top of page

Stress SOS: Everything You Need to Know to Recover from a Stressful Day

Relaxing Window Seat

Ever wondered if you are truly taking care of yourself after a tough day? We all experience stress in our lives, whether it's from work, relationships, or other life events. However, what many people fail to realize is that the way we take care of ourselves after a stressful day is just as important as the way we handle the situation itself. It's all about giving ourselves the time and space we need to process, heal, and recover. Caring for ourselves in these moments isn't a luxury - it's a necessary part of maintaining our mental and physical well-being. In this post, we'll explore the impacts of stress, a paradigm shift in prioritizing your needs, and offer easy strategies you could implement right away to practice self-care. Continue reading to discover how all of this can help improve your overall mental health and well-being. 

It seems like no one talks about it, but stress responses are normal reactions to abnormal or stressful situations. When we experience something in our day as stressful, our body and mind react in a way to protect ourselves from harm. This can manifest as feelings of anxiety, panic, or fear. These responses are not a sign of weakness or inadequacy, but rather a natural response to the situations we find ourselves in. 

What actually happens is that the brain regularly scans for threats in our environment. And when we experience something as stressful the information is filtered through our limbic system, the part that involves are behavioural and emotional responses. Next, the primal part of our brain, the amygdala, takes over and sends out an alert to the body, resulting in the release of cortisol (a stress hormone), adrenaline and oxytocin to suppress pain and promote survival. Our bodies go into this survival mode because it’s a natural response that can protect us in dire situations. However, when stress becomes a daily occurrence, these heightened responses can have long-term effects on our health.

What experts have discovered is that stress can have a significant impact on both our physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual health. If we are having an anxiety attack, our body's natural "fight or flight" response gets triggered, which can cause a range of physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, and difficulty breathing. These physical symptoms can be distressing and can lead to further anxiety and panic. We may become easily overwhelmed, have difficulty concentrating, or struggle to remember important details. Our cognition can become impaired, making it difficult to process thoughts and have good judgement. 

Feelings of anxiety can also manifest in various thinking patterns that exacerbate our stress. Unrealistic standards, all-or-nothing thinking and overgeneralizing can intensify feelings of inadequacy and keep us in a perpetual state of stress, even when we are safe and at home in our sweats. Constant stress can be frightening and lead to feelings of intense fear, panic, and helplessness. Over time it can impact our sleep and leave us feeling constantly on edge. We may find ourselves questioning our beliefs and values or struggling to find meaning in our life. We may also feel disconnected from our spiritual practices or community. 

As stress becomes a daily companion, its effects extend into our relationships with other people. Constant stress can hinder our ability to fully engage and create meaningful connections with others. When we are stressed or anxious, we may become more irritable, easily frustrated, and less patient. We may also find ourselves avoiding social situations or withdrawing from our social support network, isolating us from friends, family, and community. These can cause strains in our relationships and can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. As stress erodes our sense of connection and belonging, it can become increasingly difficult to foster healthy, supportive relationships, further exacerbating the cycle of stress and isolation. 

The funny thing is, even though caring for ourselves seems intuitive, it’s often the first thing we neglect in times of stress. However, what I’ve come to realize is that prioritizing your own needs after a stressful day is essential for long-term mental and physical health. It can involve these intentional acts of meeting any emerging needs you have as a result of your hectic day. These acts can include resting when you feel tired, talking about it as much as you want to, or finding a place or someone that feels safe and comforting to be around. When you take the time to do things that feel good for you, such as taking a bath, reading, or gentle stretching you are allowing your body to recover. It’s okay to give yourself permission to feel your emotions and the time and space to cope with what happened. You deserve to take care of your own needs before jumping into something else.

Enter the concept of a self-care plan: a structured framework designed to guide you in nurturing your mental and emotional well-being after a stressful day or week. This personalized routine can be a proactive step in reducing your stress over time. By having a self-care plan in place, we can quickly and easily access the tools we need to support our well-being and reduce the cognitive overload during stressful times. And by intentionally incorporating self-care strategies into our daily routine, we can build positive momentum to help us feel more resistant to and capable of managing stress.  

Self-care doesn't have to be something new or complicated – it can be something you are already doing, such as taking a walk, cooking a healthy meal, or reading a book. Sometimes, simply attending to basic needs like eating, drinking water, and sleeping can be incredibly impactful, as they lay the foundation for overall health and provide support for managing stress and anxiety. It’s also okay to say no to things that don't feel good or don't align with your needs. Remember not to force your body to do activities that you’re not comfortable with or that exhaust you. Finding strategies that work for us can take time and experimentation. The key is to be intentional about prioritizing yourself and making time for self-care, even when we may feel too busy or overwhelmed. By doing so, we can improve our overall quality of life and better manage the challenges that come our way.

Here’s the thing, self-care strategies can be categorized in various ways. Today, our focus will be looking at self-soothing, grounding and thought management strategies. Self-soothing techniques are designed to provide immediate comfort and relief during times of emotional distress. Grounding on the other hand, focus on anchoring us in the present moment and promoting a sense of safety and stability. Thought management strategies, which encompass practices such as cognitive restructuring and positive self-talk, foster the formation of new neural pathways, enhancing overall brain health and offering protection against neurodegenerative diseases. 

Here is a list of my top 10 self-soothing strategies to try:

1. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket: This can provide a sense of comfort and security when we're feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

2. Hug someone you love: Physical touch releases oxytocin, a hormone that can help us feel more relaxed and connected.

3. Take a warm bath: Soaking in a warm bath can help ease tense muscles and promote restfulness.

4. Get a foot massage: Massaging our feet can help reduce tension and stress throughout the body.

5. Cry: Shedding tears can be a healthy release of emotion and can help us feel more calm and centred.

6. Make yourself a warm drink: Sipping on a warm cup of tea or cocoa can help soothe our emotions.

7. Hug a heat pack: Applying heat to tense areas of the body can help reduce pain and promote relaxation.

8. Sunbathe: Spending time in the sun (either outside or by a window) can provide a sense of warmth and lightness. Imagining the sun erasing the pain and tension from our body can also be helpful.

9. Read: Diving into a good book can provide a healthy distraction from stress and increase tranquility.

10. Hydrate: Drinking water can help reduce stress and promote overall health and well-being.

Women hugging

Here is a list of my top 10 grounding strategies to try:

1. Try to breathe evenly: Focusing on our breath can help us feel more centered and calm. Trying to breathe evenly, without forcing the breath, can support our nervous system.

2. Try to lengthen your breath: Taking slow, deep breaths can help us feel more relaxed and calm. When we lengthen our breath it sends a message to the brain that we are safe because we have time to breathe. 

3. Box breathing: This technique involves inhaling for four counts, holding the breath for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding the breath for four counts. This can be repeated several times to regulate and feel more calm. You can also increase the length to your personal preference. 

4. Change positions when breathing: Experiment with different positions, such as lying down or sitting up straight, to find what works best for you. Focusing on the movement of your belly as you breathe can help you feel a sense of mindfulness and be present with yourself.

5. Name and label physical sensations: This can help us become more aware of our physical sensations and promote a sense of grounding and mindfulness because it helps you connect back to being in your body.

6. Create repetitive movements: Engaging in repetitive movements, such as tapping our fingers or rocking back and forth, can help regulate through the stress and ground yourself back to the present moment.

7. Push your feet into the ground or backside into the chair: This can provide a sense of stability and grounding.

8. Stretch or move: Physical movement can help release tension and promote overall wellbeing.

9. Scan the room and name five things within a theme: This can help us become more present and mindful of our surroundings. When we are mindful of our surroundings we send a message to our brain that we are in a safe place. 

10. Listen to music mindfully: Paying attention to different parts of the song, such as the vocals or different instruments, can help us become more present and mindful.

Woman reflecting at sunset

Here is a list of my top 10 thought management strategies to try:

1. Affirmations: These are positive statements that can help us shift our mindset and promote self-esteem. For example, "I am worthy of love and respect" or "I am capable of overcoming challenges."

2. Journaling: Writing down our thoughts and feelings can help us process our emotions and gain insights into our experiences.

3. Gratitude: Focusing on what we're grateful for can help shift our mindset towards positivity and promote feelings of well-being.

4. Writing a love letter to yourself: This can help promote self-love and self-acceptance.

5. Writing a thank you letter to your body: This can help promote body positivity and gratitude for our bodies' ability to keep us safe.

6. Using third person in self-talk: Talking to ourselves in the third person can help us gain distance from our thoughts and emotions and promote a sense of objectivity.

7. Reality-Testing: Begin to identify and acknowledge negative thoughts, by asking questions such as what is this thought telling me? Is it true? Is it helpful? What thoughts would be better? What thoughts honour me? When we take time to ask ourselves these questions can begin to challenge our negative thought patterns.

8. Try challenging tasks: engaging in activities that challenge our abilities can help to re-engage other parts of the brain that have been shut off due to stress. 

9. Visualize: By vividly picturing ourselves achieving success or experiencing feelings of peace and contentment, we can harness the power of our imagination to promote confidence and motivation. 

10. Try something new: exploring new experiences can help to stimulate creativity, curiosity and personal growth. 

In conclusion, taking care of ourselves after a stressful day is not merely a luxury but a necessity. It’s a way to ensure that we don’t just survive our weeks but we start to thrive. By practising self-care, seeking support, and taking the time we need, we can emerge from challenging situations stronger, wiser and more resistant to stress than ever before. Remember you are not alone in your struggles, so take some time to care for yourself and your well-being. The world is filled with challenges and uncertainties, but by acknowledging our common humanity and extending kindness to ourselves, we can improve our ability to attend to our emerging needs at the end of a stressful day. If you can find one thing to do for yourself after a tough day then you are truly taking care of yourself. Simple as that. 

Writing a love letter to yourself

When to Seek Help

While implementing self-care strategies is an essential step in taking care of ourselves, it is only one part of the solution for dealing with chronic stress and anxiety. Sometimes, we may need additional support to help us heal from trauma or cope with ongoing stressors. Seeking the help of a mental health professional can be a vital step in this process. A trained therapist can provide us with the tools and strategies we need to manage our anxiety and stress, as well as help us heal from past traumas. This additional support can be instrumental in helping us build the resilience we need to thrive in the face of adversity. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help when we need it, and by taking care of ourselves, we can overcome even the most challenging of situations.

Additionally seeking support from an Art Therapist after a stressful event can offer a range of benefits. An Art Therapist can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences through art-making. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who may have difficulty expressing themselves verbally or who may feel overwhelmed by their emotions. Additionally, Art Therapy can help individuals to develop coping skills and strategies for managing stress and trauma. The creative process can also be a source of relaxation and self-care, which can be important in promoting overall well-being. Finally, an Art Therapist can provide a compassionate and non-judgmental presence, which can be particularly important for individuals who may feel isolated or unsupported after a stressful event. Overall, seeking support from an Art Therapist can be a valuable tool in promoting healing and resilience after a stressful event.


In need of rejuvenation? Join us for The Art of Self-Care at the James Black Gallery as part of Jillian Bagan’s Queer Joy Project.


bottom of page