Stress is a universal experience for the entire human race. How everyone experiences it, how it affects them, and how they cope varies greatly from person to person.
Considering stress is something we can’t completely avoid, it is important to understand how it manifests and how to manage it.
What is Stress?
Stress is an automatic mental, physical, and emotional response often caused by difficult situations, pressure from others, or a change. It is a natural response that puts us into a state of worry or mental strain. Stress can lead to our fight or flight response and prompt us to face our stressors head on or run from them.
What Causes Stress?
There are many different situations that can lead to stress and there will never be one simple answer to what causes it. Some stress and its causes are very easily identifiable.
These life-changing events obviously cause incredible amounts of stress. Less impactful things such as arguing with someone, missing a deadline at work, starting a new school year, or financial struggles also cause stress.
Other times it may be harder to figure out what is causing stress in your life. The stressor might be subtle, and you don’t process what you are feeling as stress. These can be things like:
Chronic stress may be an internal feeling, but it can have external consequences. For you and those close to you, it can cause an overall lack of happiness and lowered quality of life.
How Can Stress Be Good?
Believe it or not, not all stress is bad. It’s a natural response meant to protect us from danger. Of course, the stress we usually feel is a bit of an overreaction, as our lives aren’t usually in danger. But stress still can play a beneficial role in our lives.
A little bit of short-term stress, managed appropriately, can be a tool for personal growth, motivation, and development. These small short term stressors can be deadlines, or expectations you set for yourself.
It can help push you towards your long-term goals, motivate you to complete tasks, sharpen your focus, and force you to think creatively.
When managed properly, stress can help increase your resiliency and prepare you to handle trying situations in the future.
How to Manage Stress
You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can learn to manage it.
Stress management is not a one size fits all approach. Different people not only react to different stressors, they need management techniques that work for them.
You may need to do some trial and error to find the stress management strategies that work best for you. The stress you’re dealing with, how it affects you, and how you cope with it is going to be different than that of another person. So, how you successfully manage stress individually is going to be different too.
Identify Your Stress and Its Source
It can be hard to cope with your stress when you don’t know why you’re feeling that way. Again, not all stress reactions or causes are obvious. If you don’t know what is causing yours, the first step is to figure that out.
Pay attention to your feelings and behavior throughout the day and take note of any times you feel anxious or uneasy. Think about what happened before or at that time.
Keeping a journal on hand is a good way to track your emotions and actions. Write down when these anxious feelings occur. You may be able to notice patterns and common themes associated with your stress.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Not all stress is avoidable, but it is likely that there are stressors that you can cut out of your life.
For many, stress comes from overcommitting or not taking time for ourselves. For many people, it is natural to always say yes and overload your plate in an effort to make everyone around you happy, but this does not usually work in your favor.
Be honest with yourself and others about your commitments and your bandwidth. Learn to say no to things and, if your plate is too full, don’t commit to more.
Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Many people handle stress through negative coping mechanisms and seeking temporary relief. Lashing out at others, avoiding people and responsibilities, oversleeping, and binge eating or drinking are common unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. These approaches may feel good in the moment, but they do not solve anything and will likely cause more issues in the long run.
Avoid giving in to these destructive coping mechanisms and find healthier alternatives to handle your stress.
Exercise, meditation, self-care, and creative hobbies are great ways to decompress.
Manage Your Time Wisely
Oftentimes, stress can come from procrastination and overcommitting. Prioritize the most urgent tasks and items on your to-do list.
If you find yourself thinking that there aren’t enough hours in the day, make time to evaluate your schedule. Are there things that you don’t need to do? Are there things that you can ask someone else to take over?
That Includes Making Time for YOU
Make sure you not only organize your to-do list but also schedule out some time for fun, relaxation, and self-care. No one can go, go, go without eventually getting burnt out. Carve out time for yourself to the things and people you love. Even in cases of big, life-changing events, taking care of yourself is paramount. Make a goal to try to do at least one thing you enjoy every day, even if it is just for a few minutes.
Change the Things You Can…
As mentioned before, some stress is avoidable, or even self-inflicted. In those cases, take action to do something about it. One of the most effective ways of handling chronic stress is to alter the situation or adapt yourself to the situation.
Once again, if you find yourself so busy that you don’t have time to relax, figure out what activity or task you can pass to someone else or simply remove from the list.
… And Accept the Things You Can’t
Agonizing about situations you cannot change is going to cause stress. Sometimes, there is truly nothing to do but let it all unfold. You need to adapt yourself to the situations that you cannot change. This is where in-the-moment coping mechanisms are most helpful.
If it’s a big work project, know that it just has to get done, and it will be over at some point. If it’s the death of a loved one, know that grief is something to work through, not fight.
Live a Balanced Lifestyle
Living a healthy life lowers your stress levels and makes you more resilient to stressful times. This includes lifestyle elements such as physical activity, a healthy diet, and sleep.
Exercise is a proven stress reliever. If you’re having a hard time getting out and moving, find a gym buddy or a walking friend. Having another person to keep you accountable makes it harder to back out. Or, sign up for fitness classes ahead of time so you have a designated time, place, and workout already figured out for you.
A well balanced diet helps provide the nutrition and energy you need to face stressful situations and handle them well. It keeps your body and mind healthy and fit to take on the day.
Sleep hygiene is another incredibly important factor in stress management. Like a good diet, getting enough sleep gives you the energy to cope with stressful situations. Creating a routine of going to bed and waking up each day around the same time can be a game-changer.
It may be tempting to retreat and isolate yourself when you are stressed, but seeking comfort and support from friends and family is a healthier option. Disengage from stressful situations by just taking your mind off your worries or vent about them in a safe space. Just make sure you are not dumping on them without their consent.
Therapy can be vital in stress management. Therapy is useful in helping those with chronic stress function better day-to-day, and for those working through major life challenges..
Stress Relieving Activities and Behaviors
In addition to lifestyle factors and long-term stress management tips, know a few relaxation techniques to use in moments of stress.
One of the most common stress relief techniques is breathing exercises. Focusing on your breath instead of your rising stress can calm you down. Some people find meditation or guided imagery helpful, while others prefer progressive muscle relaxation.
When things get overwhelming, use your senses—touch, smell, sight, and hearing—to calm down. Listen to your favorite song, holding a familiar object, or smelling a nostalgic smell.
Stress Management at Inner Balance Counseling
We all have stress and finding relief strategies that are suited for you may take some time to figure out, but it is going to help you keep your stress in check and not let it take over your life or damage your health.
Inner Balance Counseling can help you find what works for you and provide effective, research based therapy techniques for stress relief and management that can help improve all areas of your life.