Do you feel constantly under pressure? Are your work deadlines taking a toll on you? Do you find yourself being anxious and on edge in your relationship? Do you experience headaches often? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are undergoing stress.
Stress has taken over our lives. The alarming rates of competition, job insecurity, and conflicts at a personal level all give rise to stress. Stress is the reaction of our body and mind to the demands placed on us. To a certain extent, stress is normal and useful and helps us to react quickly or work hard to meet a deadline.
However, if the stress is prolonged or occurs often, it results in negative effects like upset stomach, back pain, headache, and disturbed sleep. It also has an adverse effect on our mood and may hamper our relationships and career. This is when we need to take certain steps in order to manage stress.
The first step – find what is causing your stress
The most important thing you should do when combating stress involves finding the source of stress in your life. This can be done by keeping a stress journal.
Keeping a stress journal entails recording information about the daily stressors you are experiencing in order to analyze and manage them. Here are a few things you would want to record:
- The stressful event you have experience
- Your feelings after the even
- How did you handle the event?
After you have recorded in your journal for a number of days, it’s time to analyze it. For the analysis, look at the different stressful events you have experienced. Highlight those that occur frequently as well as those which are the most unpleasant. Then, appraise how you have felt after these events as well as how you handled them. Your analysis will reveal several problems regarding your handling of these events that need to be fixed. It will be helpful to list these areas separately to work on them later.
Then shift your focus to the stressful events you experienced and list ways in which they can be changed or if your reaction to them can be changed. Finally, analyze the feelings these events arose in you and how did that affect your overall functioning.
Once you have fully identified the common sources of stress in your life and analyzed your pattern of handling them, you can discontinue managing your journal and move onto the next step.
The second step – avoid situations that cause stress
Avoiding all situations that are causing you stress might not be possible, but avoiding some will be. For example, avoid people who stress you out. Limit the time you spend with them. Of course, this can’t be done if it’s a spouse or a family member.
Having too many deadlines and taking on too many roles is a cause of stress. Learn to be assertive and say no. Know your limits and say ‘no’ to taking on more than you can handle.
Take control of your environment. Avoid the traffic-filled route or hire someone to clean the house for you if you find it stressful.
The third step – change the stressful situation
If there is no way to avoid a stressful situation, try to make changes and decrease the amount of stress that way. For example, play your favorite music while doing an unpleasant chore like cleaning to make it seem more pleasurable.
Manage your time better. Poor time management leads to a lot of stress. Planning ahead ensures you are on time on your deadlines and you lose a reason to be stressed.
Express your feelings. Talk it out instead of keeping it inside. If you want some me-time, tell your spouse you want to be by yourself for __ number of minutes and will get back right after that. If something is bothering you, be upfront about it without being rude and express how you feel about it. For example, if your spouse is not throwing out the garbage, a duty they initially assumed, calmly approach them and say ‘I feel stressed when the garbage is still there and I feel like I have one more task to attend to before sleeping.’
Balance it out. Asking someone to change their behavior also involves doing something for them in exchange. Or when you are taking on their duties, you might want to give them one of yours. For example, in the above situation, you can add, ‘When we divided the duties earlier, we had decided you will do it. Do you want to continue doing it or exchange it for another?’
The fourth step – change your reactions
You may not be able to control stressful situations and events, but you can control the way you are reacting to them. Try looking at stressful situations from a positive perspective. For example, if an added responsibility at work stresses you out, think of how it will add to your learning and you can add an extra set of skill experience to your resume.
Take out your binoculars. The situations cause us stress because we are looking at merely the present scenario. However, if we zoom out and see the whole picture, it might not seem as bad. Think of how much this event is important? Will it matter in a month or a year? Is it worth wasting your time over? For example, this might be applicable when a colleague has pointed out your mistake in a monthly review meeting. You feel bad about it and get stressed that it will affect your reputation at work. Thinking about how many people will remember it till the next meeting or how important that colleague’s view is for you should help reduce the stress.
Set lower expectations. When we expect a lot from both ourselves and others, we set ourselves up for failure. Stop demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards.
The fifth step – accept what cannot be changed
Some situations and people are beyond our control. Focusing on these uncontrollable events will only lead to more stress. You need to shift your focus to things you can control instead. For example, if a family member’s behavior often causes you to be angry and your umpteen efforts at changing him/her have proved futile, it would be best to change the way you react to him/her. Don’t give him/her the power to decide your emotions.
Look at difficult situations in a new light. View them as ways to grow and learn.
Humans are fallible and prone to mistakes. Forgive and let go of resentment.
The sixth step – find ways to de-stress
Find strategies that work for you when you are stressed. Some of these may be:
- Playing with a pet
- Writing about things that are bothering you
- Talking to a friend
- Indulging in a hobby
- Going for a walk
- Taking a long, leisurely bath
- Watching a comic video
- Practicing relaxation techniques or yoga
Set aside time for yourself during the day. Indulge in things you enjoy doing.
The seventh step – practice healthy lifestyle choices
Eat a nutritious, balanced diet. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Reduce caffeine, oil, and sugar from your diet. Get enough restful sleep. Drink sufficient water daily to keep yourself hydrated.
This will help you feel better physically and emotionally. Take care of yourself; it’s the number one thing stress hates.
Elkin, A. (2013). Stress management for dummies. John Wiley & Sons.
Romas, J. A., & Sharma, M. (2013). Practical Stress Management: A Comprehensive Workbook. Pearson Higher Ed.
Tol, W. A., Barbui, C., & van Ommeren, M. (2013). Management of acute stress, PTSD, and bereavement: WHO recommendations. JAMA, 310(5), 477-478.