By, Jenna Weinstein – O2X Mental Performance Specialist
The human body is designed to withstand and persevere. Yet, modern society tests our limits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. One way to evaluate an individual’s mental toughness is their ability to cope with stress. Feelings of stress, anxiety, or being overwhelmed are our body’s natural reaction to its environment. When we perceive a situation as unpredictable or uncontrollable, our natural stress response is engaged. The degree to which we experience stress depends on the individual and the situation. There is not one best way to cope with stress; stress management is not a one size fits all approach.
Progressive-Muscle Relaxation (PMR): When we are stressed, many people tend to repress, or ignore those emotions. This causes stress to manifest physically. Our bodies have a way of holding onto stress in the form of stiff muscles, and general soreness. PMR is a simple way to identify areas where we are experiencing muscle tension and allow our bodies to release it. When practicing PMR, work your way through each major muscle group by tightening and squeezing each muscle for 10-15 seconds and then completely relax that muscle. For example, when lying down, start with your feet, and curl your toes as tightly as possible. Imagine that you are gripping a piece of paper with your toes. Hold that tension for fifteen seconds. Then relax your toes. Continue this process of tightening and relaxing your muscles throughout your entire body. This process can help you identify where you tend to carry stress, and how to relax the physical manifestation of stress.
Yays For the Day: Stress accumulates quickly throughout our day when we allow ourselves to focus on all the ways things go wrong. How many of us are guilty about getting home at the end of the day and complaining to our friends, partners, and families, about how awful, or annoying our day was? (Cautiously raises hand). A simple strategy to overcome the urge to complain about your day is to focus on the ways your day went well. At the end of the day, try talking about 3-5 yays for the day. What are 3-5 simple things that you would consider a win for the day? This simple strategy will retrain your brain to focus on the good things throughout the day, which will spark positive emotions. When we experience positive emotions, our stress levels automatically reduce. Remember, at the end of your day, what were the things that made you say ‘yay’?
Be Creative: Many people write themselves off as not being creative. We tend to limit ourselves by thinking about stereotypical creative activities, such as drawing, painting, playing music, dancing, etc. Engaging in activities that spark creativity can be fun and challenging. When we experience a healthy mixture of fun and being challenged, we experience a flow state. When in flow, our bodies and minds are solely focused on the activity we are engaged in, and we are truly focused in the present. When we are stressed, we tend to be stuck in the past or future. Creative activities can be writing, organizing, gardening, using coloring books, doing puzzles, and making things (woodworking, fixing cars, etc.). This is a great way to try new things and have fun in the process of learning.
Get Moving: It was mentioned how stress can manifest physically. Being physically active is a great way to create endorphins, which are hormones secreted in our brain, that trigger feelings of calmness and relaxation. It sounds counterintuitive; how will getting up, and moving more make me relaxed? Our bodies were designed to move. When we spend too much time being sedentary, negative emotions accumulate more easily. Research shows that moving a minimum of ten minutes at a time can help our minds experience more clarity, better focus, and positive emotions. Physical activity does not have to be vigorous. You can experience these benefits from light walking.
Be Kind to Others: When we think about stress management, we tend to think about how we can take better care of ourselves. We can also experience less stress by helping others. We can experience less stress by volunteering at an organization we are personally interested in – not just donating money; donate your time. Helping others can also be done by mentoring people at work; helping other people grow and develop by sharing your experiences and wisdom. This can provide you with a sense of purpose.
The idea of managing, or mitigating, stress should not create more stress for you. The process of taking care of our minds and bodies should be simple, fun, and restorative. The strategies mentioned above are all simple and easy ways to incorporate it into your daily habits. Remember, when making changes to your lifestyle, or when incorporating new habits, try one new thing at a time. Fight the urge to make drastic changes. Pick one new strategy to do that helps you manage your stress in a productive way.
About O2X Mental Performance Specialist Jenna Weinstein:
Jenna Weinstein is an O2X Mental Performance Specialist with a strong focus on teaching athletes how to improve their performance through mental training. She completed a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science and Sports Studies, specializing in Sport Psychology. Jenna’s background in athletics and a passion for working with special populations led her to be an adaptive strength coach and mindset coach for spinal cord injury patients in Boston. She also serves as a Mental Performance Expert for the United States Army, designing programs to help soldiers cope with the challenges of military life and combat. Jenna’s dedication extends to supporting soldiers’ families through workshops on mental toughness and resilience, and she is currently pursuing a Doctoral Degree in Public Health.
About O2X Human Performance:
O2X Human Performance provides comprehensive, science-backed programs to hundreds of public safety departments, federal agencies, and the military. O2X works with clients to elevate culture, improve mental and physical wellbeing, support healthy lifestyles, and reduce healthcare costs associated with injuries and illnesses. Driven by results and cutting edge research, O2X programs are designed and delivered by a team of Special Operations veterans, high level athletes, and hundreds of leading experts in their respective fields of human performance.