Ultimate Guide to Stress Management
You are in the middle of a huge project and things don’t seem to be going right. Even the smallest details are starting to get to you, and you feel like there is a huge load on your shoulders. You are most likely getting stressed out.
It is exam period and you feel unprepared despite the fact that you have been studying really hard for the past couple of weeks. You have to reach a minimum grade in order to keep that scholarship, and you feel like everything will disappear if you fail any of the exams. Yes, you are experiencing stress.
At work, you feel as though you are being attacked from all sides: from your bosses for adding more to your current workload; from your peers who are making it clear that they view you as a competitor or rival; from your subordinates who are waiting for you to make the hard decisions; and from clients or customers who expect you to provide for all their needs. That is stressful, all right.
Situations and circumstances we are subjected to cause us to react accordingly. Experiences elicit certain responses from us, ranging from good to bad.
The body’s way of responding to these situations, circumstances, experiences, or other demands, is what is known as stress.
Of course, there is another way to look at stress, which is also defined as a mental state of being under emotional strain or tension that have been brought about by circumstances or situations that are very demanding or come with a lot of pressure. We experience stress when we feel as though we cannot cope with the pressure.
In this article, we will look at 1) the sources of stress, 2) the effects of stress, and 3) everything you need to know about stress management.
SOURCES OF STRESS
These days, it seems as though stress is something that people live with on a daily basis. For many, it is almost a constant presence in their day-to-day lives. But what causes stress?
There are several identified sources of stress:
- Fatigue due to overworking: This is the perfect representation of the phrase “stress is a silent killer”. A person who has been working for many years may not know it, but he may have been overworking himself, and it is already a bit late when he realized that it has taken a toll on his body. He is plagued with a bad case of fatigue, and he does not know how to deal with it.
- The need for survival: When a person finds himself in physical danger, his natural instinct to try to survive will kick in. This is the “fight or flight” response, where stress will make the body produce the needed adrenaline in order to give him the strength and the energy to try to remove himself out of danger. Either he tries to deal with the situation himself (fight) or run away (flight) altogether.
- Environmental causes: The environment has a lot of potential stressors. Environmental factors, such as bad weather, traffic situation, or even a messy or chaotic workplace, can be stressful. Even the other people around you can be potential sources of stress. Perhaps your family is putting a lot of pressure on you to get a good job or good grades at school. Or your bosses are pressuring you to do better so you can get that raise that you think is long overdue. Or maybe your co-worker is putting pressure on you when he made it clear that he was after your job.
- Internal stress: Sometimes, stress can be internally generated. People have a tendency to worry themselves sick when there is no reason to. They sometimes worry even about those things that are out of their control. Worse, some people have become so used to being stressed that their subconscious actually seeks it out.
Some further learnings can be obtained from the following presentation on health psychology that looks at stress.
EFFECTS OF STRESS
Before we go any further, it is important to note that not all stress is bad. There is such a thing as “good stress”.
When a person feels stressed, his body responds accordingly, releasing chemicals into the blood, giving him more energy and pumps up his adrenaline. This is a good effect of stress, especially when a person is reacting to a physical stimulus, such as a physically endangering situation. A person’s ability is heightened so he is able to perform better.
But it could be on the other end of the spectrum when the reaction is different, and here we are talking about “bad stress”, which is the more known type of stress. In emotional situations, the body may release these chemicals. However, more often than not, there is no outlet for the person to expend the energy that was generated. This will backfire on the person, and now we have a classic case of stress affecting a person negatively.
Exhaustion: If you feel stressed, you are likely to feel perpetually tired. You always feel exhausted, and want to do nothing but lie down and sleep. However, when you wake up, you do not feel rested at all.
Health problems: Stress can be the root cause of various health problems and conditions. Too much chemicals released into the body can actually end up counterproductive and stimulate it too much, to that point that the body becomes weak. Examples of health problems that can be traced back to stress are:
- Various allergies
- Asthma, tuberculosis and other respiratory problems
- Constipation and indigestion problems, as well as peptic ulcers
- Anxiety and depression
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart attack and other heart conditions
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Migraine or severe headaches
- Rheumatism and/or arthritis
- Various skin problems and disorders
Bad decisions due to bad judgment: People who are under a lot of stress will not be able to think clearly or focus on the matter at hand. They feel too exhausted to concentrate, and they wouldn’t even bother trying. This will lead them to make bad or wrong decisions out of haste or an overall lack of interest.
Reduced productivity: Unmanaged stress will eventually lead to a decline in a person’s performance, and his productivity will be diminished. He won’t be able to produce results as effectively as he did in the past. He may be performing his job, but the quality will not be as good.
Psychological problems: Often, we encounter people who succumb to stress and go through a mental breakdown or a nervous breakdown. They experience extreme anxiety or depression, even to the point that they experience dissociation. This practically cripples them, and they end up being unable to function normally.
Another psychological problem that can result from too much stress is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of stress is on an extreme level, and it takes place in the aftermath of an injury, accident or some other severe psychological shock.The person is unable to sleep and, even when he does, he will be haunted by images or recollections of that specific event. His functioning will also be adversely affected, so he will have a hard time going about his daily routine. Even the simple act of interacting with other people becomes an ordeal.
Why is it important to manage stress?
We have gone through the various effects that stress can have on a person, and the picture it paints is not pretty. Stress affects both the mind and the body, and can have devastating results to one’s life – both personal and professional – if left unmanaged.
You want to avoid the negative effects of stress? Then you should definitely pay more attention on how to manage it.
How to Manage Stress
We often hear about stress management, and how important it is. This is not a fixed discipline, however. There is no standard guideline or instructional on how stress should be managed. After all, stress affects people differently, and the causes of stress also vary, so it makes sense that the way to manage stress would be different from person to person.
Watch this inspiring presentation of Kelly to learn how you can make stress your friend.
Stress management is all about taking positive action and finding healthier and better ways to cope with stress. This is in full recognition of the reality that we cannot completely eliminate stress. Since we cannot do away with it completely, what is left to do is to manage it: reduce its harmful effects, find ways to lessen its negative impacts, and put preventive measures into place so we can put a lid on it, and keep it from spiraling out of control.
Accept the fact that you are under a lot of stress and that you can do something about it.
It is so easy to fall prey to your helplessness once you realize that you are under a lot of stress lately. But do not make the mistake of thinking that you can do nothing about it. Keep in mind that you still have control: over your thoughts, your emotions, and over your lifestyle. You still have a say on how you will deal with your problems. You are not completely powerless.
Identify the causes of your stress.
The first (and probably most important) step in stress management is the identification of the causes or sources of stress. What stresses you out?
You have to recognize the true sources of your stress. On the surface, you may think that it is your job that is giving you a world of grief right now but, after deeper reflection, you might realize that what is really causing your stress are your family’s expectations about you and your career. This means you are barking up the wrong tree, and putting the blame on something else.
When assessing the true sources of stress, you have to look beneath the surface. You may have to take a hard look at yourself – your attitudes, your habits, and even the excuses that you make for the things that are happening to you.
Identifying the correct sources of stress will give you a more definite starting point on managing it.After all, you cannot expect to cure an illness when you don’t know the reason for it, do you?
Evaluate your current stress-coping methods or mechanisms.
How are you coping with stress? List down the ways or techniques that you are using to deal with stress. After you have identified them, try to objectively evaluate whether they are actually working or not.
Follow these strategies and techniques on managing stress.
Physical activity is highly recommended whenever you are feeling stressed out. You do not have to engage in a high impact sport; even the simple act of taking brisk walks in the late afternoon or jogging at the park will do. In fact, you can incorporate physical activity to your errands, such as cycling to the grocery store to buy some supplies or taking your dog for a walk.
Choosing a sport is not a bad idea, too. If you haven’t played a sport before in your life, then this is your chance to learn a new one. This will definitely take up a lot of your time and attention, and provide an outlet for all your frustrations and pent up energy.
Dance. Hit the gym. Sign up for a gym membership and start a fitness program. Find an exercise partner and encourage each other as you work out together. You can be spontaneous about when to do these physical activities, but if you come up with a schedule, make sure you stick to it. If you do it regularly, then it will be as natural as breathing. The regularity brought about by a routine will bring a semblance of order to your life.
The last thing that you probably want to do if you are feeling stressed out is to be talking to other people. You just want to curl up on your own and be by your lonesome. However, you should not succumb to this need to be alone. At this point, social engagement will do you a lot of good.
Communication and being able to connect with others at a time that you are not at your best may just be the boost that you need to break out of the funk that is sucking you in. Reach out. Build relationships. Maybe you can simply chat with another person about the most mundane things. Share a cup of coffee with a colleague. Invite your girl friends for a night out at the movies.
When you are feeling down, being alone may not be the best thing to do. That is why you see many people looking for support groups. They talk to them, air out their concerns, and even share advice. There is truth in the adage that talking will help you unload some of the stuff that you are feeling.
Avoid situations that cause unnecessary stress
Sometimes, the experiences that we go through are entirely of our own making. Once you have recognized the specific causes or sources of your stress, make extra effort to avoid them. Does traffic make you feel agitated? Leave home early so you won’t get caught in a traffic jam. Is a person in your apartment building causing you stress? Then make sure you do not cross paths with her or, even if you do, keep your interactions at a minimum.
If you think hard enough, you will find that there are alternatives that will lead you on another path – the one that will not cause you stress.
Learn to adapt
Now if you cannot avoid these stressors and stressful situations, it is up to you to adapt. Change what you can, but learn to adapt to those that are beyond your control. Take matters into your own hands and find ways to compromise. Maybe you can have a heart-to-heart talk with the co-worker that has been causing you grief lately.
Lay your cards on the table, and maybe you can reach an arrangement that will suit you both. If you are not confident that you can do it by yourself, find a mediator.
Manage your time
Go back to your daily routine or schedule. Make time for some fun and relaxation. Fatigue and overworking result from having a poorly-planned schedule. Set aside some “me-time”. Do not forget to laugh or smile everyday. This includes making sure you get enough hours of sleep in a day.
You may not be able to do it alone. If that is the case, ask for help. Tell your friends about your situation and ask for advice. Maybe they can even actively help you out in managing your stress. You may not realize that you have a strong support in your family, so you have to seek them out. In extreme cases, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. When nothing else works, it is time to go to the experts.
Wrong Ways to Cope with Stress
People cope with stress in various ways, without realizing that some of these ways may be actually unhealthy, and cause them more harm in the long run. Avoid these stress-coping ways.
- Smoking, which is bound to cause other health problems
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Bingeing on junk food
- Becoming a couch potato and doing nothing but watching television all day
- Becoming an introvert and shutting everyone out, including your family
- Medication, which can lead to addiction
- Violence and antagonism, driving everyone away
There are better, productive and healthier ways to cope with stress.Stress management is not rocket science. You can do it, as long as you put your mind to it. You are your own stress manager.