Learning to manage and control stress is an increasingly important part of everyday life. Whilst we do our best to juggle work, family, and social life, along with trying to eat well and make good life choices, we pay little attention to the impact that stress can have on our health and ability to make constructive changes; no matter how hard our efforts.
Failing to implement effective stress management techniques means that you are placing yourself at a higher risk of developing modern degenerative conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Placing the direct health implications of stress aside, it becomes virtually impossible to stick to healthy goals when stress is making a mockery of all your good intentions. Stress hormones not only increase heart rate and blood pressure but have severe implications for weight management too. Even with the best will in the world you just don’t stand a chance.
The general vitality of the body can be affected creating (amongst other factors); raised blood sugar, weakened immune system, hormonal imbalances, increasing visceral fat, and leaving us wide open to the onset of illness.
So why do we pay so little attention to dealing with our stress? Stress management is tough. It requires you to face up to issues you may have been trying your best to hide from for months or even years. Being faced with the option of dealing with an issue head on or side stepping for an easier life; many of us will choose the latter simply because we have never been taught any other way. By adopting just a few simple stress management techniques you can work productively towards taking control.
What is Stress?
On the most basic level stress is a simple chemical reaction. When your body reacts to a stressful event it produces hormones which help you to deal with any threats or pressure you are facing – activating the “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and provides the body with extra energy. Cortisol, which is aptly known as the stress hormone, seeks to temporarily increase energy by triggering the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
These physical changes will improve your strength, stamina, and reaction time; your body is making sure it has enough energy to react whilst your mind decides what action to take. This initial stage produces the feelings that we are all familiar with; the raised heart rate, sweating, feeling of panic and not knowing what to do along with quick, shallow breathing and feeling on edge.
The problem is that we are no longer predators and very rarely are our stress triggers caused by a situation which will require the traditional “fight or flight” response. As a result, we do not burn off the additional energy that our body has created meaning that we are left with stress build up and higher blood sugar levels. The more often that this process repeats itself the more overactive our “fight or flight” response becomes until we find ourselves operating at a constant level of high alert. The general vitality of the body can be affected creating (amongst other factors); raised blood sugar, weakened immune system, hormonal imbalances, increasing visceral fat, and leaving us wide open to the onset of illness.
What is the answer to dealing with stress effectively?
We all tend to cope with stress in different ways; some more effectively than others. By incorporating stress management techniques into your routine you will be able to explore the possibility as to whether you are able to eliminate or reduce some stress triggers.
The first step is to identify the stress triggers that you are experiencing. Make a list of the areas where you would like to improve your reaction to stressful situations; identifying both the trigger event and your response. By then taking each scenario and working through a few short exercises you should be on the road to being able to re-evaluate and control your reaction. You will need to start at the beginning and work through each of the steps until you have reached a potential solution; each stressor will require its own process.
Strategy 1 – AVOID the stressor
The first thing to consider is how many sources of stress you can actually eliminate from your life. Could you:
- avoid unnecessary stress?
- stop taking on more than you can handle? Learn to say no.
- avoid people that bring you negativity and stress?
- prioritise your tasks?
Strategy 2 – ALTER the situation
Obviously not all sources of stress can be eliminated but there are techniques that can be employed to help you assess and alter the situation. Could you:
- express your concerns?
- reach a compromise?
- be more assertive?
- employ time management techniques?
If you struggle in any of these areas then you could consider taking a short course or finding the information to help you teach yourself. Ask at your workplace about self-development training; skills such as these are often under one umbrella and many are provided free by your local authority; look up adult or lifelong learning. Learning to communicate effectively is a worthwhile skill that could open many doors.
Strategy 3 – ADAPT to the situation
If your attempts at improving communication or time management do not relieve you from the stressors then it is time to think about altering the way that you look at a given situation. It may sound obvious, but once your vision is skewed by stress it can be difficult to remember to stand back and take a different view.
Look at the big picture. Where does this situation rank in the grand scheme of things? For that matter what is the grand scheme of things?
Consider adjusting your standards. Are your expectations realistic? Don’t worry if you come to the conclusion that yes they are; no one is asking you to compromise your integrity but simply consider all the angles and judge each situation in context.
Try to see challenges as an opportunity for personal growth. Let go of negative energy. Harbouring resentment or storing up old ills will prevent you from moving forward…
Focus on the positive. If you look hard enough you can always find a positive angle even if it is only to chalk this down to experience. If you never faced problems then you would never change; and without change there can be no growth.
Pay careful attention to your internal dialogue. If you must have a conversation with yourself, and trust me we all do it, then make it a positive one. Instead of plotting your managers downfall and unleashing the sulky teenager within, use your inner dialogue to work through the situation and give yourself a pep talk. Learn to make your inner self someone you can trust.
Strategy 4 – ACCEPT the things you cannot change
These steps are all part of learning to accept that there are bits of life that you just cannot change. You have to learn how to deal with it and then move on. Remember that you can’t control everything. The universe is a huge, weird, and wonderful place that you are just one tiny part of; enjoy it.
Try to see challenges as an opportunity for personal growth. Let go of negative energy. Harbouring resentment or storing up old ills will prevent you from moving forward; forgive, forget, and move on. Be aware of your own energy; by viewing the world through a positive lens and letting go of some of the weight on your shoulders you will have a positive effect on everything around you.
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- LFS – Labour Force Survey – Self-reported work-related ill health and workplace injuries: Index of LFS tables. (October, 2014). In HSE (Health and Safety Executive). Retrieved from http://www.hse.gov.uk/Statistics/lfs/index.htm#stress