.

All of us handle stressful situations differently. Some of us experience acute stress while others are dealing with chronic stress, but resilience can be built for any situation. The following tips are good stress resistance habit builders that can get you started in growing those mind muscles.

So what other positive ways to deal with stress are there, and what does stress management look like in practice?

Positive ways to deal with stress

When our marketing team began working from home, we started a Slack thread to share stress management tips and what we were doing to keep our productivity up without going to Crazytown. 

These five tips stood out to me the most and I started adding them to my daily routine. 

1. Limit your screen time

Computer screens
Source: Pexels

Now we’re using screens more than ever—having work meetings on Zoom, attending online events, and connecting virtually with our family and friends. “Zoom fatigue” is real. And no wonder: all those online meetings are quite the workload for our brain. 

In real life, we interpret gestures and communicate in nonverbal cues, but in Zoom, we struggle to put the whole picture together as movement is limited in ways that are not natural. Also, think about just how unusual it is to be constantly looking at 2D versions of each other (and yourself) on a screen. 

And during breaks, many of us relax by switching screens: we pick up our phones or tablets, or open a new tab to browse social media. It might help you switch your focus for a moment, but it’s certainly not the best method of how to alleviate stress. It’s actually doing the opposite.

We want to stay connected, but it can be too much exposure for the mind. Excessive screen time can also cause sleep difficulties, give rise to anxiety and depression, and even spike loneliness.

Luckily, there’s plenty we can do to change this habit.

  • Take hourly 10–15 minute screen breaks. Easier said than done, I know. Especially if your workday is spent in front of a computer. But trust me, your productivity will only soar if you give your eyes and brain regular breaks. Set a break time reminder on your phone or computer, so you’re notified when it’s time to switch from your laptop to your smartphone (just kidding).
  • Put a lock on the cookie jar. Apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter are true time-suckers for me, especially when the world seems to be on fire. If you wish to limit your non-productive apps, there are many types of tools you can choose from that work best for you. Personally, I use Offtime (iOS/Android), which is a productivity app that blocks distractions and shows me how much time I’ve spent on social media. The new smartphones also come with built-in features that let you check app usage reports to see how much time you’ve spent on certain apps and which ones you’ve used the most. This might not become one of your favorite ways to reduce stress, but it can be important in aiding you to build other habits.
  • Keep the screens out of the bedroom. This simple trick can do wonders for decreasing your screen time. Plus, it’s a great way how to reduce stress and sleep better. Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other such devices before bedtime suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and this makes it tougher to fall asleep. So after you’re done with work, leave the laptop on your desk, and stop charging your phone on the nightstand. Instead, try the good old bedtime reading session.

Before hitting the hay, you can switch off from work by taking a walk. Or, you can wash away your troubles in a relaxing shower or a bath with calming essential oils like lavender or chamomile. You can also signal your body that it’s time to relax by dimming the lights an hour before bed.

2. Practice mindfulness

Source: Pexels

The last time you took a walk, what did you think about?

If you can’t recall, like many of us, you’re probably just letting your thoughts pass you by on default mode.

“My mom and I have been doing these rant sessions, talking out frustrations, annoyances, and fears. After we rant, we try to end on a positive note—find something that we appreciate right here and now. For example, the pandemic made us slow down a bit and find more time for mother-daughter convos. At times like these, a short venting session while still addressing the bright side helps me keep some of my sanity.”

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is about being present and aware of your mind, body, and the space it occupies. Practicing this technique can change the way you think and respond to situations, as well as how to have control over emotions that arise because of them. This plays a sizable role in our well-being. 

Whenever you feel overwhelmed or anxious (or better yet, before you reach that state of mind), it’s important to slow down, let your ideas flow, and deconstruct the thoughts that bother you one by one. 

Mindfulness is excellent for stopping negative self-talk and it’s a great tool to immediately calm down the thought hurricanes. And as a bonus, mindfulness can also boost your immune system which might have been affected by chronic stress. 

This practice is easily my favorite method on how to reduce stress and tension.

Mindfulness exercise to try today:

  • Turn off the music or the TV and just be with yourself for a moment 
  • Take some time to do something that grounds you, in other words, focuses only on the task you’re doing. It can be anything from reading to organizing your workspace or even doing the dishes 
  • Whenever you find yourself drifting back to mind-chatter, just return to the present moment. It might also help to quickly jot down a thought that’s being stubborn 

For me, mindfulness practice has become a habit when I’m cooking. It has helped me to stop stress eating and develop a healthier relationship with food. The ritual of cooking is now a calming, almost meditative experience. Not only does it help my mind rest, I might come out of this lockdown as a semi-professional chef (emphasis on semi, but still). 

And by the way, eating comforting, protein-rich food is a delicious way to boost serotonin levels. Some types of foods can even reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline—those pesky stress hormones. 

So think about what relaxes you, what gives you that feeling of flow, practice going into this zen mode, and watch your stress melt away.

3. Chat your way back to mental balance

Talking Black And White GIF by Barbara Pozzi - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: Giphy

Complaining gets a bad rap and likely isn’t one of the first things someone would suggest as a way to de-stress, but venting is not a bad thing.

My teammate Una shared that what helped her mental health during quarantine was to “rant and whine” with her mom:

“My mom and I have been doing these rant sessions, talking out frustrations, annoyances, and fears. After we rant, we try to end on a positive note—find something that we appreciate right here and now. For example, the pandemic made us slow down a bit and find more time for mother-daughter convos. At times like these, a short venting session while still addressing the bright side helps me keep some of my sanity.”

And there’s actual science to back this up. Studies have shown that simply talking about our problems and sharing our negative emotions with someone we trust can be profoundly healing—it’s a way how to relieve stress, strengthen our immune system, and reduce physical and emotional distress.

Another study found that venting in the workplace might improve mental balance, help you bond with your co-workers, and allow you to work through your feelings.

However, after the rant session is over, I encourage you to either let your frustration go to get on with your day, or come up with an action plan on how to make the stressful situation better. Or, as Una said, simply end on a positive note and remind yourself about the things that bring you joy. Otherwise, you risk soaking in those feelings and getting even more stressed.

4. Move your body (and your mind will move too)

Woman exercising
Source: Pexels

Exercise and stress management go hand in hand because physical activity reduces stress hormone levels and stimulates the production of endorphins. 

What’s more, exercise:

  • Strengthens your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune system, which help protect your body from the harmful effects of stress
  • Increases self-confidence, improves your mood, helps you relax, and lowers symptoms of anxiety
  • Improves your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress 

Relieves physical stress symptoms such as muscle tension and trouble sleeping

Choose an activity that you enjoy. Even brief amounts of exertion have surprising mental health benefits. Just five minutes of simple exercise can reduce anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. So start moving—take a walk, ditch the elevator for the stairs, or take an online fitness class!

5. Breathe in, breathe out

Man enjoying the sun
Source: Pexels

Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Now let it out. Straight away, you may notice a difference in how you feel. Breathing exercises are so good at de-stressing you because they bring back the body to the feeling of relaxation.

It lets your brain know it’s time to chill out with the fight-or-flight response. When we’re stressed, we unconsciously take shallow, short breaths that increase our heart rate and put us in an alert state. In contrast, deep breaths slow the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure.

There are lots of breathing exercises you can implement into your daily routine, and many of my teammates have created their own unique method. 

My favorite is the long exhale, which I learned in a yoga class a couple of years ago. I found that while taking a deep breath can help calm you down, it’s actually the exhale that truly relaxes the body. Try this now:

1. Push all the air out of your lungs, then simply let your lungs do their work inhaling air.

2. Then, spend a bit longer exhaling than you do inhaling. For example, try inhaling for 4 seconds, then exhale for .

3. Do this for several minutes and see how you feel. 

In my opinion, the best thing about this method is that it’s easy to learn, you can do it anywhere, and you don’t need any tools or equipment.

Bonus tips for stress management

Plan your happiness. Take time to create a self care plan, listen to your favorite music, play with your pet, write in your journal, or connect with your loved ones.

How have you been doing?

For a lot of you busy-bees and business owners, it can get extra stressful when managing work-life balance under restrictive circumstances. I hope you can use some of our stress management tips to take a breather and remember to put your mental health first.

We’re curious to know how the lockdown has affected your well-being. Are you more stressed during the pandemic than before it? What are some of your go-to stress management techniques? Please share in the comments below!

This blog post was originally published in September 2020; it has since been updated.

Diana is a content marketing specialist at Printful with an interest in all things marketing, ecommerce, and social media trends.

Comments

  1. Mimi

    Preparing a new recipe and special cocktail every week, gives me purpose to look through recipe books, then set a nice table, and plan a new one every week.
    It’s like my dinner out but it’s in. This gives my mind focus on something fun and light hearted, and enjoying a great meal.

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