In decoding stress management, it becomes important to begin with an understanding of stress itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever increasing demands of life”. The human body is hard-wired with an alarm system that serves to protect us. When the brain perceives a threat, it signals the body to release a burst of hormones to fuel our capacity for a response. This is the flight-or-fight response. Once the threat is gone, the body is supposed to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, due to the nonstop stress of modern life, the alarm system rarely shuts off. Stress management provides us with a range of tools to reset our alarm system. Without stress management, our bodies are apt to remain on high alert, and over time, high levels of stress lead to serious health problems.
The first step in stress management is to identify the sources of our stress, being sure not to overlook our own thoughts, behaviors and feelings as possible sources. While you might say that your job is stressing you out, is it really your job or is it your tendency to procrastinate? Once you identify the sources, you can begin to manage your stress. Helpguide.org lists 6 Strategies for Managing Stress.
1. Avoid unnecessary situations
- We can learn to say “no”. When you don’t know your limits, or you don’t voice them, you are likely to end up with more on your plate than you can handle.
- Avoid people who stress you out. If someone is a consistent stress in your life and nothing you do turns the relationship around, limit your time or end the relationship.
- Take control of your environment. If the nightly news stresses you out, change the channel or turn off the TV.
- Avoid hot-button topics. If discussing politics or religion stresses you out, change the subject or leave the conversation.
- Be realistic about your to do list.
2. Alter the situation. What can you do to change the situation so that it doesn’t present itself in the future? This might involved changing the way you communicate and operate in daily life.
- Express your feelings. State your concerns in an open and respectful way. Otherwise, resentment will build and the situation will remain the same.
- Be willing to compromise. This will help find a happy middle ground.
- Be more assertive. Do your best to anticipate and prevent a problem by asserting your wants and needs.
- Manage your time better. Plan ahead and don’t overextend yourself.
3. Adapt to the stressor by changing your expectations and attitude.
- Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about traffic, look at it as an opportunity to listen to your favorite music, 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.
- Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Focus on the positive. Take time to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts
- Adjust your attitude. Identify and change your self-defeating thoughts.
4. Accept the things you can’t change
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. When faced with a major challenge, try to look at it as an opportunity for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Share your feelings. Whether it’s talking to a trusted friend or a therapist, sharing what you’re going through can be very cathartic.
- Learn to forgive. Free yourself from the burden of anger and resentments by forgiving.
5. Make time for fun and relaxation. Stress can be reduced simply by nurturing yourself. You’ll also feel better equipped to handle life’s stressors when they come along.
- Set aside relaxation time. This helps you take a break from your responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
- Connect with others. A strong support system can be a strong buffer against stress.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for activities that bring you joy.
- Keep your sense of humor. Laughter, including laughing at oneself, is a great stress reliever.
6. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Reduce caffeine and sugar
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
- Get a good night’s sleep
Laura J. Pentoney, MA, LPC is a therapist who specializes in helping individual adults overcome histories of trauma, depression and eating disorders. She witnesses the many benefits of counseling through the growth of her courageous clients. She provides counseling services through Maria Droste Counseling Center.
If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.
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