Managing Stress in Life is Key to Success: Learn How to Reduce, Prevent & Cope with Stress
More and more we are becoming busier and busier. Everyone feels overwhelmed at one time or another, but you shouldn’t feel like that every day. In this time of an uncertain economy, we are expected to work longer, harder and faster in our jobs. Plus, people’s personal lives aren’t getting any less demanding. Your kids or teens still need help with homework or maybe you have an ailing family member or friend that needs special attention and time from you.
After you give your time to everyone else; your spouse, your kids, your employees and your family members you probably don’t feel like you have anything left to give yourself, and you feel as though you aren’t doing a “good enough job” of balancing everything. This can make you feel like you aren’t in control and can lead to feelings of high stress.
But you have a lot more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal for anyone is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on – with one area of your life not having to constantly give for another.
Accept Stress & Determine Where It Comes From
Stress management starts with determining sources of stress in your life. Take responsibility for your stress and try not to blame others for it – sometimes the sources aren’t as obvious as you think. Look closely at your own habits, attitude and excuses. Sometimes it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining your stress, your level of stress will remain out of your control.
- Do you explain away stress as temporary 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 or as a part of your personality?
- Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Learning Healthy Ways to Manage Stress
Everyone has a unique response to stress, so there is not one easy solution and everyone will need to use different techniques and strategies. While there are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, a common theme is these strategies require change. Whether you decide to change the situation or change your reaction, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt or accept. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.
Stress Management Strategy #1: Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
- Learn how to say “no” – Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities. Know your limits and stick to them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
- Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
- Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
- Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route.
- Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
Stress Management Strategy #2: Alter the Situation
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up – If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
- 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 a happy middle ground.
- Be more assertive – Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
- 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. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
Stress Management Strategy #3: 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.
- Reframe problems – Make the conscious decision 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 next month? In a year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
- Adjust your standards – Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive – When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life to keep things in perspective, including your own positive qualities and gifts.
- Adjusting your attitude – How you think can affect your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must."
Stress Management Strategy #4: 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 react to problems.
- Look for the upside – As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” 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 and learn from your mistakes.
- Share your feelings – Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Learn to forgive – Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Stress Management Strategy # 5: Make Time for Fun and Relaxation
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
The above stress management tips are adapted from HelpGuide.org.