What does stress really mean? The Oxford dictionary defines it as:
A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances
Everyone, from all walks of life, has stress. Everyone has bills, responsibilities, jobs, kids, relationships, daily hassles and major life events (positive or negative). C’est la vie. It is how you manage your stress, that differentiates an overwhelmed person from a calm person. Stress management is unique to each individual. Let’s help you find yours!
WHY MANAGE STRESS
Stress, in abundance, is detrimental to:
- Health. It affects your heart, brain, immune system, skin (hello break outs!) to name a few.
- Relationship. This is self explanatory. It is exhausting to be with someone who is constantly stressed.
- Quality of life. Stress makes people unhappy. Unhappy people do not perceive themselves to have a good life.
IDENTIFY YOUR STRESSORS
I look at stress in two ways:
- Obvious stress. These are usually the big things. You consciously feel stressed about it eg. Divorce, bankruptcy, a difficult child, major illness, a sick family member, hostile work environment etc.
- Hidden stress. These are usually daily hassles and demands that you have come to accept as part of life. For eg. Bad daily community, waiting on the phone for customer service, paperwork, morning rush at home etc.
HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESSORS
- Write down your stressors (both obvious and hidden) and address them one by one.
- The quickest way to address stress is to avoid or eliminate stressors, whenever feasible. You cannot run away from all stressors and I am not suggesting that you run away from responsibilities.
- Fix the “low hanging fruit”. Eg.
- You are always late: have a checklist for what you need to get out the door, set multiple reminders, set the clocks in your house 10 minutes faster.
- Bad commute: negotiate some amount of telecommuting, negotiate odd work hours such that you can commute at non-peak hours, relocate, use your commute to do something fun or productive (music, podcast, audiobooks).
- You have an impossible deadline: work really hard but plan for a vacation.
- You are almost always dangerously close to missing deadlines: for your next deadline, break it down into stages. Set mini deadline for each stage. And set multiple reminders, make it so annoying that you would rather deal with it than ignore it.
- Have a game plan or roadmap for the more complicated stressors. You will not be solving these overnight.
- Financial stress: start a budget and stick to it, read some financial books, speak to a finance professional, have a road map to pay off debt and not accumulate new debt.
- Strained relationship: start really communicating, figure out if there is hope, couple counseling and leave if you have to.
- Career rut: talk to HR or your supervisor about career advancement, consider online program or night classes to develop another skill set, negotiate for better pay or better hours.
- Know that some stressors are out of your control. Either make peace with it, or make lemonade out of lemon, or just reduce stress to the lowest possible level.
HOW TO REDUCE STRESS
- Get enough sleep. That is 8 hours for most adults.
- Physical activity. Find an activity you like and do it everyday if possible.
- Healthy diet. A lot of us are emotional eaters, typically craving carbs during stress. It will only give you a sugar high and then a spectacular crash.
- Protect what is truly important. For eg. Every Sunday is family day. Thou shalt not agree to take on anything else on Sunday.
- Be a minimalist in every aspect of life. Own as little things as possible, consolidate your bank accounts, have only a handful of very good friends, keep social media to a minimum etc.
- Decompress at the end of everyday. It can be music, massage, bubble bath, watching a comedy, a glass of wine, talking to love ones etc.
- Make it a point to reframe your day in a positive light.
- Learn to say no. Do not bite off more than you can chew.
- Minimize contact with people who stresses you out.
- Be organized. Read ORGANIZING YOUR LIFE
- Talk about it. Partner, friend, therapist, your pet hamster or your secret teddy bear. Sometimes you just need to vent.
- Change your expectations. This is much easier said than done and it takes practice. Perfectionism 100% of the time is a surefire way to burn out.
- Let bygones be bygones. Holding on to a grudge is stressful.
- Yoga, Tai Chi, Mindfulness meditation have been shown in clinical trials to be helpful in reducing anxiety.
- Get help in other areas of your life eg. house work, child care etc
- Get medical care if necessary.
- If all else fails, walk away. At least temporarily.
My personal mantra is “do your best”. I do not always do what I preach. I am only human. I wish you success in living your best, stress free (or reduced) life!