management strategies are more important than ever in these
chaotic, uncertain, and quickly changing times. Our modern lifestyle is
fraught with deadlines, pressures and various frustrations on a day to
day basis. No wonder we find ourselves frazzled, spent and overwhelmed.
Of course, stress isn't always a bad
thing. In small doses it can help motivate you by providing the edge
needed to gear up to a higher level of performance.
Quite often it can be the push that propels you to do
your best; however, if you always operate at full throttle, it will
take a hazardous toll on your mind and body.
What is Stress?
Stress is a normal physical response to real or imagined threats. It is
the body's 'fight-or-flight' reaction to impending harm or danger - a
necessary defense mechanism wired into us since the beginning of our
existence. When working properly the stress response helps us stay
focused and alert. In extreme cases it's what gives us both that extra
boost of strength and energy to defend ourselves in life threatening
situations, as well as the ability to react with extraordinary speed
and presence of mind in the face of imminent danger.
Of course, the type of stress we deal with daily is somewhat different
from the stress needed to keep us alert and vigilant. The stress that
we need management strategies for is the type that makes us feel 'not
in control' and damages health, productivity, relationships and
overall quality of life. While it may appear that we have no control
over this type of stress, we have more than we realize.
For one thing, while we may not be able to control certain stressful
situations in our lives, we can certainly control how we respond to
them and we can respond by taking charge of our thoughts, emotions and
manner in which deal with them.
Stress management entails changing what we can about a stressful
situation when possible, or changing our response to it when we cannot.
Ultimately, the goal is to live a balanced life with time for work,
leisure and relationships by having the ability to deal with pressure
and stressful situations with resilience and composure.
Strategies for Dealing With Stress
Identify the stressors in your life. As simple as it
sounds, many people aren't even aware of what stresses them out, nor
does everyone find the same things stressful. One person's stress can
be another's challenge or motivation. Similarly, few people realize how
much their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors contribute to their
stress. We are each in charge of how we interpret events in
our lives. We are also in charge of behaviors such as procrastination,
lack of organization, and inattention that lead to deadline worries,
not paying bills on time and inability to accomplish important tasks
which, in turn, cause stress. Therefore, the first import step is to
identify the stressors in your life and the ways you might be
contributing to them.
Simplify Your Life. If you are burning yourself out
by doing too much, start cutting back on some of your unproductive, yet
time consuming and energy draining activities. No one can do
Set your priorities and make room for doing what you value and find
most important. Equally important is learning to say
NO! Delegate and redistribute tasks if you have to, but don't try
to do it all. Hire a cleaning service one day a week, get a baby sitter
to pick up the kids after school, have a lawn service do the
landscaping. Feeling stressed and overburdened comes from taking on too
much and not balancing it with relaxation and down time.
Reduce effects of stress by
eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. I
don't know about you, but when I'm hungry, sluggish (from inactivity)
or tired, I am very stressed and grumpy! Not getting the
nutrients your body needs to stay healthy causes both mental and
physical stress; so does not getting enough sleep. And regular
exercise not only releases tension and stress while you're doing
it, it builds stamina and endurance enabling you to handle stress
better. Most people totally underestimate the importance of maintaining
good physical health to ward off stress and anxiety.
Accept that there are things you cannot change. As
we all know, there are many things in life beyond our control such as
the death of a loved one, job loss, illness, or even the behavior of
others. As difficult as it may be at first, in such cases, the best
thing we can do is accept things as they are. Secondly, we can choose
how to react to the event. Some constructive ways include:
✓ expressing what you are going through to a friend or
✓ keeping a journal to record thoughts and feelings (cathartic)
✓ looking for opportunities for growth; learning from the experience
✓ developing resilience (building inner strength)
There are also more common causes of unavoidable stress such as job
interviews, taking an exam, having to make a presentation, a
disagreement with someone, and similar situations. In such cases it
helps to to know how to stay as composed as possible. Deep breathing
visualization (mentally rehearsing the event) and preparing
yourself as much in advance as you can, dramatically lessens the stress
you will experience.
Manage stress in healthy ways. Do you currently
cope with stress in healthy or unhealthy ways? If your current coping
mechanisms are unhealthy, you are compounding the problem. Unhealthy
ways of handling stress include, abusing alcohol, taking various pills,
smoking, over or under eating, watching too much television, taking your frustrations out on others, and overall
avoidance of your
problems. If you are already under stress and dealing with it in ways
that are detrimental to your health, you are making matters much worse
by compounding the stress.
Not surprisingly, we all have unique responses to
stress and how we choose to handle it. The trick is to find what works
One of the best studied stress relievers is the relaxation response,
first described by Harvard's Herbert Benson, M.D. The beauty
of this technique is that it requires no special posture or place. For
instance, if you happen to be stuck in traffic, or if you're having
trouble falling asleep you can do it. Here's how:
Sit or lay back comfortably. Close your eyes and
relax your muscles.
Breathe deeply. To make sure that you are breathing
deeply, place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest.
Breathe in slowly through your nose and as you do you should feel your
stomach (not your chest) rise.
Slowly exhale. As you do, focus on your breathing.
If thoughts begin to interfere don't dwell on them,
just allow them to pass and return to focusing on your breathing.
Although you can turn to this exercise any time you feel stressed,
doing it regularly for 10 to 20 minutes at least once a day can put you
in a generally calm frame of mind which can get you through typically
More Healthy ways to Manage stress
Meditation, yoga, or biofeedback techniques such as
Exercise by going for a walk, lifting weights, jogging
Spend time outdoors at the beach, in the woods, or
Set aside 20 minutes a day to do whatever you want,
LAUGH more; watch a comedy movie or show - it
relieves tension (See Article on Humor)
Unhealthy ways to deal with stress
Using drugs or pills to relax
Sleeping too much
Over or under eating
Watching too much television
Withdrawing from social activities
Taking your stress out on others
Harmful Effects of Ongoing Stress
Adversely alters your body and brain chemistry
(stress hormones, cortisol)
Weakens your immune system
Heart disease, hypertension, heart attack, stroke
Depression and anxiety
Ulcers, gastrointestinal irritabilities
Skin problems, hair loss
We all know that life can be stressful, sometimes it's avoidable and
sometimes not; however, if we take responsibility for how we handle
stress and implement effective strategies to deal with it, stress will
become a manageable component of everyday life, not a health damaging