Tools to Manage Stress
What is stress, you ask?
Stress is a feeling that's created when we react to particular events. It's the body's way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. It’s your body’s emotional and physical response to change.
We know that too much stress can be bad for you. It can affect both physical and mental health. It is also extremely personal: different people find different situations stressful, and also find that different ways of coping may be more or less helpful to them.
Stress is unavoidable. The goal isn’t to try to get rid of all stress. Rather, the goal is to learn to respond well to stress. This means balancing your daily stressors with the activities and attitudes that replenish the physical, mental, and emotional energy lost to stress.
Finding the best stress relief strategies may take some experimenting. Some strategies may take practice too.
Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on. No one can eliminate stress entirely, but we can learn to manage it better. How you think about and respond to daily situations determines whether you find them overwhelming or manageable. Below are a few techniques to help keep stress in check.
Stress Management Techniques
First and foremost, one of the most important steps in stress management is to identify different stressors. Without knowing specific life stressors, it can be difficult to make lifestyle modifications or behavioral changes. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life? (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control. Thus, learning effective stress management techniques will help an individual to expect the unexpected and accept what they cannot control.
Some stressors are self-inflicted, meaning that a person subconsciously or unconsciously brings stress on themselves. In those cases, stress management techniques will also train people to modify their thoughts and behaviors to decrease stress.
Manage Your Time
There is only so much time in a day, week, month or a year. Time and stress management go hand-in-hand for this reason. Effectively managing time is critical for decreasing stress levels. Tips for effectively managing time include:
Organize and plan life and work events ahead of time
Set clear and measurable goals (as well as predetermined deadlines for those goals)
Prioritize tasks and events
Plan time for interruptions and distractions
Devise a reward system for achieving goals or completing tasks
Getting Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress, and sleep is also affected by stress. This therefore creates a vicious cycle. Try to get into a good sleep routine. For example, make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work (and also avoid phones and other screens) several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
Be More Realistic About Your Capabilities
It is helpful to remember that most people underestimate how long it will take to do something, and overestimate how much they can do. This means that they end up taking on too much, and then failing to deliver. Develop the simple habit of doubling your time estimates for any task. You are then far more likely to under-promise and over-deliver. This will make everyone—including you—much happier than the other way round (if you over-promise and under-deliver).
Watch What You’re Thinking
Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best of stressful circumstances. Even if you're out of practice or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits.
Practice daily healthy habits including positive self-talk, physical activity, and asking for help when needed. Building resilience can help you bounce back from stress and challenges with minimal emotional upset.
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.
The good news is that taking intentional steps to manage and cope with stress works. When you step in and do things that help your body and mind rest and reset, you can prevent your physiological stress reaction from wreaking havoc on your entire being. With regular stress management, you can respond thoughtfully to challenges rather than reacting in a way that makes you feel worse.
Finding the best stress relief strategies may take some experimenting. Some strategies may take practice too. But it's important to keep looking for the tools that will help you manage life's inevitable ups and downs in a healthy way. Keeping stress at a manageable level is important for your overall well-being.