Stress is your bodies way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. In small doses, stress can motivate you to do your best and help you stay focused and alert. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed and frazzled more often than not, its time to take action to get your health back into balance. Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing an emotional threat from a physical threat, so a mountain of bills or a bad argument can have a similar effect on the body to a physical threat. If you tend to get stressed out frequently, your body may be experiencing chronic stress which can lead to a plethora of health problems. Chronic stress can have negative impacts on your immune system, your digestion, disrupt your sleep, cause skin conditions, increase your risk of heart attack or stroke and many other things. Stress can narrow your ability to think clearly, function effectively and enjoy life. Effective stress management can help you loosen the grip stress has on your life so that you can be happier, healthier and more productive. Ultimately, you want to work on a balanced life with time for work, relationships, relaxation and fun – and the learned resilience to withstand the pressure and meet challenges head on. There are many ways in which you can learn to manage the stress in your life, the following tips can help you get started.
Identify the source of stress in your life
This isn’t as straightforward as it may seem, while it is easy to identify major stresses such as going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. For example, you may know you are constantly worried about deadlines, but maybe it is your procrastination, rather than the actual responsibilities, that is causing you the stress. You may find you explain the stress away with ‘I’m just a little overwhelmed at the moment’ even though you can’t remember the last time you didn’t feel this way. Or you may blame your stress on external things such as other people or outside events. Until you can accept and take responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress levels will remain outside of your control. You may benefit from a stress journal to help identify the triggers for stress in your daily life.
Find suitable ways to manage stress
Avoid unnecessary stress
While it is not healthy to avoid stressful situations that need to be addressed, there may be a number of stressors in your life that you can easily avoid. First of all, learn to say ‘no’. Whether in your personal or professional life, taking on more than you can handle is bound to cause stress. Take control of your environment; if the news stresses you out, turn it off. If traffic stresses you out, allow yourself more time to take a less busy route. Go over your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. Drop any tasks that aren’t truly necessary to free up more time for the important tasks. Eliminate the stress from your life wherever possible.
Alter the situation
if you cannot avoid the situation, try to alter it in a way that will reduce your stress. For example, instead of letting your feelings bottle up, try to be more assertive and clear when things are bothering you. Open communication in a respectful way can help others understand your position in a situation. Be willing to compromise when having these conversations, when asking someone to change their behaviour you should be willing to do the same.
Adapt to the situation
Maybe you cannot change the stressor, but you can change yourself. Take perspective of the stressful situation, ask yourself how important it will be in a month, in a year? Rather than getting worked up in a traffic jam, view the situation as an opportunity to pause and enjoy some alone time. Learn to practice gratitude, when something is getting you down take a moment to reflect on the things you appreciate in life. This simple strategy can help keep things in perspective. Accept the situation that you are in, many things in life are out of your control – particularly the behaviour of other people. Focus on the things you can control and learn to accept the rest.
Exercise really does prompt the body to release feel-good hormones like endorphins which can help you feel less stressed. Stress can also cause you to subconsciously tense your muscles which exercise can help release. Taking time to move your body not only benefits the body physically but the time spent away from the daily stressors can help break the cycle of negative thoughts and improve your mental state.
Make time for fun and relaxation
beyond cultivating a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, setting aside time for fun and relaxation can help reduce your stress levels. Taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury and regularly making time for yourself can better set you up to handle life’s stressors. Do something you enjoy everyday, whether it be watching the sun set or working on your car. This is your time to take a break from demanding responsibilities and recharge.
Manage your time better
Poor time management is at the root of a lot of stress. It can be hard to remain calm and focused when you are overwhelmed with tasks. Furthermore, this will tempt you to cut back on your ‘me time’, socialising or getting enough sleep. Learn not to over commit yourself and prioritise your tasks. If you have a particularly unpleasant thing to do, get it over and done with early in the day.
Take home message
Stress can wreak havoc on the mind and body if not well maintained. It can contribute to the deterioration of relationships, careers and well being. It is in your best interest, and in your control, to take the lead in life and manage your stress levels. Remove any unnecessary stressors and utilise the coping mechanisms that work for you to to manage the stress you cannot avoid. If you are feeling overwhelmed and under stress, see your doctor to discuss an action plan tailored to you.