The Importance of Managing Stress

If you’re managing high levels of stress, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk.

Managing Stress

If you’re constantly managing stress, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk. Prolonged stress wreaks havoc on your emotional equilibrium, as well as your physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. It may seem like there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think.

A stress management strategy will loosen the grip that unchecked stress places on your life, freeing you to make choices that lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive life. The goal is balance, which means time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun—and the resilience to persist under pressure, turning challenges into opportunities for growth. But stress management is not one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to experiment with different tools to determine what works best for you. The following tips can help you manage stress effectively.

Tip 1: Identify the Sources of Stress in Your Life

Information gathering is the first step to develop the way you manage stress. Begin by taking some time in a quiet space to identify what causes your stress. Start your list with the major stressors because they will be the obvious things – the things that preoccupy your thoughts, such as changing jobs, moving, or going through a divorce.

From there, you might find it easier to expand your list with sources of chronic stress. Pinpointing these stressors can be more complicated because they live below the surface. For most of us, it’s easy to overlook how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors add to our everyday stress levels.

Sure, you know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines; but maybe it’s a repetitive behavior like procrastination as opposed to actual job demands causing your stress. Your thoughts, habits, and excuses can tell you a lot about the deeper sources of your stress. Do you identify with any of the statements below? If so, ask yourself why and write down your answers.

· “I just have a million things going on right now.” Stress is rarely temporary unless you take the time to evaluate the reasons why things seem out of control, consider your options, and choose your responses.

· “Things are always crazy around here.” Sometimes it seems like chronic stress is a natural part of your work or home life. A careful examination of what is in and out of your control can help you determine your responsibilities and prioritize your tasks each day.

· “I need to stay busy or else I’ll lose my mind.” There are a lot of reasons why you might take on extra work and understanding where that need comes from will free you to choose ways to be productive and ways to relax.

· “If my teammates would do their part, then I would have the time I need to finish my work.” Setting down blame and looking at what is in your power to change is a great way to shift the focus onto your responsibilities, allowing others the freedom and dignity of solving their problems.

Taking a careful inventory of your feelings, beliefs, and behaviors can put you on a path of understanding where you contribute to the stressors in your life and positive action towards managing stress.

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    Tip 2: Practice the Four A’s of Stress Management

    Unmanaged stress can pile up undetected in the background like clutter in your home office or garage. Suddenly, you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to tackle next. We discussed inventorying your thoughts, feelings, and stressors above. The next step is to identify coping strategies and practice them daily to find a few that work best for you. The four A’s – avoid, alter, adapt, accept – are a good place to start. Check them out below.

    Avoid unnecessary stress

    Hopefully, you discovered stressors that you could easily eliminate with a little guidance.

    · Learn how to say “no.” We all have limits, and most of us find it difficult to set boundaries and hold them. Taking a pause when someone asks you to do something, even a fun activity, is a good habit to practice. (Habits are like muscles, you must exercise them regularly to gain strength.) Find a go-to response to help you practice the pause, “That sounds fun. I’ll check my calendar and get back to you,” or “I’m working on a couple of projects now. Email me the details and timeframe, so I can evaluate resources and check the schedule.”

    · Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship.

    · Take control of your environment. If the evening news makes you anxious, turn off the TV. If traffic makes you tense, take a longer, less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, try grocery shopping online.

    · Pare down your to-do list. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list, delegate them, or eliminate them.

    Alter the situation

    If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.

    · Express your feelings instead of stuffing them. Bottled-up feelings are like shaken soda cans ready to erupt at the most inopportune times. Sharing your concerns openly and respectfully at the moment prevents stress from taking root. This tactic will be easier with some people than others. It may be helpful to begin this practice with someone willing to stay objective and give you feedback, like a close friend, mentor, or counselor.

    · Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding common ground where you both get what you need and want.

    · Create a balanced schedule. To avoid burnout, evaluate how you spend your time and make room for fun. You can create a balanced life between work, family, friends, solitary pursuits,

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    Adapt to the stressor

    If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your attitude and expectations.

    · Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.

    · Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.

    · Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of manageable stress. Switch your focus to progress instead of perfection and celebrate the small wins along the way. Incorporate this idea into your daily practice, and you will learn to live in the moment; you may find that the journey is rich with authenticity, joy, and deep understanding on many levels.

    · Practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your positive qualities and gifts. Start a list that you can fold up and keep in your wallet. When you struggle to think of anything, pull out the list; when you discover something new, add it. A daily gratitude practice is an exercise in keeping perspective, quieting the mind, and slowing things down. It takes a moment and yields results that will last a lifetime.


    Accept the things you can’t change

    Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.

    · Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to respond to problems.

    · Look for the upside. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them, learn from them, and do better next time.

    · Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect where we are meant to make mistakes to grow and do better. Learn to process feelings of anger and fear to avoid nurturing resentments too heavy to carry around with you everywhere you go. Recognize that you have the power to free yourself from negative energy in every form, and then choose to do so. Choose you!

    · Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be liberating and helpful to others. Remember that sharing goes both ways – even if the event is different – we all have the same feelings. Sharing your feelings can deflate the power of your emotions, help you get into the solution, and show others that they’re not alone

    Tip 3: Learn to Relieve Stress in the Moment

    When you’re frazzled by your morning commute, stuck in a stressful meeting at work, or fried from another argument with your spouse, you need a way to manage your stress levels at that moment. That’s where quick stress relief comes in.

    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, you can quickly relax and focus on yourself.

    Of course, not everyone responds to each sensory experience in the same way. The key to managing stress is to experiment and discover the unique sensory experiences that work best for you. When handling predictable stressors, like meeting with your boss or family gatherings, you can either change the situation or pause to choose your response rather than react. 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.

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