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Ways to Manage Stress more Effectively

When we mention stress, we normally associate it with something negative in our lives. The truth is that stress is not all bad.  In fact, a certain amount of stress is needed to keep us alert, help us focus, and keep us engaged.  We cannot escape our responsibilities and deadlines, so, rather than trying to eliminate stress entirely, we need to learn how to manage stress as best we can.  Interestingly enough, if we don’t have enough stress, we may end up feeling tired and hopeless. 

It would be wonderful if we could come up with a mathematical formula for stress—the amount of stress an individual could conceivably accept without going into overdrive.  However, optimal stress levels vary from person to person and from situation to situation.   In fact, a situation that might make your skin crawl might be invigorating for another person.  Likewise, a person who thrives on constant change would be stressed out in a job that is mundane, while an individual that hates change would be stressed out in a position that is constantly in a state of flux.   

Experts believe that many illnesses are directly tied to stress.  If you find yourself becoming constantly ill, or you feel nervous much of the time, you need to develop strategies for coping.  It should be noted, however, that stress management is a practiced art—you can’t expect to master it in a single day.   However, if you keep at it, chances are you will learn ways to deal effectively with stress.        

One of the first things you should do is to learn what your primary stressors are.  Is it cooking dinner?  Preparing for a presentation?  Driving to work?  While you cannot necessarily eliminate these chores, you can make them more manageable.  For instance, if cooking dinner stresses you out, consider deciding what to cook before the week starts, preparing meals ahead [batch cooking], and maybe ordering takeout once a week in order to take a break from your normal routine.  If preparing presentations is a problem, learn to divide up the project so that you’re only focusing on a section at a time.  If your morning commute leaves you frazzled, have a look at your morning routine: what are your time suckers? What can you improve to use the limited morning time more efficiently?  The idea here is to recognize your stressors and come up with ideas for limiting their impact. 

What about your emotional reactions to stressors? You may notice that stressors cause you to think negatively, focusing on the worst aspects of a situation.  Instead, consider a stressor an opportunity for improving your life. This is not saying to stay ‘positive’ all the time, that is what we call toxic positivity. The point is to look at the situation objectively, not amplifying the negative aspects and neither sugar-coating it. Try to determine whether you are overreacting to certain situations.  Is every stressor you encounter urgent? Take your time to assess the situation and therefore understand what is within your control that you can postpone/delegate/handle differently etc.  Think of yourself as being in control of your emotions.  While you may not be able to do anything about a certain situation, you can control your reactions to it.      

Pay close attention to your physical reactions to stress.  For instance, adopt deep breathing techniques in order to decrease your heart rate.  If your physical reactions to stress are severe, you should consult your doctor to see if you should be on medication.  However, a simple reaction to stress is to simply take a break from the situation: you can excuse yourself and go to the bathroom for example.  This way, you can get some valuable “alone time” to think through a situation and see if you can look at it in a ‘solution focused’ way rather than dwelling on the problem.      

Another effective way to fight stress is to strengthen your body.  Any form of exercise or moving your body will help you to manage your stress. Whether is a hard session at the gym, pilates, yoga, trekking, taking a walk in nature – MOVE YOUR BODY.  Eating nutritious food is very beneficial when managing stress.  Try to avoid stimulants such as sugar and caffeine, and make sure that you get enough sleep each night.   These simple strategies can help you to cope when situations seem overwhelming.       

Stress is an inevitable part of life.  However, with effective management techniques, you can turn stressful situations into opportunities for growth.  The more strategies you learn to deal with stressors, the happier and healthier you will be.  But remember to start SLOWLY and build it up gradually. You will only enjoy the benefits if you keep your efforts consistent. If you try to do it all at once, you’ll get discouraged and consistency will be out of the window within days. So, keep in mind, that slow and steady is key.        

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