Stress management strategies are more important than ever in these chaotic, uncertain, and quickly changing times.

Our modern lifestyle is fraught with deadlines, pressures and various frustrations on a day to day basis. No wonder we find ourselves frazzled, spent and overwhelmed.

Of course, stress isn’t always a bad thing. In small doses it can help motivate you by providing the edge needed to gear up to a higher level of performance.

Quite often it can be the push that propels you to do your best; however, if you always operate at full throttle, it will take a hazardous toll on your mind and body.

What is Stress?

Stress is a normal physical response to real or imagined threats. It is the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction to impending harm or danger – a necessary defense mechanism wired into us since the beginning of our existence. When working properly the stress response helps us stay focused and alert. In extreme cases it’s what gives us both that extra boost of strength and energy to defend ourselves in life threatening situations, as well as the ability to react with extraordinary speed and presence of mind in the face of imminent danger.

Of course, the type of stress we deal with daily is somewhat different from the stress needed to keep us alert and vigilant. The stress that we need management strategies for is the type that makes us feel ‘not in control’ and damages health, productivity, relationships and overall quality of life. While it may appear that we have no control over this type of stress, we have more than we realize.

For one thing, while we may not be able to control certain stressful situations in our lives, we can certainly control how we respond to them and we can respond by taking charge of our thoughts, emotions and manner in which deal with them.

In short, stress management entails changing what we can about a stressful situation when possible, or changing our response to it when we cannot. Ultimately, the goal is to live a balanced life with time for work, leisure and relationships by having the ability to deal with pressure and stressful situations with resilience and composure.

Strategies for Dealing With Stress

Identify the stressors in your life. As simple as it sounds, many people aren’t even aware of what stresses them out, nor does everyone find the same things stressful. One person’s stress can be another’s challenge or motivation. Similarly, few people realize how much their own thoughts, feelings and behaviors contribute to their stress. We are each in charge of how we interpret events in our lives. We are also in charge of behaviors such as procrastination, lack of organization, and inattention that lead to deadline worries, not paying bills on time and inability to accomplish important tasks which, in turn, cause stress. Therefore, the first import step is to identify the stressors in your life and the ways you might be contributing to them.

Simplify Your Life. If you are burning yourself out by doing too much, start cutting back on some of your unproductive, yet time consuming and energy draining activities. No one can do everything.

Set your priorities and make room for doing what you value and find most important. Equally important is learning to say NO! Delegate and redistribute tasks if you have to, but don’t try to do it all. Hire a cleaning service one day a week, get a baby sitter to pick up the kids after school, have a lawn service do the landscaping. Feeling stressed and overburdened comes from taking on too much and not balancing it with relaxation and down time.

Reduce effects of stress by eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, sluggish (from inactivity) or tired, I am very stressed and grumpy! Not getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy causes both mental and physical stress; so does not getting enough sleep. And regular exercise not only releases tension and stress while you’re doing it, it builds stamina and endurance enabling you to handle stress better. Most people totally underestimate the importance of maintaining good physical health to ward off stress and anxiety.

Accept that there are things you cannot change. As we all know, there are many things in life beyond our control such as the death of a loved one, job loss, illness, or even the behavior of others. As difficult as it may be at first, in such cases, the best thing we can do is accept things as they are. Secondly, we can choose how to react to the event.

Some constructive ways include:

  • expressing what you are going through to a friend or therapist (healing)
  • keeping a journal to record thoughts and feelings (cathartic)
  • looking for opportunities for growth; learning from the experience (productive)
  • developing resilience (building inner strength)

There are also more common causes of unavoidable stress such as job interviews, taking an exam, having to make a presentation, a disagreement with someone, and similar situations. In such cases it helps to to know how to stay as composed as possible. Deep breathing techniques, visualization (mentally rehearsing the event) and preparing yourself as much in advance as you can, dramatically lessens the stress you will experience.

Manage stress in healthy ways. Do you currently cope with stress in healthy or unhealthy ways? If your current coping mechanisms are unhealthy, you are compounding the problem. Unhealthy ways of handling stress include, abusing alcohol, taking various pills, smoking, over or under eating, watching too much television, stress management strategies taking your frustrations out on others, and overall avoidance of your
problems. If you are already under stress and dealing with it in ways that are detrimental to your health, you are making matters much worse by compounding the stress.

Not surprisingly, we all have unique responses to stress and how we choose to handle it. The trick is to find what works for YOU!

One of the best studied stress relievers is the relaxation response, first described by Harvard’s Herbert Benson, M.D. The beauty of this technique is that it requires no special posture or place. For instance, if you happen to be stuck in traffic, or if you’re having trouble falling asleep you can do it.

Here’s how:

  • Sit or lay back comfortably. Close your eyes and relax your muscles.
  • Breathe deeply. To make sure that you are breathing deeply, place one hand on your stomach, the other on your chest. Breathe in slowly through your nose and as you do you should feel your stomach (not your chest) rise.
  • Slowly exhale. As you do, focus on your breathing.
  • If thoughts begin to interfere don’t dwell on them, just allow them to pass and return to focusing on your breathing.
  • Although you can turn to this exercise any time you feel stressed, doing it regularly for 10 to 20 minutes at least once a day can put you in a generally calm frame of mind which can get you through typically stressful situations.

More Healthy ways to Manage stress:

  • Meditation, yoga, or biofeedback techniques such as brain wave therapy
  • Exercise by going for a walk, lifting weights, jogging
  • Spend time outdoors at the beach, in the woods, or sailing
  • Have a chat with a good friend
  • Take a hot, fragrant bath
  • Go for a massage
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Set aside 20 minutes a day to do whatever you want, even nothing
  • LAUGH more; watch a comedy movie or show – it relieves tension.

Unhealthy ways to deal with stress:

  • Excessive drinking
  • Using drugs or pills to relax
  • Sleeping too much
  • Over or under eating
  • Watching too much television
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Taking your stress out on others

Harmful Effects of Ongoing Stress:

  • Adversely alters your body and brain chemistry (stress hormones, cortisol)
  • Weakens your immune system
  • Heart disease, hypertension, heart attack, stroke
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Ulcers, gastrointestinal irritabilities
  • Skin problems, hair loss
  • Headaches, migraines
  • Sexual dysfunction

We all know that life can be stressful, sometimes it’s avoidable and sometimes not; however, if we take responsibility for how we handle stress and implement effective strategies to deal with it, stress will become a manageable component of everyday life, not a health damaging one.