Stress is defined as a state of emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. This at least, is the negative connotation stress conveys most frequently. However not all stress is bad. For example, in a dangerous situation, a form of stress or fight – flight response can be beneficial for self-preservation. Or more commonly when we are faced with challenging situations such as a work deadline, stress can help you stay on track and complete what is required. However, when stress starts to negatively affect your physical or emotional health, then it is important to adopt techniques that will help maintain your overall wellbeing.
What is experienced as stress of course varies from person to person – it may be occupational, health-related, interpersonal relationship problems, a result of internal negative dialogue or even unidentified general fearfulness. How one approaches stress management is also variable and depends on the issues at hand, and the individual’s coping abilities and resources. There are, however, a few general strategies or principles that may provide a framework to develop your own stress management plan.
Essentially this means leading a healthy lifestyle. Optimizing your health in all ways can increase your ability to cope with stress or at least work towards resolving those issues. Exercise regularly as it helps to prevent stress and also reduce the levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) when they are released. Eat a healthy diet and avoid caffeine and sugar. The temporary highs that these substances create will eventually result in a crash in energy and often lead to irritability and anxiety. Maximize your sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep routine and time, creating a space of relaxation and avoiding caffeine and exercise too close to bedtime.
First, you must identify what the source of your stress is. Perhaps it’s occupational in nature or due to relationship or social issues. Maybe it’s the development of a medical illness or it may indeed be multifactorial in nature. But once you are able to identify that life stressor, then you are able to develop and implement appropriate solutions. Through detailed and systematic problem solving techniques such as in-depth analysis of the pros and cons of all possible solutions or outlining each step necessary to reach resolution, even seemingly impossible obstacles may be overcome.
There are many healthy options when it comes to stress management and they must be individualized for each person. You may consider expending your pent up frustration through physical activities you enjoy such as walking, biking and so forth. Explore resources to help you develop coping strategies that are available to you – books, blogs, support groups either in person or virtual. Chronicle your frustrations in a diary. The process of writing can be cathartic and may put your issues into better perspective.
Try techniques such as positive affirmations where you repeat a supportive phrase such as, “I deserve to be happy,” or “I have the strength to overcome this obstacle.” And don’t forget to breathe. When you are stressed, the natural response is to hold your breath. Instead when you find yourself in that state of mind, focus on your breathing. This awareness is the basis of many relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, tai chi and yoga.
Sometimes life brings challenges that you may not be able to easily change. This sense of lack of control can bring a significant amount of stress unless you are able to accept the fact that although you may not have a choice regarding certain obstacles that present themselves, how you face those challenges is within your control. Ultimately, you have the ability to choose how you are going to react to any situation. Recognizing that often times we create a certain degree of internal stress because of how we view a situation, and that we therefore have the ability to determine our life experience through a change in perspective, can move us from a position of helplessness to one of true personal empowerment.
In some instances, stress can cause significant physical and emotional difficulties. Your anxiety level may become overwhelming or your mood depressed. You may notice physical manifestations such as nausea, headaches, sleep problems and even skin rashes. At this point, it would be wise to consult a medical professional. There may exist an underlying clinical depression or anxiety disorder that could be exacerbating your reaction to the situation and can be managed through appropriate medical intervention. This may involve appropriate medications, cognitive or behavioral therapy, or other types of professional counseling.
Sometimes avoiding stress in the first place is the best approach. Of course one cannot completely escape it, but there are ways of minimizing your exposure. First of all, learn what your limitations are and don’t take on more projects or responsibilities than you can handle from a commitment point of view. Also, if there are certain people that only bring negative energy into your life and that you find yourself feeling anxious around, then minimize the time you spend with them or avoid them entirely if possible. Steer clear of topics or situations that you know stress you out, such as discussions about politics or religion. And although it may seem like the norm, try not to over schedule yourself – keep your daily responsibilities at home, work and socially as balanced as possible.
Sometimes it is easy to find yourself turning to negative habits when faced with a stressful situation. Smoking, alcohol, drugs both prescribed and recreational may provide short-term relief, but they only serve to mask feelings of distress and don’t allow one to face problems with a clear and focused mind. Some substances are also actually stimulants thereby resulting in increased stress. And of course there is always a high risk that ultimately they may lead to dependence and addictive behavior, which then adds another set of issues that must be addressed and overcome, once again adding to and not resolving difficulties.
Know that you are so much more than the label the stressful life challenge has placed on you. You are not defined by your circumstances, your disease, your relationship or your finances. You have so much more to offer the world and so much more to be grateful for – focus on those positive aspects of life. Internalizing and defining yourself by your situation will not allow you to effectively deal with the stressor. It also leads to a lot of negative internal dialogue and poor self-esteem.
For some it is a natural reaction to shut down and build up a wall as a defense mechanism, but this can be self-destructive. If possible, a more healthy approach is to share your burden and disclose what is bothering you to friends and family that you trust. This can serve a number of purposes. Venting to someone understanding can often release a certain amount of mental tension that you’ve otherwise internalized. Also, when you’re in a stressful frame of mind, your judgment is often clouded. The process of discussing issues and taking into consideration a different perspective that an objective person can provide, may help you in finding an acceptable solution. In fact, you may find that what you see as an insurmountable problem is actually not as unique as you believe it to be, and that you may be able to learn from others’ similar life experiences. Finally, conversations and the company of others may help distract from the problems at hand for a short time until you are ready to deal with those issues.
Sometimes the best way to face the stress that life can bring is to counteract it with activities that bring you peace of mind. Do what you enjoy on a regular basis – read, listen to music, take a walk, garden, watch a movie, spend time with friends and family, or whatever else brings you joy. By incorporating some sort of relaxing activity into your daily schedule, you will have a greater sense of wellbeing and will be better able to cope with stressful situations.
Stress is an intrinsic part of our busy and overscheduled lives. It’s something unavoidable and we all face a certain amount on a daily basis. The amount of stress and how it manifests both physically or emotionally in each of us however, is variable. Likewise, our ability to cope also differs. But regardless, we all stand to benefit from a targeted strategy to both prevent and manage those stressful circumstances or issues that are an inevitable part of life. Only then will we be able to successfully navigate those difficulties and define our own life experience.
More expert advice about Anxiety and Stress
Photo Credits: © Syda Productions - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com