Sometimes things may seem out of control and that there’s nothing you can do about the stress you are experiencing. However, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation for managing stress. Stress management is all about taking charge: of your lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. No matter how stressful your life seems, you can make changes to enhance your functioning. Managing stress is important because chronic arousal is known to wreak havoc on your emotional and physical health. Effective stress management helps break the hold stress has on your life, so that you can be happier and healthier. Here are some steps that you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control:
Step #1 – Identify the source of your stress
This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. While it’s easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or a going through a divorce, pinpointing the sources of chronic stress can be more complicated. It’s all too easy to overlook how your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to your everyday stress levels. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work or school deadlines, but maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job or academic demands, that is causing the stress.
Tip: Keep a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
- What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure)
- How you felt, both physically and emotionally
- How you acted in response
- What you did to make yourself feel better
Step #2 – Practice the four A’s – Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept
While stress is an automatic response from your nervous system, some stressors arise at predictable times—your commute to work, a meeting with your teacher or coach, or family gatherings, for example. When handling such predictable stressors, you can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose in any given scenario, it’s helpful to think of the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Avoid unnecessary stress
This may mean you may have to learn to say “no,” avoid or limit the time you spend with people who stress you out, take control of your environment, and pare down your to-do list.
Alter the situation
Try to express your feelings appropriately instead of bottling them up, be willing to compromise, and create a balanced schedule.
Adapt to the stressor
Look to reframe problems (try to view the problem from a more positive perspective), try to see the big picture, adjust your standards or expectations, and practice gratitude.
Accept the things you cannot change
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable, look for the upside, learn to forgive, and share your feelings with others.
Step #3 – Get moving!
When you’re stressed, the last thing you probably feel like doing is getting up and exercising. But physical activity is a huge stress reliever—and you don’t have to be an athlete or spend hours in a gym to experience the benefits. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good and enhance your mood, and physical activity can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries.
While you’ll get the most benefit from regularly exercising for thirty minutes or more, it’s okay to build up your fitness level gradually. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day. The first step is to get yourself up and moving. Try fun activities like dancing, walk your dog, walk or ride a bike to the store, use the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator, park your car in the farthest spot in the lot and walk to your destination, get an exercise buddy for encouragement, or play ping pong or outside games with your kids.
Step #4 – Connect with others
There is nothing more calming than spending quality time with another human being, who makes you feel safe and understood. In fact, face-to-face interactions trigger a cascade of hormones that counteracts the body’s defensive “fight-or-flight” response. It’s nature’s natural stress reliever (as an added bonus, it also helps stave off depression and anxiety). So, make it a point to connect regularly—and in person—with family and friends.
Keep in mind that the people you talk to don’t have to be able to fix your problems. They simply need to be good listeners. And try not to let worries about looking weak or being a burden keep you from opening up. The people who care about you will be flattered by your trust. It will only strengthen your bond.
Of course, it’s not always realistic to have a friend close by to lean on when you feel overwhelmed by stress, but by building and maintaining a reliable support system, you can improve your resiliency to life’s stressors.
Step #5 – Make time for fun and relaxation
Carving out “me” time in your schedule can also reduce stress. Try not to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be more rejuvenated to handle stress. So, make sure to set aside leisure time, do something that you enjoy every day, keep your sense of humor, and try a relaxation practice such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
Step #6 – Manage your time better
Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. Plus, you’ll be tempted to avoid or cut back on all the healthy things you should be doing to keep stress in check, like socializing, exercising, and getting enough sleep. The good news: there are things you can do to achieve a healthier work-life balance. Try to not over-commit yourself, prioritize tasks, break projects into smaller, more manageable tasks, and delegate responsibility.
Step #7 – Maintain balance with a healthy lifestyle
We all know that we should try and be healthy, but it is important to emphasize that in addition to exercise, there are other healthy lifestyle choices that can increase our resistance to stress such as eating a healthy diet, reducing caffeine and sugar intake, avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, and getting enough sleep.
Step #8 – Learn to relieve stress in the moment
The fastest way to reduce stress is by taking a deep breath and using your senses—what you see, hear, taste, and touch—or through a soothing movement. By viewing a favorite photo, smelling a specific scent, listening to a favorite piece of music, tasting a piece of gum, or hugging a pet, for example, you can quickly relax and focus yourself. Of course, not everyone responds to each sensory experience in the same way, so try different strategies to see what works for you.
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