At times it may seem that there’s nothing you can do about stress and indeed it is an inevitable part of life. But you can in fact have more control over stress than you might think. The realisation that you’re in control of your life is the very foundation of stress management. Managing stress involves becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and the impact of your day to day life on the way you deal with problems.
Look at how you currently manage stress
It’s important to think about how you currently cope with stress in your life. Having a stress journal where you note each time you feel stressed, the causes of it and how you reacted to it can help you identify your coping mechanisms. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, effective or unproductive? Unhealthy and unproductive strategies usually do little to reduce your stress.
They often involve excessive worrying or avoidance of stress inducing situations. Healthy and effective strategies usually involve some element of problem-solving to help you better manage your stress. It is a natural, human reaction to cope with stress in ways such as smoking, drinking too much, overeating or under eating. In fact 40% of people suffering from stress in the US overeat or eat unhealthy foods. 44% of them also loose sleep. Unfortunately, while these strategies can give some short-term relief from or illusion of the same, they tend to make matters worse in the longer term.
Learning more effective ways to cope with stress
There are many techniques to help you to cope better with and manage stress but they all require a certain degree of change. You can either choose to change the situation or change your reaction. Since every individual has a unique response to stress there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing it. It also may vary depending on the situation so experiment with different techniques and go with what works for you.
Stress management technique no. 1 – limit unnecessary stress
Some stress just can’t be ignored, and it’s never a good idea to avoid an issue which needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
- Learn how to say no – both on a professional and personal level. You should never take on more than you can handle as this will be a definite recipe for stress.
- Cut down your to-do list – Analyse your schedule and prioritise your tasks by level of urgency.
- Limit the amount of time you spend with people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person and be more aware of your reaction to them. Your reaction is thankfully something you can control.
Take control of the situation – Identify how you can limit stress in a particular situation e.g. if grocery shopping makes you stressed do your grocery shopping at a less busy time or make a list. If driving to work stresses you out find a less busy route or cycle.
Stress management technique no. 2 - alter the situation
If you can’t limit stress of a particular situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future.
- Make your feelings known - instead of bottling them up - if something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment can build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- Be assertive - Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If a client in work gives you an unrealistic deadline be honest and firm with them and say you will need more time in order to adequately complete the task.
- Improve your time management - Poor time management can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. When you’re running behind on tasks it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
Stress management technique no. 3 - adapt to the stressor
If it’s not possible to change the situation try changing yourself.
You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by altering your expectations and attitude
- Reframe problems - Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to relax and enjoy some alone time.
- Look at the bigger picture - Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself in the grand scheme of things how important is this issue? Will you remember it in a week or months’ time? If the answer is no then focus your energy on important things.
- Adjust your expectations - Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive - When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
Stress management technique no. 4 - accept the things you can't change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t avoid or change certain stressful events such as a death of a loved one or a serious illness.
In these cases the best coping mechanism is acceptance.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable - Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behaviour of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the positives - As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Open up - Talk to a trusted friend face to face or make an appointment with a therapist. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very therapeutic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Make room for acceptance - Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to love it, like it, or want it but it is about making room for imperfection rather than constantly fighting against it. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Stress management technique no. 5 - make time for fun & adopt a healthy lifestyle
Beyond taking an assertive approach coupled with a positive attitude, you can also reduce and increase your resistance to stress by nurturing yourself and strengthening your physical health. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
- Set aside relaxation time - Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule and do something you enjoy every day such playing an instrument, playing with your pet or getting lost in a good book.
- Connect with others - Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
- Keep your sense of humour - This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body combat stress.
- Exercise regularly - Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Aerobic exercise is perfect for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
- Eat a healthy diet - Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Try to keep caffeine and sugar to a minimum as these can cause a crash in mood and energy levels. Well-balanced, nutritious meals will help keep your mind clear and focused throughout the day. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs which only further fuel anxious feelings and behaviour.
- Get enough sleep - Try to have between 7 and 8 hours sleep per night which helps to restore both body and mind. Feeling tired will only increase your stress levels as it may cause you to think irrationally.