The American Institute of Stress defines stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change” — however, that definition comes with the qualifier that stress is “such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition.” Whether or not you can clearly define stress,there’s no question that it can be both mentally and physically taxing.
Stress is a part of our everyday lives, but it’s important that you don’t let it get out of control. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, asthma, and cancer. So what can you do to manage stress?
Start by identifying what it is that causes you stress. Maybe you tense up and your heart starts racing when someone cuts you off in traffic, or you feel overwhelmed by your workload, or maybe your wild teenager is turning your hair gray. Whatever your trigger is, stress can start to pile up to the point where it feels likes every little thing starts to stress you out. Before this happens, identify the initial source of your stress.
Once you know what’s causing stress, you can start thinking of ways to manage it. It’s important that you have a healthy way of managing your stress. Smoking cigarettes, drinking, overeating, or simply procrastinating aren’t productive ways of coping with tension, and can lead to significant health problems. Exercise, changing your attitude, or finding ways of addressing the issue are positive ways in which you can cope with stress.
If you feel like your life is chaotic, take some time to create a schedule, or write out a to-do list, to bring more organization to your daily routine. If nothing else, putting things on paper, instead of keeping a seemingly endless ticklist in your head, can make them seem more manageable.
Making small changes can help you gradually manage your stress. Getting more exercise or adding healthier foods can lead to healthier habits, which may help you reduce your stress. However, trying to make drastic life changes in order to manage stress can sometimes have an adverse effect. Turning your life upside down can be stressful in itself, and failing to meet your expectations can add to that stress.
Whatever changes you try to make or ways you try to deal with stress, maintaining a positive attitude is key. It’s not as simple as just staying positive, but having a more positive outlook and trying to find solutions rather than getting angry or wallowing in self pity can certainly help.
Here’s a mnemonic to help you use the methods above to conquer stress:
S: Sort out the situations in your life that are stressful. Commuting or start-of-day confrontations can start your day off badly; identifying them as the source of your stress keeps you from feeling as though your whole life is stressful.
T: Triggers can be identified and maybe controlled. If your kids meet you at the door, hanging on your clothes, jumping, and shouting, that can be a trigger for stress. But it’s not your kids — it’s the grabbing, jumping, and shouting. Developing a new homecoming routine can eliminate the trigger.
R: Reframing can help you keep triggers from causing more stress than they should. For example, if you get stressed by a long drive to work, see it as time to listen to your favorite podcast or leave 15 minutes earlier so you don’t feel anxious about being late. If you have a high-pressure job, think of it instead as a high-powered job.
E: Establish good habits, such as time management, getting enough sleep, or regular exercise. Taking good care of yourself can reduce stress and make it easier to handle.
S: Stop doing things that create stress in your life. Once you’ve identified stress triggers and reframed what you can, you may have some stressors that you could eliminate. If you’re worried about finances, coming up with a new budget can reduce stress. Or you might need to avoid watching all that bad news on TV. You can’t eliminate all stress, but you might be able to reduce some sources of stress.
S: Stay positive. Life involves stress. Even excitement is stressful, and we can often feel better by paying more attention to the good things.
If you feel like the stress in your life is too much for you to handle, or it is affecting your physical health, schedule an appointment with your doctor.