There is no use getting stressed out over things that are out of our control. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and career and family will always be demanding. But we have more control than we think. In fact, the simple realisation that we’re in control of our life is the foundation for stress management. Managing stress is all about taking charge of our thoughts, emotions, schedule, and the way we deal with problems.
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in our lives. It’s all too easy to overlook our stress-inducing thoughts, feelings and behaviour. We may be aware that we’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s our procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.
To identify sources of stress, one needs to look closely at one’s 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 and unexceptional? Until we accept responsibility for the role we play in creating or maintaining it, our stress level will remain outside our control.
Start a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your lives and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, you should keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. These are the questions you should try and answer. What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure)? How did you feel, both physically and emotionally? How did you respond? What did you do to make yourself feel better?
Examine current coping mechanisms
Think about the ways in which you currently cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.
Unhealthy ways of coping with stress include smoking, over-drinking, overeating or under eating, zoning out in front of the TV or computer for hours, withdrawing from friends, family and activities; using pills or drugs to relax, over sleeping, procrastinating, taking out stress on others with angry outbursts or physical violence. These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run.
Learn healthier ways
There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept. Avoid unnecessary stress, alter the situation, adapt to the stressor or accept the things you can’t change. Make time for fun and relaxation. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation; so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.