If you’re living with high levels of stress, you’re putting your entire well-being at risk. Stress not only affects your mental and emotional health, but also your physical health. It can limit your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and generally enjoy life. It may seem like there is nothing you can do about the stress in your life. There may be financial difficulties or overwhelming work and family responsibilities, but there are ways you can gain control of your stress and knowing you’re in control of your life is the foundation of that control. Stress management is not one-size-fits-all. That’s why it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you. The following stress management tips can help you do that.
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. It may seem easy to identify major stressors such as changing jobs, moving, or a going through a divorce, but you have to also pinpoint the sources of chronic stress. Think about how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to your everyday stress levels. While you may feel your constant worry about work deadlines is your stress, maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that is causing the stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”)?
Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal?
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control. If your stressors arise at predictable times such as meeting with your boss or family gatherings, 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. It’s not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed, but you may be surprised by the numbers of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
Learn how to say “no.” know your limits and stick to them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress. Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.”
Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life, limit the amount of time you spend with that person.
Take control of your environment. If traffic makes you anxious, take a longer but less-traveled route.
Analyze your to-do list. If you have too much on your plate, drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
ALTER the situation. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. This may involve changing the way you communicate or operate in your daily life.
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and stress will increase.
Be willing to compromise. If you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same.
Create a balanced schedule. Balance work and family life and include social time for activities and fun.
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 expectations and attitude.
Learn to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Instead of getting upset about a traffic jam, look at is as an opportunity to enjoy some alone time or learn a new song on the radio.
Look at the big picture. How important will that stressor be in the long run? Will it even matter? Is it worth getting upset over? If no, it’s an easy way to change your focus and energy elsewhere.
Adjust your standards. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Sometimes it’s ok to be “good enough.”
Practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life.
ACCEPT the things you can’t change. Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent stressors such as the death of a loved one or a serious illness. In these cases, the best way to cope is to accept things as they are. It will be difficult at times.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond control such as the behavior of other people. Focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for the upside. When facing major challenges, look at them as opportunities for personal growth.
Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very therapeutic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.