Stress is what you feel when you have to deal with more than you are used to. Although some stress is normal and may even be useful, helping you to work hard or react quickly when you need to, if it happens too often or lasts too long, stress can be harmful. Stress can lead to headaches, stomach ache, sleeping problems, a weakened immune system, and depression. It can also negatively affect relationships and work life.
Stress management involves identifying, controlling and reducing tension by making emotional and physical changes.
Identify the sources of stress in your life
The first step towards reducing your stress is to identify the sources of stress in your life. These may not always be obvious, so look closely at your habits, attitudes and excuses:
- Do you think of stress as an integral part of your life? For example, do you feel that things are just always busy at home, or that you just have a lot of nervous energy because that's your personality?
- Do you explain stress away as just a temporary situation, even though you can't remember when last you had time to relax?
- Do you blame your stress on outside events or other people?
- Do you think stress is normal?
Keeping a stress journal may help you to identify stressors. Writing down what caused your stress, how you felt (physically and emotionally), how you reacted and what you did to make yourself feel better may help you to see common themes and patterns.
Examine how you currently cope with stress
Take the time to work out whether your current coping strategies are healthy and helpful. Unfortunately many people turn to counter-productive ways to cope, including smoking, drinking too much, over- or under-eating and withdrawing from friends and family.
Fortunately there are many healthy ways to cope with stress. Bear in mind that no single way works for everyone, so experiment with different techniques to find the strategy that works best for you.
Stress Management: The Four A's
The Four A's are a helpful tool when learning how to cope with stress: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept. Let's look at each one in more depth
Avoid the stressor
Although not all stress can and should be avoided, there are a number of stressors that you can eliminate:
- Learn to say "No". Know your limits and refuse to take on more than you can manage.
- Stay away from people who stress you. Limit the amount of time you spend with someone who causes you stress, or end the relationship.
- Take control of your environment. For example, turn off the news if you find it stressful to watch, and find ways to avoid heavy traffic if that is your stressor.
- Avoid topics that upset you. If you often argue with others about a certain issue such as politics, do not bring it into the conversation, or excuse yourself if the topic comes up.
- Shorten your to-do list. Analyse your list of daily tasks and responsibilities and decide on what must be done and what can wait or does not need to be done.
Alter the situation
If you can't avoid a stressful situation, see if you can change it:
- Speak up: if someone or something is bothering you, communicate this in an open, respectful way. Bottling up your feelings will only build resentment and will not change the situation.
- Be willing to compromise: if you ask someone to change, be willing to do the same. Compromise improves your chances of finding a happier middle ground.
- Be assertive: remember that it is your life, so don't take a backseat.
- Manage your time well: poor time management causes a lot of stress, so rather plan ahead and don't overextend yourself.
Adapt to the stressor
If you can't change the stressor, you need to learn how to adapt to it by changing your expectations and attitude:
- Reframe problems: see how you can turn a problem into an opportunity by trying to view the situation in a more positive way.
- Look at the big picture: take a step back to regain perspective. Ask yourself how important this particular stressful situation will be a week, a month or a year from now.
- Adjust your standards: don't demand perfection of yourself or others, it will only lead to stress. Be happy with 'good enough'.
- Focus on the positive: when you feel stressed, take a little time to think about all the good things in your life.
- Adjust your attitude: eliminate words like always, never, should and must, and remember that how you think, positively or negatively, has an enormous effect on your health.
Accept the things you can't change
Some stressors are unavoidable, and though it may be hard to accept them, doing so will be easier in the long run than fighting against something you cannot change:
- Focus on how you react to a problem rather than the problem itself.
- Look for the good in every situation, finding opportunities and learning from your mistakes.
- Talk to others: sharing your feelings with a family member, friend or therapist can help to ease stress.
- Learn to forgive: letting go of your anger frees you from stress and helps you to move on.
Other Stress Management Tools
You can also lower the amount of stress in your life by making time to relax and by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Some ideas include:
- Connect with others: spend time with people who enhance your life, and build a strong support system that can help you through stressful times.
- Make time to relax: schedule time to unwind every day and do something you enjoy, such as going for a walk, reading a book, soaking in a bath or doing yoga.
- Maintain a sense of humor: laughing helps your body to fight off stress, so look for the funny side of situations and learn to laugh at yourself too.
- Exercise regularly: physical activity is vital in reducing stress and preventing its negative effects.
- Follow a healthy diet: eat foods that improve your health and well-being as a well nourished body copes better with stress.
- Avoid self medicating: alcohol, smoking and other drugs may provide an east escape, but their effects are only temporary and often lead to greater problems later on.
- Get enough sleep: feeling tired adds to your stress, so make sure you get plenty of rest.
- Learn about various relaxation techniques: meditation, guided imagery and self-hypnosis are all tools that may help you to relax and lessen your stress.
- Stress is what you feel when you have to deal with more than you are used to.
- Although some stress is normal, if it happens too often or lasts too long, it can be harmful.
- Stress management involves identifying, controlling and reducing tension by making emotional and physical changes.
- The first step towards reducing your stress is to identify the sources of stress in your life.
- Take the time to work out whether your current coping strategies are healthy and helpful.
- The Four A's are a helpful tool when learning how to cope with stress: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
- You can also lower the amount of stress in your life by making time to relax and by adopting a healthy lifestyle.