Stress is taking an increasing toll on our lives. Over the course of the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. Furthermore, over 15 million working days are lost every year to work-related stress.
Therefore, it’s likely that you’ve already encountered stress or will do so in the future. But what can you do to combat the toll it can take on your mental health? And what are some of the best coping strategies?
How Stress Can Negatively Impact Your Mental Health
Stress can have all kinds on negative knock on effects for our mental health. Whilst the science behind exactly how stress leads to mental health issues is still being explored, there have been several links made by studies focusing on the relationship between the two.
It appears long-term stress can begin to alter the structure of the brain – particularly the areas responsible for learning and memory – altering the way we think.
These changes – if left unchecked – can lead to self-destructive behaviours such as making poor nutritional choices, substance abuse, and self-imposed isolation. All in an effort to cope with the thoughts and feelings associated with stress.
Additionally, particularly stressful events can lead to the development of a mental health condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Those affected with this disorder suffer with vivid flashbacks, nightmares, or uncontrollable thoughts pertaining to the original event.
So how can those who are affected by stress better cope with the negative side effects? How can cognitive behavioural coping strategies help?
What Are Cognitive Behavioural Coping Strategies?
Cognitive behavioural coping strategies fall under the wider umbrella of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This type of therapy looks to reframe the way in which we evaluate and interpret our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and situations.
There are many coping strategies that originate from this type of therapy, but for the purposes of this article we’ll only focus on the most prevalent.
When we become stressed we tend to spend more time in a state of anxiety or depression, either worrying or feeling down about the cause(s) of our stress. The goal of behavioural activation is to mitigate those thought patterns by becoming more active in the areas of life that bring you pleasure and enjoyment.
Set yourself goals for those activities that bring you joy; making sure to detail when and for how long you’re going to partake in them. This way you can guarantee you are going to spend significant portions of time on pleasurable activities rather than becoming trapped in negative thought sequences brought on by stressful situations.
One of the most fundamental cognitive techniques. Self-monitoring works on the principle that in order to address a problems, symptoms or sign associated with stress you first need to become aware of them.
In many ways similar to practicing mindfulness, self-monitoring is the practice of making a note of every time you experience negative or uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Writing in journal is helpful for this process.
Note down those thoughts and feelings, where you were when you experienced them, what physical sensations accompanied them, and finally rate them on scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how intense you felt they were. Once you’ve journaled for a sufficient length of time you can begin to look for triggers to certain thought patterns and how to avoid them, improving your mood and frame of mind.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Suffering from stress can often make your whole body tense. By practicing muscle relaxation exercises you can help to put your body and anxious mind at ease.
Start by breathing deeply, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Then, starting with your toes, tense your muscles for a few seconds before gradually relaxing them once more. Repeat two to three times before moving on to your feet. Work your way up the body until you reach the muscles closest to your head.
Paying attention to how your muscles feel is important. As more and more of your body becomes relaxed, the tension ebbs away – leaving you feeling less stressed and anxious.
Get Helpful Advice for Dealing with Stress
Cognitive behavioural coping strategies offer those that suffer from stress with a way to prevent their symptoms from slipping into negative thought processes and potentially more significant mental health issues.
The highlighted cognitive behavioural coping strategies are just a few of the many available approaches. It’s important to carry out your own research and discover which methods work best for you and your stress-related symptoms.
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