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7 Steps to Manage Stress and Build Resilience
As recent months have demonstrated, stress is unavoidable. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand stress and how we can manage it. While stress can be beneficial, too much of it can be harmful.
When the body senses a threat (or stressor), it goes on high alert, and once the threat passes, the body quickly recovers. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Stressors can include health matters, work, money, family issues, racism or gender inequality, and regular daily hassles. With unrelenting or too many stressors, your body might be on a constant state of high alert, leading to poor concentration, bad moods, professional burnout, and mental and physical health problems. When stress becomes chronic, the body cannot return to normal functioning. Chronic stress can be linked with health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety.
Stress affects women and men differently. Many conditions associated with stress — such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety — are more common in women than men.
Beyond sex and gender differences, there are individual differences, too. Some people are more resilient than others. Stress affects them less or more temporarily, and they might even perform better under stress. “There’s a saying, ‘It’s not how far you fall; it’s how high you bounce.’ For those of us who don’t bounce back so easily, there’s good news. Resilience, to some extent, can be learned and there are some simple, practical things that people can do that may make a noticeable difference,” says Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, Director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. Clayton explains that some resilient people might also develop a greater appreciation for their lives, family, friends or other matters after stress.
Stress management and resilience building are particularly important to the health of women. Here are several tips to help women as well as men:
- Recognize and counter signs of stress. Your body sends signals that it’s stressed, including difficulty concentrating, headaches, cold hands, tight muscles, a nervous stomach, clenched teeth, feeling on edge, fidgety, irritable or withdrawn. Knowing how your body communicates can help you deal with stressful moments. Learn to not only recognize but also to name these feelings, either to oneself or to a friend. Then, take action to counter their effects. For example, deep breathing, stretching, going for a walk, writing down your thoughts and taking quiet time to focus can help induce relaxation and reduce tension.
- Take time for yourself. Make taking care of yourself a daily routine. It’s not selfish or self-indulgent — and it might require saying “no” to requests or prioritizing yourself along with your responsibilities. Start with small changes in your routine to help build resilience to stressful circumstances. Work in time to exercise, eat healthy foods, participate in relaxing activities and sleep. In fact, including a regimen of exercise, which for some may include yoga or meditation, can be very important when feeling stressed. Also, take time to notice the “good minutes” in each day or to do something that you enjoy, such as reading a book or listening to music, which can be a way to shift your attention and focus on the positive rather than the negative.
- Try new routines. From scheduling bath and bedtimes to blocking off time to plan and prioritize tasks, additional structure can provide a daily framework that allows you to attune to your body’s signals. Then, you can take steps to potentially manage stress earlier than you once did.
- Stay connected and make new friends. Stay in touch with family, friends and groups in your life — technology makes this easier than ever. Having or being a person to talk with can be reassuring and calming. Using video features can enhance the connection in telecommunication or online communications for some people.
- See problems through a different lens. Experts call changing the way we think about and respond to stress “reframing.” View sitting in traffic or around the house as an opportunity to enjoy music, podcasts or pleasant views. Reduce anger in response to rude or aggressive behavior by imagining what might be happening in that person’s life. Keeping situations in perspective is an important way to boost stress resilience. Other steps include positive thinking and creating plans before you begin to resolve problems. You can practice reframing and get better at it over time.
- Seek help with problems. Many people experience the same day-to-day strains related to caregiving, relationships, health, work and money. Look to friends and family, as appropriate, or other trusted individuals or resources for tips and information.
- Talk to a health professional if stress is affecting your well-being, you feel you cannot manage the stress you’re experiencing, or stress has caused you to engage in or increase substance use. Seek appropriate care if stress is harming your relationships or ability to work. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Lifeline chat is a service available to everyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition, if you need help locating a mental health provider, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a site that can assist you at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov. People who have experienced traumatic stress (directly or indirectly experiencing life-threatening and dangerous events) should find a treatment provider who practices trauma informed care — see https://go.usa.gov/xvydm for details. Additionally, in times of disasters and other sorts of emergencies, the National Disaster Distress Helpline (Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TALKWITHUS” to 66746) can provide crisis counseling, emotional support and referrals to care related to disasters and public health emergencies.
Recognizing individual signals of a body’s stress responses and learning to respond to those signals in new ways can help build the emotional, intellectual and physical strength that comprise resilience, which can help you tackle future stressors.
By Prachi Petkar
Introduction to Stress Management Strategies
In these chaotic, uncertain, and rapidly changing times, stress management strategies are more important than ever. On a daily basis, our modern lifestyle is full of deadlines, pressures, and different frustrations. Let us understand what science describes stress.
Science of Stress
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Science defines “Stress as a state of mental or bodily tension caused by physical, emotional or mental factors”.Stress can be caused either by external or internal conditions/stressors. External causes of stress could be due to environmental, psychological, or social situations. Internal causes could be a result of medical conditions or any illness.
Why managing stress is vital?
Stress has a strong and lasting impact on peoples’ lives and can lead to adverse conditions. Apart from causing hurdles in personal space, it can have drastic consequences on one’s health, ability to function or perform properly at school or professional space. It can negatively take a toll on one’s energy levels, moods, and relationships/social life. The recent survey conducted by Gallup for the year 2018 revealed that people around the world are feeling increasingly stressed, worried, and are in pain than ever.
Considering the busy and hectic lifestyle in today’s time, the ever-increasing responsibilities and burdens have definitely fueled up the stressors. Therefore, ‘managing stress’ helps one to regain control over life.
Here are the symptoms of stress to consider and find ways to manage the same. So, don’t ignore the ‘stress alarms’ and get rid of them before it gets too late!
Stress Management Strategies requires the following steps:
- Firstly, identification of the root cause or source of stress
- Devise ways to reduce stress
- Create and implement techniques for managing stress
Stress Management Strategies/techniques
Here are a few tips on Stress Management Strategies to combat stress:
1. Mindfulness Meditation
This is the first Stress Management Strategy. One of the most widely used techniques across the world, ‘meditation’ offers relaxation to mind and body. It is a powerful technique to overcome stress. Based on deep breathing, meditation gives peace of mind and improved focus.
Regular work-out/exercise is good for the body and keeps stress levels in control. Physical activities like lifting weights, walking release stress-combating hormones and has contradictory effects of putting physical stress on the body and relieving mental stress. Regular exercise helps to effectively manage stress and reduce feelings of anxiety. ‘Yoga’ is one of the popular methods of stress management practiced across the globe by all age groups. Yoga helps to raise body and breath awareness and is a great stress buster. Many other physical activities such as Pilates, Tai Chi or sports help to effectively reduce stress.
This method uses soothing and pleasant images such as that of nature, and by visualizing a calming image and controlling breaths, it offers deep relaxation. It is a convenient method and easy to implement.
The majority of stress results from poor time management and planning. So, it is essential to create a timetable/schedule of tasks and prioritize them so as to effectively balance time and work.
The well-known saying, ‘Health is Wealth’, is so true as without taking good care of health, one cannot work properly. So, when it comes to managing stress, taking care of self is vital. One needs to maintain a healthy diet and take adequate sleep to function properly and to keep physical ailments at bay. Resorting to substance abuse such as alcohol or drugs should be prohibited as it further worsens stress. Thus, the role of a healthy lifestyle and good habits cannot be undermined in curbing stress.
6. Maintain a ‘Stress Diary.’
It is important to emit out the negative emotions, and one can write down all the negative feelings in a diary as a way to let them go. Also, listing down positive emotions would help to shift the attention, and one can think of memories to be grateful for. In this way, negativity is ward off and replaced by optimistic thoughts.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils/scents to treat one’s mood. So, the use of essential oils or aroma candles helps in reducing stress. Many research studies have shown that aroma oils having a calming effect and help in lowering anxiety and improving sleep.
8. Tune in to music
Researchers affirm that listening to calm and soothing music helps to lower down the heart rate and blood pressure, thus reducing ‘cortisol’, the stress hormone. Therefore, listening to good music is an easy escape to stress.
9. Reading Books
What better way to stay away from the stressors than picking up a good book to read. Reading improves concentration and keeps the mind away from stressful thoughts. It diverts the mind and thus is an effective method to lessen stress.
10. Socializing with friends and family
Being in the company of loved ones helps to relax and enables one to share their concerns or problems. This allows for freeing up the feelings and garnering emotional support. Studies reveal that socializing helps in the release of the hormone called ‘Oxytocin’, which is a stress reliever.
11. Get a Hobby
Getting your time into some good hobby like painting, dancing or fishing enables your mind to take a break from stressful thoughts and keeping it engaged. Thus, it not only acts as a de-stressor but also engages your mind to use the time productively.
12. Befriend Nature
Exposure to nature helps reduce anger, anxiety, and stress. Being in the company of nature enhances pleasant and positive feelings, thus, reducing stress hormones.
13. Consult a Psychologist/Counselor
Nowadays, many people seek professional help to manage stress. Therefore, seeking treatment or getting counseling sessions can also prove beneficial to manage stress.
14. Keep a positive mindset
Many times, ‘stress’ is a result of our own thoughts, and therefore, one has to train the mind to adopt a new perspective and develop a positive attitude. Self-affirmation takes away unnecessary stress. Although stress and feelings of worry can arise in personal and professional life, tackling stress by implementing the above-listed tips can help to keep the stressors away.
So, it is time to live more and worry less!
This is a guide to Stress Management Strategies. Here we have discussed the symptoms, steps, and Strategies or Techniques of Stress Management. You can also go through our other suggested articles to learn more –
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Stress is a normal part of our lives that can motivate us to accomplish projects that we might not otherwise pursue. Reacting to stress in a healthy way can give us the jump-start that we need to meet our deadlines, complete our school or work assignments, and to look for effective solutions to our problems. Rather than wasting time ruminating over the pressures we face, we are able to view life’s many challenges as opportunities to learn and to grow.
For many people, however, constant worry can become a serious problem, leading to both mental and physical health issues. Our causes of stress can include, among others, high demands at work, family problems, financial difficulties, traumatic events, divorce, illness, or the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, many people deal with these types of issues in unhealthy ways by overeating, drinking or using drugs, excessive caffeine consumption, becoming a workaholic, or developing chronic anxiety or depression.
In order to deal with stress in a healthy manner, we need to implement some self-care strategies into our lives. The following are some effective ways of reducing the stress we face on a daily basis:
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- Create a healthy work-life balance. If you are a workaholic constantly trying to complete the next project, learn to set some limits for yourself. Technology often allows us to continue to work even after we’ve gone home for the day. We need to learn to establish healthier boundaries, however, in order to avoid becoming burned out or getting sick. Determine a cutoff time for work so that you can decompress at the end of the day and enjoy some much-needed leisure time. Learning more effective time-management strategies can also be helpful.
- Establish your priorities. If you find yourself with too many commitments and not enough time to get them all done, take time out to consider which ones can be delegated or eliminated and keep only the ones that are most important for you.
- Include self-care practices in your daily routine. Make sure you incorporate some time in your schedule each day to nourish your body and soul. Even if you have only a few moments to spare, you can enjoy a warm bath, listen to relaxing music, or watch the sunset.
- Engage in a physical activity several times a week. Going for a jog or working out are great ways to get rid of excessive stress. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, take a walk around the block on your lunch hour. Moving our bodies can keep us physically fit and healthier, which can make us feel better emotionally as well.
- Spend some time in nature whenever possible. A change of scenery is always helpful for changing our viewpoint about whatever is troubling us. Enjoying a trip to the park, watching the waves at the beach, or gazing at the stars are all wonderful ways to commune with nature that can help us to put our problems into perspective.
- Avoid emotional eating. When we feel stressed out, we often have a tendency to try to comfort ourselves by eating unhealthy foods, which only leads to negative feelings about ourselves afterward. Become more mindful of your eating habits when you are dealing with pressure, and have some healthy snacks on hand to fall back on rather than reaching for another doughnut or cookie.
- Limit time spent on social media. When you have already spent a full day at work, try to avoid spending too much of your leisure time connected to yet another computer or device. Allow yourself to connect with your friends on social media for a limited amount of time each day and then unplug and unwind. Many people spend too much of their time online, which contributes to their already stressful days.
- Practice meditation or relaxation techniques. Start a meditation practice, which can lead to lowered stress levels and a sense of greater equanimity. If sitting in meditation feels too daunting for you, practicing relaxation for 10 minutes a day can bring about many healing benefits for your mind and body. Numerous relaxation CDs are available to help you get started.
- Be creative! Once a week, try to set aside some time to do a hobby or other activity that you enjoy. Exercising our creative muscles is enjoyable and can also help to generate new ideas and solutions to problems you may be dealing with.
Stress is an ongoing issue that we all have to deal with. If we do not find healthy ways in which to handle our daily pressures, they may end up taking a toll on our physical and mental health. If you have tried some or all of the suggestions listed above and are still having difficulties dealing with stress, you may want to consider talking to an empathic other, whether this be a friend, family member, or therapist, in order to obtain the help needed to start to experience a more peaceful frame of mind, even in the midst of an otherwise hectic life.
According to research from the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of UK adults have reported feeling so stressed over the last year that they couldn’t cope. That research also found that 65% of adults have felt more stressed since COVID-19 restrictions began. To increase awareness of those staggering statistics, Stress Awareness Month kicks off on 1 April. Its aim is to highlight the fact that stress is a public health crisis, and it’s one that we don’t pay enough attention to.
The theme of this year’s Stress Awareness Month is Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control. Everyone has busy lives juggling multiple things, like learning, work and family time, but it’s important to think about what you can do to make positive behavioural changes and better manage your stress. We’ve rounded up eight things you can do to build a time management plan, get a better handle on your schedule, and hopefully reduce your overall stress.
Prioritise and sort your tasks
Before you start working on anything, group your tasks into four categories:
- urgent and important
- not urgent, but still important
- urgent, but not important
- not urgent and not important
You can identify urgent tasks as ones that have to be done right away to avoid a bigger problem, like paying your bills. Important tasks are ones that having meaning to you, like spending time with friends and family and exercising. Not important tasks are things you need to do, but don’t really matter in the long run.
After you’ve sorted your tasks, focus on activities that are not urgent but still important. If you can allocate time to those, you can keep them from crossing into the urgent category. That’s the most important bit, because if you have less urgent tasks, you’ll be less overwhelmed. Also, think about redirecting your time to the activities that are important to you, and the things that reflect your values and priorities.
Map everything out
If you find yourself suddenly realising it’s 4 p.m., and you’re not sure where the day went, you’re not alone. It’s a super common time management problem, and so many of us overestimate the amount of time we have and underestimate how long it’s going to take us to do something. To mitigate that, put together a careful schedule for yourself, and write down everything you need to do, and how long each task will take based on how long similar tasks have taken you in the past. Take on a “one in, one out” system and don’t add anything new to your list until you’ve completed one thing that’s already on it.
The less you want to do something, the more likely you are to avoid it. That can add up to stress, so reduce your procrastination by:
- keeping lists and sticking to them
- breaking up bigger tasks in to more manageable, smaller ones
- set timers to help you stick to your schedule
- set shorter-term deadlines
- avoid perfectionism, and just do your best to get the task done
If you find yourself slipping back into procrastination, try not to be too hard on yourself. It’s easy to get distracted, and maybe you need some time to reset (more on that later).
Be realistic with your time, and don’t be afraid to say no
Sometimes, letting something go isn’t a bad thing. You need to focus on what’s important to you and your own development, and recognise that you can’t do everything. People who experience a lot of stress tend to over promise, take on too many things and rarely say no. Be realistic about what you have time to do, and if you truly do not have the energy or space to commit to something, don’t be afraid to say no.
Don’t be afraid to delegate
Can’t say no, but don’t have time? Be prepared to delegate. If you know something you’ve been asked to do is someone else’s responsibility, pass it along to them. If you have a support system, either in your personal or professional life, share the responsibilities among those people who are able and willing to help you out. You might want complete control over a task, but it’s important to understand that the stress of a snowballing to-do list might not be worth it.
Focus on results
Again, allowing something to fall off your to-do list isn’t always a bad thing. If you have good time management skills, that typically means you’re producing high-quality work, not necessarily a huge amount of work. Rather than focusing on your busy you are, focus on your results. If you’ve only done two or three things that day, but you’ve done them all very well, that’s a win, and you can tackle your other tasks tomorrow.
Breaks are super important, and missing out on them can be counter-productive. Taking just 30 minutes away from your desk can help you reset, and be more effective when you come back. Go for a walk, have a snack, or spend time with your family, and work that break into your schedule so you can’t miss it. Along with regular breaks during the week, take larger breaks in the way of holidays, too. Again, you need time away to reset, refresh, and come back to your work and daily tasks better prepared for success.
Plan to unwind at the end of the day
Much like taking breaks and time off, having a plan to let yourself reset at the end of each day and give your brain a break is so important. It’s extra important right now as many of us are still working from home. Whether you unwind through time with your family, time to exercise, or time to yourself, give yourself a hard stop at the end of the day, stick to it, and take a complete break from everything on your to-do list.
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Work-life balance is adjusting your day-to-day activities to achieve a sense of balance between work life and personal life. Some benefits of a healthy work-life balance include:
- reduced stress levels, at work and at home
- greater focus and concentration
- higher levels of job satisfaction
- the opportunity to participate more fully in family and social life
- more time to pursue personal goals and hobbies
- improved health.
How to maintain good work-life balance?
Balancing the demands of a busy lifestyle is not an easy thing to do, but is best managed by regularly reviewing and assessing your priorities.
Here are a few ideas to help you strike a good work-life balance:
- Set goals around what you value highly
- Manage your time effectively—review job activities, priorities and success factors
- Create a boundary between balancing work and personal time-leave work at work where possible
- Build resilience and have a positive attitude
- Avoid stress, mental exhaustion and burnout—fatigue affects your ability to work productively
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle—look after yourself, eat well, sleep well and set aside a little time to exercise or pursue an activity that you enjoy
- Enlist a good support system—learn to delegate, we all need a little help sometimes
- Enjoy your work.
What is stress?
Everyone experiences stress at some stage in their life. It is a way for us to know that something in our life is causing us concern and is affecting how we are thinking and feeling.
Stress is not always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best, but when you are constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
Signs and symptoms of stress
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Memory problems
- Can’t concentrate
- Low attention span
- Poor judgement
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Easily upset or hurt
- Irritability or short temper
- Agitation, unable to relax or keep still
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of loneliness and isolation
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Tightness in muscles
- Aches and pains
- Headaches, trembling, sweating
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of sleep, dreams, nightmares
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating yourself from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).
These signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you experience any of these, it is important to see your doctor—as they can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.
Causes of stress
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. There are 2 types of stressors:
- external (where outside forces act on us)
- internal (self-generated, we have some control over it).
External causes of stress
- Major life changes
- Relationship difficulties
- Financial problems
- Being too busy
- Children and family.
Internal causes of stress (self-generated)
- Inability to accept uncertainty
- Negative self-talk
- Unrealistic expectations
- Lack of assertiveness.
How to manage stress
Managing stress is about making a plan to be able to cope effectively with daily pressures. The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between life, work, relationships, relaxation and fun. By doing this you are more able to deal with daily stress triggers and meet these challenges head on.
Some strategies that can help you look after your mind and body, and in turn help you to better control behaviours that result from too much stress include:
- Know your stress triggers
- Recognise early warning signs and symptoms and act on them to reduce stress
- Practise relaxation techniques or meditation
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet
- Exercise regularly—aim for at least 30 minutes every day
- Get enough sleep—aim for around 8 hours every night.
- Try to worry less about things you can’t control, and make plans for dealing with the things you can control
- Set small, manageable and achievable goals
- Apply problem-solving techniques—identifying the problem, clarifying its nature and map out options for dealing with it
- Choose to have a positive attitude
- Think positively about yourself and your achievements
- Take time out to visualise a calm and peaceful place
- Compete against yourself, not those around you and aim for your personal best
- Develop, keep and use your sense of humour.
- Plan and organise ahead to allow enough time to get tasks done
- Use ‘to do’ lists and set priorities to help you achieve your goals
- Be open and honest with people, rather than hiding your thoughts and feelings
- Seek guidance and support when you are feeling stressed
- Create a balanced lifestyle for yourself and allow time for recreation and relaxation
- Reward yourself when you reach your achievements and goals
- Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
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We all have stress — at work, at home, and on the road. Sometimes we can feel especially stressed because of a bad interaction with someone, too much work, or everyday hassles like getting stuck in traffic.
Negative stress can keep you from feeling and performing your best — mentally, physically and emotionally. But no one’s life is completely stress-free. It’s important to know how to manage the stress in your life. Try these three simple techniques for dealing with it.
1. Positive Self-Talk
Let’s be honest, we all talk to ourselves! Sometimes we talk out loud but usually we do it in our heads. Self-talk can be positive (“I can do this” or “everything will be OK”) or negative (“I’ll never get better” or “I’m so stupid”). Negative self-talk increases stress. Positive self-talk can help you calm down and control stress. With practice, you can learn to shift negative thoughts to positive ones. For example:
Negative to Positive
“I can’t do this.”> “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this.”
“Everything is going wrong.” > “I can handle this if I take one step at a time.”
“I hate it when this happens.” > “I know how to deal with this; I’ve done it before.”
“I feel helpless and alone.”> “I can reach out and get help if I need it.” “I can’t believe I screwed up. > “I’m human, and we all make mistakes. I can fix it.”
To really make it work, practice positive self-talk every day — in the car, at your desk, before you go to bed or whenever you notice negative thoughts. It’s a great practice to teach kids, too!
2. Top 10 Emergency Stress-Stoppers
Emergency stress stoppers are actions to help you defuse stress in the moment. You may need different stress stoppers for different situations, and sometimes it helps to combine them. Here are some ideas:
- Count to 10 before you speak or react.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths until you feel your body un-clench a bit.
- Go for a walk, even if it’s just to the restroom and back. It can help break the tension and give you a chance to think things through.
- Try a quick meditation or prayer to get some perspective.
- If it’s not urgent, sleep on it and respond tomorrow. This works especially well for stressful emails and social media trolls.
- Walk away from the situation for a while, and handle it later once things have calmed down.
- Break down big problems into smaller parts. Take one step at a time, instead of trying to tackle everything at once.
- Turn on some chill music or an inspirational podcast to help you deal with road rage.
- Take a break to pet the dog, hug a loved one or do something to help someone else.
- Work out or do something active. Exercise is a great antidote for stress.
3. Stress-Busting Activities
Doing things you enjoy is a natural way to relieve stress and find your happy place. Even when you’re down, you may find pleasure in simple things like going for a walk, catching up with a friend, or reading a good book.
When stress makes you feel bad, do something that makes you feel good, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes. Some of these activities may work for you:
- Make art — draw, color, paint, or play a musical instrument.
- Work on a scrapbook or photo album to focus on good memories.
- Read a book, short story or magazine.
- Meet a friend for coffee or a meal.
- Play a favorite sport like golf, tennis, or basketball.
- Do a hobby like sewing, knitting, or making jewelry.
- Play with your kids or pets – outdoors if possible.
- Listen to music or watch an inspiring performance.
- Take a walk in nature.
- Take a relaxing bath and feel the stress wash away.
- Meditate or practice yoga.
- Work in the garden or do a home improvement project.
- Go for a run or bike ride to clear your head.
The key is to find your groove and make it a practice. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you may start to feel better once you disrupt the cycle of stress.
We tend to think of stress as an uncontrollable, all-powerful monster that manages to creep into every aspect of our life, no matter how hard we work and how much we try to keep it all under control. Stress management involves more than simple logic; you know very well that stressing about not spending enough time with your kids won’t give you more hours, but you do it nonetheless.
Stress management is an acquired skill you can learn and use to make your life a bit less nerve-wracking and more enjoyable.
The two main pillars of stress management are control and prevention. Of course it’s not always the case that you can control and prevent stress, which is why many people focus on the third approach to stress instead, that of learning to cope with it. However, it is possible to become so good at reducing and preventing stress that you won’t have to cope with it anyway!
Stress is generally identified as the everyday challenges or even risks we need to take or endure. A stressor is a stress trigger: a person, situation or even object that stresses you out.
When it comes to efficient stress management, the answer is to first focus on stress elimination, achieving a state of well-being that is impervious to any external stressors, like fractious children or a looming deadline.
Stress is Controllable
To reduce stress is to understand that the any stress-triggering threat is within your power to control and tackle.
The pressure you might feel when you’re giving a presentation causes your heart to race and your palms to sweat. This is a natural, automatic reaction of your body to an imminent threat, and it’s the instinctive survival-oriented response you engage in when you feel threatened that is commonly known as the fight or flight response. It’s characterized by an increased heart rate and blood pressure, pupil dilation, blood sugar level increase, muscle tension and even shutdown of the immune system.
Identifying Stress Triggers and Dealing With Them
As we said, our fight or flight response is instinctive. However, your reaction can be controlled if you learn to anticipate stressful situations. To discover your personal stress triggers, introspection is necessary. You need to:
- Identify or forecast your stressors, learning and recognizing the habits, behaviours, emotions, people and reactions that make you feel overwhelmed with stress
- Understand your accountability, and realize your responsibility for nurturing and perpetuating stress in your life, which will make you see that stress is never entirely beyond your control
- Reduce your negative stress-dealing habits, such as smoking, drinking, overeating, emotional suppression, and procrastination
Once you know what stresses you out, that stress becomes controllable. If the things that are stressful make you engage in harmful activities, it’s time to deal with them.
You can avoid getting stressed by staying away from upsetting situations and people or thinking of positive or motivating words to say to yourself. Having a wide vocabulary will be helpful in this kind of situation so consider software like Vocab1 to help you in this aspect. Knowing what makes you stressed will allow you the time to work out the circumstances for avoiding altogether a stressful situation or minimizing its negative impact.
If you cannot avoid a stress trigger, see if you can change it. For instance, if meeting your spouse’s parents makes you nervous, try engaging with them in less threatening situations, like seeing them only in larger gatherings and not at four-people formal dinners.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
Stress is Unavoidable
If you cannot change the stress trigger then you need to accept that the stressor is inevitable; for example, you will from time to time have to interact with your spouse’s parents.
Accepting the inevitability of your stress trigger places you in a must-deal-with-it mindset. The only way out is always through, as Robert Frost would say.
Accept the fact that the stress trigger is unavoidable and try looking for any positive aspects in the situation. Speaking up and articulating how the situation is making you feel will also help you realize that despite stress being unavoidable, it is always controllable.
Turning Stress Into Productive Energy
Instead of bottling up stress, try to release it – but learn to release it productively. Stressors instinctively put us in an alert state in which our pupils dilate and our body is filled with action-ready hormones. This is an ideal readiness situation which, if channelled constructively, can help you achieve great things. If a deadline stresses you out, making you feel uneasy and restless, you can turn that otherwise paralysing energy into constructive power for working towards completing your project.
When you learn to harness the power of stress, it increases your mental clarity, floods you with energy, and sharpens your judgement and acuity. This makes for the ideal circumstances for being productive and action-oriented. Since stress activates your body’s survival mode, it’s up to you to use it effectively rather than allowing it to paralyse you.
A research paper titled “Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response” has been recently published. As the paper describes, the psychologists conducting three different studies confirm that how you think about stress (your “stress mindset”) is an important variable that determines how you will ultimately deal with it. If you consider stress a situation which can be productive, creative, and results-oriented then your attitude towards stress will also be positive and constructive.
Learning how to manage your stress will benefit your health and optimize the outcome of every day.
In the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report… Stress Management – Approaches for preventing and reducing stress, they highlight mini-relaxations for quick stress relief, meditation, breath focus, guided imagery and visualisation and creating your own personalized stress-relief plan.
In this week’s blog we will focus on the highlights of creating your own personalized stress-relief plan.
The report suggests that your first step is to write down “your personal stress warning signs” and think about how stress affects you personally. Whenever you notice these symptoms, take a moment to do the following:
Stop and breathe. Can you identify a special stressful event?
Reflect. What were your automatic thoughts? Write these down. Were there any distortions?
Choose. Ask yourself: is there another way to think about this situation? Can you use an affirmation? What steps can you take to reduce your stress levels?
Notice how you feel now and write it down. Congratulate yourself for coping with the situation better.
By creating your own specific plan for stress management and working your plan, you will create habits that can re-wire your brain pathways to respond to stressors in your life in a much different way. You can then gain mastery over your stress.
Create a tracking page with headings:
Key tasks; This week I will action; Specific days and times set aside; What I noticed
My changed patterns of how to appraise and respond:
Key tasks; This week I will action; Specific days and times set aside; What I noticed
Practice better listening skills and be more assertive:
Key tasks; This week I will action; Specific days and times set aside; What I noticed
Create “nurturing yourself me time”:
Key tasks; This week I will action; Specific days and times set aside; What I noticed
Remember to work your plan and give it time to take effect.
If you would like to immerse yourself in two days of creating your own unique Stress Management Toolkit then join us at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 24 & 25 October for the final Stress to Strength Experience Workshop this year. We have a fantastic team of qualified Stress Management Practitioners who will guide and mentor you through the processes. Plus you’ll have lots of fun and go home relaxed and de-stressed.