Stress has been defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. It’s so common that only 4% of people surveyed about stress (Gallup) said they are never stressed. That means the other 96% of us feel stress either sometimes, daily, or chronically. While we share a common experience of stress, the causes, effects, and signs of stress vary widely. This article will offer several stress management techniques to help you reduce stress.
Suppose 100 people are exposed to the same traumatic event (for example, a hurricane that damages their homes and displaces them). Those 100 people are likely to have 100 different manifestations of stress. Some may have physical symptoms of stress such as headaches, fatigue, and achy muscles.
Others may experience emotional symptoms of stress such as tearfulness, worry, and even rage. Still others will have relationship challenges as each person in the relationship responds to stress in their own unique ways.
Stress is not a disease or problem that provokes, controls, or influences us. Stress is the way we respond to events and experiences. Unresolved mental and emotional tension due to various experiences is what brings on feelings of stress, and we are the only ones who have influence over the level of mental and emotional tension that exists in our minds. In short, we have a powerful influence over stress. That’s good news! You are not a servant to stress.
4 Stress Management Techniques
Here are four ways to influence stress (relieve stress and reduce stress) in your life.
1. Identify the causes of stress for you.
There are common stressors for most Americans. Money and work are among the top two stress-provoking topics noted consistently over time. We worry about not having enough money. We are stressed and unhappy in our jobs. Yet, global stressors do not effectively describe our personal experiences of stress.
What are the experiences and events in your life that really get to you? Is it the little things (life’s paper cuts) like a flat tire, a head cold, or a coffee spill? Is it chronic stress from relationship or job dissatisfaction? Make a list of your common stressors. From here, you have the foresight to be on the lookout for these stressful experiences, putting you at the perfect vantage point to prepare for how you will respond to them.
2. Identify yoursymptoms of stress.
The American Institute of Stress estimates that anywhere from 75-90% of emergency room visits are due to stress-related problems. The mind-body connection is undeniable. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, it is imperative that you have them addressed, and consider whether their source may be unresolved mental or emotional tension (i.e., stress).
Take a moment to listen to your body. Are there areas of inflammation or pain you are consistently noting or complaining of? Write down your most common physical complaints. Keep a journal of when they occur and note what is going on in your life that day.
For example, is it a more stressful day than usual when a headache occurs? Your journal will help you determine if your physical symptoms are actually a result of unresolved stress.
No person is immune to experiences of anxiety and depression. These are common results of unresolved stress. More often than not, sadness and worry are symptoms rather than underlying causes of stress.
Each of us is created with a distinct temperament. We react to circumstances differently because of our unique design. What types of emotional reactions are you prone to? Do you become easily frustrated in the face of adversity? Do you tend to check out or avoid stressful situations rather than dealing with them?
How would others describe your emotional reactions to stress? Take note of your emotional experiences from day to day and identify any possible links to stressful situations (and/or people) in your life.
Yes, stress manifests in relationship challenges. When one person in the relationship is experiencing unresolved stress, the other person feels it. Relational symptoms of stress manifest in lack of patience with others, becoming easily frustrated, an increase in arguments or general irritation in the presence of others, lack of intimacy, and overall decreased communication.
Knowing that you are the only person you can control (not your partner), what are some of the ways stress manifests itself in your relationship? Ask your partner to help you identify those instances of relational strife that appear to be the direct result of stressful circumstances. Keeping the lines of communication open will help you to address the true enemy, stress, rather than blaming one another.
Let’s face it – sometimes it’s easier to avoid the stress in our lives than deal with it, and that avoidance often lends itself to coping in unhealthy ways. Heavy alcohol use is one way to escape from stress. Drug use, gambling, even shopping could prove to be a symptom of unresolved stress. You’ve no doubt heard of comfort food.
Well, when we experience that mental tension after a stressful experience (or during) our bodies crave comfort. That’s when overeating comes into play. Carbs and sugar make us feel good while in the moment and quickly leave us crashing only to come back for more, much like the other addictions mentioned.
Avoiding coping with stress can also result in sleeping too much, or not enough. Create a behavioral inventory for yourself. Are there habits you have that you know aren’t good for you, but they’re your go-to in times of distress? The behavior is rarely the problem. It’s the obvious manifestation of the true issue, unresolved mental and emotional tension.
3. Get ahead of stress.
Our bodies are a bit like computers. We can only take in so much data before we must cool our minds down to keep from overloading. That means we must take deliberate steps to prepare our bodies in advance of stress-provoking incidents, not just during or after.
Think about anti-virus software for the computer. It works by preventing viruses (stressors) from compromising the system. Even those annoying “updates” prepare the applications to function at their optimal intention. So, how do we protect and update our bodies and minds?
There are three basic stress prevention measures available to a person. They are the trifecta of well-being: sleep, diet, and exercise. Your brain is like a computer, controlling everything you do, think, and feel. Sleep, diet, and exercise keep your brain in tip-top shape enabling you to deal effectively with stressful events. When our brains are deprived of rest, nutrition, and blood flow they are unable to serve you in the way they were intended.
Are you getting enough sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. The brain requires sufficient rest to reset and recharge, yet we drag it through the wringer and expect it to perform without its needed rest.
What habits do you need to begin incorporating to achieve more rest? Can you do without that extra television show at night? Can you move the TV out of the bedroom? Do you need to address physical problems like sleep apnea?
Diet refers to the level of nutrition we consume, not to the latest carb-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free diets on the market. Our brains need fuel. They run on glucose (not donuts). Your brain needs protein, fiber, healthy fats, and other essential vitamins and minerals to function optimally. Remember, you are giving your mental health and your overall happiness in life a boost when you take care of your brain.
Are you attempting to get your nutrition through supplements and pills? Or are you being careful to enjoy colorful and nutrient-rich foods? Consult with a dietician or nutrition expert before drastically changing your diet. For now, simply be mindful that what you consume has a direct impact on your ability to combat stress.
Lastly, exercise is a great way not only to prevent stress but to release stress in the midst of it. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, like serotonin and dopamine. This extra dose of happiness makes your set-point for stress much higher.
In other words, it will take more of a stressful experience to set off a waterfall of stress-related symptoms. How can you incorporate even 15 minutes of exercise into your daily routine? You could walk the dog, take the stairs, get a standing desk, or even join a gym.
4. Engage in talk therapy or counseling.
Counseling and therapy are more effective when used as a measure of prevention rather than as a response. Consider engaging in ongoing emotional and mental support to increase the robustness of your ability to prevent and cope with stress.
Counselors are adept at helping people learn more effective ways of thinking, that when practiced during regular sessions, set you up to exert a powerful influence over stress. It’s much like going to the gym to strengthen your physical muscles. Therapy and counseling strengthen your emotional muscles so you are prepared for mental battle.
The key thing to remember is that your experience of stress is determined by you. Your level of stress is determined by your reaction to it. Your ability to cope with stress is dictated by your how prepared you are for it.
Stressful events will not cease to occur, but you are now armed with four critical ways to reduce and even eliminate stress in your life. Living a life that’s stress-limited is possible when you choose to exert your influence over stress, and not let stress control you.
“Watching the Waves”, Courtesy of Anastase Maragos, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Outdoor Bliss”, Courtesy of Persnickety Prints, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Kinga Cichewicz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” Courtesy of Stefan Spassov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License