Are there days when you feel like your stress levels are going to overwhelm you? In our bid to make our lives easier, it seems like we’ve only made them more stressful. Our days have countless stress triggers that begin to pile up from the moment we wake up. We’re all aware of how much stress can impact our productivity, our relationships, and even our body. But if you take the time to develop effective stress management strategies, you can conquer stress and ensure you stay in optimal emotional health.
Why do I need stress management strategies?
First of all, there is no need to be afraid of stress. All of us feel stress at some point or the other. It is a valid response to challenging or dangerous situations and is also helpful because it boosts our energy and motivation levels.
Stress is only a concern when it becomes chronic. If your stress is making you feel anxious and overwhelmed, it is a problem. This can affect life quality and cause physical and mental health concerns. Because stress affects everyone differently, there is no one-size-fits-all stress management technique. The key to conquering your stress is to understand your triggers and take action to avoid or tackle them.
How do I know when I’m experiencing too much stress?
Your body gives you certain signs when it is under constant stress. Look out for these symptoms to know if you are suffering from chronic stress:
- Muscular tension
- Migraines or headaches
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Lacking motivation
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- An overriding feeling of anxiety
- Coping through alcohol and drugs
- Inability to cope with the environment
What can stress management strategies help with?
It is difficult to list all the causes of stress because everyone has different stress responses and triggers. What is stressful for you may not be as stressful for another person, and vice versa. The way you respond to stress depends on your personality, past experiences, culture, life stage and your relationships. However the most common causes of stress are:
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of job
- Financial problems
- Relationship issues
- Traumatic events
- Pressure at work or school
- Conflicts at work or home
- Chronic illness of a loved one or yourself
What are some common stress management strategies?
A stress management strategy is simply a way to defuse your anxiety when you feel stressed. Some of the most common methods are:
- Take good care of your mind and body by sleeping on time, exercising and eating a balanced diet. When you are physically healthy, you are less likely to allow negative feelings to overpower you for long.
- Spend time with family, friends and loved ones. Reach out to them in times of crisis for help. Studies have shown that surrounding yourself with loved ones can lower stress levels.
- Indulge in activities that bring you joy. If you have a hobby that you enjoy, try practising it when you are stressed. The sense of doing something productive can calm you and reduce your stress levels.
- Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. This allows you to become more accepting of things you cannot change and more thoughtful about the things you can.
- Exercise on a regular basis to relax your mind, release tension and mitigate anxiety. Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to cope with stress. It raises your ‘happy hormones’ and gives you the self-confidence you need to deal with problems firmly.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms. Some habits can help you unwind for a short time but do not take away the problems. If you find yourself drinking regularly, you are using alcohol as a crutch but not looking for a solution.
A common theme in all strategies is understanding that you have the power to change some triggers but also accepting that some are beyond your control. You need to change what is under your control and let go of all that is not. This may be the best strategy to adopt to keep your stress levels in check.
If these strategies do not prove effective or you are unable to cope on your own, consider talking to a mental health professional like a counselor or life coach. When it comes to stress, never be afraid to reach out to those who care about you and take all the support you need.
A 5-step stress management technique for you
For many of us, taking back control of our lives is a better way of stress management than practising a hobby or meditating. If this is the case, read on:
Broadly classified, there are two types of stress
- A mild sense of stress that comes from an amalgamation of reasons like unfinished housework, To-Do lists that haven’t been checked off, unread emails, fears of illnesses or other things that you worry about during your daily life
- A clear and defined cause or person or situation that is triggering your stress levels
An effective method to manage your stress will help you deal with both these sets of stressors.
This method gives you an active, simple set of steps to arrive at some solutions for yourself.
Step 1: Define your stressors
Make a long list of everything that stresses you out. Put everything on that list, from major causes like the illness of a loved one or financial problems to small reasons like that piled-up laundry basket. Writing a list gives you a sense of control and helps you understand what you are worrying about.
Step 2: Classify the stressors
Separate the stressors into things you have control over and things you don’t. You do not have control over presidential elections in another country or the state of your economy. You do have control over your health, your family decisions, your job, and your home.
Step 3: Make a plan to deal with the issues you don’t have control over
Many of the stressors that you don’t have control over are worrying you because you are exposed to a constant stream of updates about it. Curate your social media feeds carefully to avoid scrolling through pages that feed into your anxiety, reduce the time you spend catching up on news, and spend more time focusing on your life. This can have a calming effect on your anxiety.
Practising acceptance and making peace with the things you don’t have control over can help you worry less about them. Meditation or yoga can help you reduce the importance these things have in your life. If you’re religious, prayer may help too.
Step 4: Make a list of solutions for issues you have control over
Identify a set of workable solutions that will help you tackle the problems that you have control over. Creating a timetable for household chores or a menu plan for the week means that you don’t have to think about it all week. Deciding to quit your job if it is too stressful or planning to upskill to take on a new role at work can help you feel less worried about your job security.
When you have a series of solutions to the things that are worrying you, you can break them down farther into small steps. For example, if you know that having a cleaner house will help you feel less stressed, you know you should create a schedule of tasks, declutter your living areas, and organize your spaces to function more efficiently.
Step 5: Create a tracker for your plan
Tracking your progress for any task gives you a feeling of accomplishment and encourages more proactive planning and task management. If you have worked on a list of ways to actively deal with the things that are worrying you, mark them on your tracker as you complete them. You will begin to view solutions as a series of small steps that you can achieve.
Reconsider your perspective
Sometimes it is our own mental blocks that cause stress. There are many tools which can help you fight stress by changing your attitude to life and stress-inducing situations. All of these have stood the test of time and are being adapted and recommended by mental health professionals worldwide:
- Reframe: Look at negative situations in a positive or neutral manner
- Plan: Manage stress through effective planning. Make daily checklists and schedule weekly activities
- Relax: Relaxation tools such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided meditation and deep breathing are known to be effective in dealing with stress.
- Use your strength: Consider how you can use your most effective skills to grow in life and manage stress.
- Forgive: Learn the art of forgiving not only others but yourself to alleviate mental burden
- Meditate: Make meditation or mindfulness a daily habit to gain mental strength.
- Gratitude: Express gratitude for the smallest things in life to improve life satisfaction.
- Positivity: Use positive self-affirmations daily in life to help your mind develop an optimistic attitude.
Workplace stress and you
Work stress is usually short term and easy to handle for most people. It is only a concern when it becomes a long term prevalent issue as that can cause real harm. Unchecked prolonged and intensive stress can lead to mental health concerns like anxiety or depression, so it is imperative to manage stress arising in the workplace.
Do not confuse mental and physical exhaustion at the end of the workday with stress. It is only when you feel exhausted and stressed all the time should you seek help. Long-term stress can arise because of the following:
- Impossible deadlines
- Working extra long hours
- Salary and/or recognition not in line with efforts
- Lack of opportunities to grow at work
- Feeling of powerlessness
- Blurred line of sight i.e. unclear goals and objectives
- Constant clashes with co workers
- Unsafe work environment, physical and/or emotional
- Lack of support from colleagues and superiors
What can I do to be less stressed at work?
If you think you’re at risk for a work-related burnout, consider adopting the following measures:
- Make time to move and stretch every hour when you have a desk job or sit down for a while if your job requires you to stand on your feet. Physical fatigue can be a real source of stress.
- Seek a work-life balance by engaging in activities outside of work and disconnecting from technology
- Do not ignore your relationships with family, friends and loved ones
- Focus on tasks at work that are within your control and let go of those that are not
- Some organizations have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to help you cope with work-related stress. Do make the most of these if they are available to you.
- Take care of your health by getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet
- Cultivate a habit of mindfulness through meditation, tai chi and yoga
- If time permits, volunteer or help others out.