“Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not” – unknown
Don’t start bingeing on chocolate cake, ice cream and wine just because stressed spelled backwards is desserts. That can only exacerbate a bad situation. All (half) joking aside, it needs to be acknowledged that stress plays a crucial role in a healthy and productive life.
The key is maintaining a balanced life, with time for relationships, relaxation, work, and leisure-plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet life’s challenges directly. But if you still want that ice cream cone go ahead and enjoy one.
Stress will always play a role in our lives but that doesn’t mean that you should accept feelings of dread and paralysis as the norm. Yes, it’s true that the bills aren’t going to take a vacation, the number of hours in the day won’t increase for your additional workload, and your familial and work responsibilities may seem demanding. However, you have a lot more control than you realize.
In fact, the realization that you are in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. Managing stress is all about taking charge of your emotions, your thoughts, your environment, your schedule, and ultimately your actions. Make no mistake about it; YOU are in charge of your life.
Identify the sources of stress
Start with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as simple as it may first appear. But it’s too important to ignore. Your true sources of stress aren’t always as obvious as you’d think. It’s too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, behaviors and feelings. Sure, you probably realize that you’re worried about work deadlines, rather than your procrastination and the actual work demands that leads to deadline stress.
Look closely at your attitude, habits, and excuses:
- Do you identify stress as a crucial part of your home or work life or as part of your personality?
- Do you explain away stress as a temporary state even though you cannot recall the last time you took a needed breather?
- Do you blame your stress on outside events, other people, or see it as normal and unremarkable?
- Do you procrastinate? A lot of self-induced stress is an offshoot of procrastination
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will not change and thus seem to remain outside of your control.
Write it down
By writing it down you clearly identifies the problem. Start a daily journal, even when you’re not feeling too stressed. A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life. Now take it a step further and call your stress journal something else, like a challenges log. Why? Because the wording matters. The way you write it down will sub-consciously help to mitigate the stress.
As you keep a daily “challenges log” you will begin to see patterns emerge. Write down:
- What caused your stress?
- How did you feel and how did you react to the stress-inducing event?
- What did you do to feel better or less stressed?
- Why did you choose a specific course of action, or take no action?
Writing it down not only provides much needed clarity, it also helps you to regain a sense of understanding and acceptance.
Walk it off
Whenever I’m mentally stuck, restless or tired I often go for a brisk 20-minute walk. It always helps. Research has shown that walking can reduce stress hormones and alleviates mild depression. Even a relaxing 15-minute stroll promotes relaxation. A good walk does wonders for your mood, self-perception, self esteem, sleep quality, and enhances problem-solving skills.
Change your thoughts and you can change your life is much more than a feel-good cliche. It’s wisdom to live by and as simple as walking.
It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed at times, between juggling familial responsibilities like work, and other commitments. The need to develop a sense of balance is of paramount importance. Learning to control your stress requires regular practice, and that’s normal and healthy. However, when you feel the effects of stress weighing you down, like lugging a heavy backpack that worsens by the minute then the need to get control of it is needed.
Test your memory. Try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago. I’ll bet you can’t, unless it was a brush with death. Even then most of the details have been forgotten. Your mind has the incredible capacity to heal itself.
Healthy ways to handle stress
Again, stress plays an important role-it enables you to respond quickly and decisively to threats and avoid peril. However, lengthy exposure to it often leads to increased physical (elevated heart rate and high blood pressure) and mental health (depression and anxiety) problems that can lead to disease and premature death.
Your response to stress also includes thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger. Although you often think about stress as being negative, it also comes from positive life changes like a new job or promotion, marriage, or having a new baby. While you can’t avoid all stress, nor should you, there are healthy ways to manage it. Here are a few ways that have worked for me:
Eating and drinking for optimal health
Consuming a healthy and balanced diet is the fuel in the fight against overwhelming stress. It all starts with my daily breakfast veggie smoothie: one serving of spinach, blueberries, beets, strawberries and four table-spoons of flax seeds.
Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever. I prefer walking and running with moderate weight-training. I’ve also added meditation to my stress-busting arsenal.
Fortunately I’ve never liked cigarettes. But if you smoke now is the time to finally quit. While many people identify smoking as a stress-reliever it actually places unwanted stress on your body, like decreased blood flow and breathing.
Practice relaxation techniques
I like to meditate for 10 to 15 minutes upon awakening. No, I’m not a Buddhist but this ancient Eastern technique works wonders. It’s helped to reduce my high blood pressure and restore a sense of calm that lasts throughout the day. There are many online and smart phone apps that provide guidance on various relaxation techniques. Many are also free.
Soothe with music
I love the way music soothes and stimulates my thinking and actions for the day ahead. Partly that includes listening to CDs in my car and my young son as he practices his electric guitar. The ability top play a musical instrument can provide a unique option to soothing the stressors of the day, not to mention a great way to stave off Alzheimer’s disease.
Learn to say no to others. It’s a great way to limit the demands on your time and energy that are too stressful. Learn to be mindful of what you can control and work on accepting the things that you cannot.
Set realistic expectations and goals
It’s crucial to recognize-and accept-that you cannot be 100% successful at everything all at once. I, too, have struggled with this realization at various points in my life. Journaling will help you to become mindful of the things that you can control as well as the things that you can’t.
Lastly, finding and maintaining a healthy balance is the key to making your life as (negative) stress-free as possible. While everyone experiences stress it is paramount to respond in a healthy and productive way.