Many of us struggle with internal stressors. Internal stressors can be anything from negative self-talk to a mental health disorder. External stressors, meanwhile, are situational. You experience external stress as a result of major life events, such as relationship problems, grief, school or work difficulties, concerns about finances, or even caring for children and loved ones.(1) For almost everyone, the COVID-19 pandemic was a major external stressor that brought drastic life changes.
If you’re experiencing a lot of external stress, you might wonder what you can do to find peace of mind during the experience. Unfortunately, you can’t always change your situation. However, there are some steps you can take to nurture and protect your mental health as you cope with the stress.
Write It Out
Writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It can also make you more productive. Try making a list of the stressors that are bothering you. Is there anything about your situation that could be changed? If the answer is no, then are there any changes you could make in your life that would make the situation easier on you? For instance, if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, can you reduce stress in other areas of your life to focus on this major stressor? Is there room in your day for self-care?
Writing can help you find answers for managing your stress, but you can also use a journal to express your feelings and emotions. Sometimes just getting the thoughts out of your mind and onto the paper can make a difference in your emotional state.
Spend Less Time Reading the News
Spending too much time on news websites or on social media can make your stress worse. While it’s important to be informed and aware of what is going on in the world, being surrounded by too much news can make you feel more overwhelmed. Try to limit your time reading or watching the news to just a snippet of time each day, such as after dinner.
Take a Walk Outside
Study after study has found that being out in nature has a soothing effect on the mind and body. (2) So, too, does physical activity. Scheduling regular walks into your day can make a difference for your stress levels. As long as the weather is safe, encourage your child to spend time being active outdoors, too.
Self-care is a buzz word these days, but its sentiment holds true. In order to healthily manage stress, you have to know what type of self-care works for you. Does listening to music help you de-stress? What about a restorative yoga class or a mindfulness session? Do you just need to curl up on the couch and watch Netflix? Make it a priority to set aside time throughout the day to do whatever works for you.
Friends and family can be valuable resources during times of external stress. You could also seek out the assistance of a mental health professional, such as a therapist, to help you cope with your stress.
Managing your stress is extremely important. Unmanaged stress can lead to chronic surges of adrenaline — that’s the fight or flight response that makes your heart race and your palms sweat. These adrenaline surges can be harmful overtime, putting you at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. (3) You might also suffer from tension headaches or develop a chronic mental health condition as a result of your unmanaged stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by external stress, reaching out to a therapist is a healthy way of dealing with those emotions.
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- Greene, Ginny. “Stress Management | Internal and External Stress.” Uhc.com, 2017, healthlibrary.uhc.com/content/healthlibrary/uhc/hl/wellness/stress_management/relax_101/0475_3C_internal_and_external_stress.html.
- Greaver Cordova, Melanie. “Spending Time in Nature Reduces Stress, Research Finds.” Cornell Chronicle, Cornell, 25 Feb. 2020, news.cornell.edu/stories/2020/02/spending-time-nature-reduces-stress-research-finds. Accessed 30 June 2021.
Mayo Clinic Health System staff. “Can Stress Lead to a Heart Attack?” Www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org, Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/can-stress-lead-to-a-heart-attack. Accessed 30 June 2021.