Bounce back from failures, disappointments, and other anxiety-driven setbacks faster and stronger with these self-encouraging stress relief tips.
By: Mirel Ketchiff, SHAPE
As much as we'd all like to avoid stress at all costs, that's not always possible. But what we can control is how we react to the tensions that inevitably crop up at work and in our personal lives. And while that may not seem like much, it's more powerful than you'd think.
Say you train for months for a race, only to miss your goal time by a mile. There are two ways to respond: By beating yourself up, doubting your abilities, and concentrating on everything you did wrong; or, you can resolve to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. If you get down on yourself, your next round of training will feel that much harder and more pointless. If you're self-encouraging, you can use the setback as fuel to help you train harder.
We'd all like to believe that we fall into the second camp, but the truth is that it can be hard to bounce back from disappointments, like falling short of a fitness goal, falling off a diet, missing a deadline at work, or breaking up with a significant other. But you can train your brain to become more resilient to stress and setbacks. To start, try these five study-backed strategies. (Also, keep these Therapist-Approved Tricks for Perpetual Positivity in mind.)
Ask “What Would I Say To My BFF?”
“Self-compassion is one of the most important sources of emotional resilience we have,” says Kristin Neff, Ph.D., author of Self-Compassion. It means, simply, treating yourself with the same kindness you'd treat a friend who was going through a hard time. “Most people critique themselves and tear themselves down when they're stressed. They go straight into fix-it mode and don't give themselves any comfort, care, or support,” she says. Instead, she recommends imagining a friend coming to you with the problem you're dealing with, and saying to yourself what you'd say to her. “When you treat yourself with self-compassion, your levels of stress hormones like cortisol decrease and your levels of feel-good hormones like oxytocin increase, instantly making you feel calmer and more capable of dealing,” Neff says.
Hit the Hay Early.
If you're going through an especially tense time, try prioritizing sleep. According to research in a recent book Sleep and Affect, people who lose a night's zzz's respond more emotionally to stressors. After an extra hour or two, you may magically feel better able to cope.
Think "This Will Be Good For Me"
Sounds cheesy, maybe. But research from Stanford University shows that thinking of stress as something that will propel you forward can help change the way you respond to it, ultimately improving your mood and your productivity. And that makes sense: If you can convince yourself that taking on an unexpected assignment at work will be a good thing in the long run, because it'll teach you new skills and and help you work more efficiently under pressure, and you'll be less likely to engage in the sort of coping behaviors that make stress worse, like procrastination or catastrophizing.
Sweat It Out
Yep, our favorite stress-buster—exercise—really does help us bounce back from tension faster, according to recent research in the journal Neuropharmacology. Working out releases a brain chemical called galanin, which protects your neurons from anxiety-related damage to boost their—and your—resilience to stress.
Work “Mindfulness Breaks” Into Your Day
Nursing is probably one of the most stressful jobs out there. But spending just a few minutes an hour on mindfulness—listening to soothing music, practicing deep breathing, or stretching—significantly lowered nurses' levels of stress hormones, making them less likely to burn out, according to a recent study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. And there's no reason it can't work for you too.