We can’t avoid stress: it’s always going to be there, no matter how much we wish otherwise. We can, however, try to minimize our stress by using effective stress-management strategies. It’s not always easy to change the way we deal with pressure, but it is doable. Learning how to manage stress takes time and persistence, but it so impacts the quality of our life that it’s well worth the effort.
Effective Ways to Manage Stress
Though you can’t completely get rid of everything in your life that causes tension, you’d be surprised by the amount you can eliminate. Identify the people, things, and situations that cause the most stress in your life, and then sift out the ones you can avoid, minimize, or get rid of completely and figure out what you need to do to make that happen.
- Avoid the people who cause you stress. Completely remove them from your life if you can, but if you can’t, limit the amount of time you spend with them. Don’t worry about what people think or if they’ll be offended: if they’re causing you stress, they need to go.
- Say no. We hear recommendations about that all the time, yet we still don’t do it. Don’t accept responsibility for something that’s not yours, and don’t commit yourself when you’re already over-committed. You have no obligation to set aside your integrity to make someone else happy.
- Steer clear of things that upset you. If the news causes you anxiety, don’t watch it; turn off the TV or change the channel. Don’t argue over hot button issues. If arguing about politics or religion raises your blood pressure, don’t engage: change the subject.
- Trim your “to-do” list: don’t do things you think you should; only what you must. Cross off tasks that don’t absolutely have to be done.
- Lighten your schedule. Don’t over-commit your time,, and give yourself extra time in between appointments.
If you can’t avoid a stressor, change the way you look at it. When you re-frame a problem, you automatically feel some sense of control, and you’ll lower your stress just by changing your attitude. The attitude you take and the expectations you set may actually be what’s causing the stress. There are many things we absolutely cannot change in life, but we do have the ability to change the way we react to them.
- Try to view problems as learning opportunities.
- Lower your expectations, and don’t set standards that neither you nor others can possibly meet. Perfectionism is likely the largest stressor we have, so figure out what’s “good enough”, and be satisfied with that.
- Look at the bigger picture to get perspective: ask yourself if something really is as important as you think it is. If it won’t matter five years from now, just let it go; it’s not worth the stress it’s causing you to worry about it.
- Learn to relinquish control. If something is beyond your direct influence, it’s a waste of your energy to stress about it. You’ll just endanger your health and lower the quality of your life over something you can’t do anything about anyway.
- Accept responsibility. If your actions or choices contributed to the stress, you need to take responsibility for that. When we take ownership of our contribution to problems, we automatically lower our tension.
We can often lower our stress just by taking action in order to do something, anything to impact the way a problem affects us. Sometimes it’s a significant action, and sometimes it’s just a tiny step, but the important thing is that we do something to change the situation.
- Communicate your feelings. Telling people that something they have said or done has upset you is often enough to make the stress more manageable. Keeping our feelings bottled up only causes problems to snowball into huge mounds of tension that are hard to overcome.
- Get support. Talk out your stress with someone you trust. Venting to a friend is very cathartic, as not only do we get our stressful feelings off our chest, but often the other person can provide a different perspective on actions we can take.
- Stand up for yourself, and be proactive. Prepare ahead of time to deal with situations that you know cause you worry, and address problems as soon as they happen instead of letting them grow. Don’t tolerate criticism, and don’t allow other people to manipulate you—demand respect.
- Change the way you do things. Look for tools that can save you time and effort, and try to find a better way to handle a situation. If you don’t know how to do it differently, find resources to help you.
Good health is of vital importance in managing our stress levels, and it may be the aspect that we have the most control over. Improving our physical health allows us to have the energy and stamina to deal with stress more effectively, while improving our mental health puts us in a better frame of mind so stress doesn’t affect us as much.
- Get regular physical activity: a few sessions of exercise every week—even short periods of activity every day—can make a significant difference in the quality of your health.
- Use better fuel by choosing higher-quality foods. You don’t have to eliminate all of your favorites to be healthier; just substitute better ones whenever you can.
- Get more sleep. The majority of Americans are walking around sleep-deprived. It’s difficult enough to manage stress when we’re well rested, but it’s nearly impossible when we’re exhausted.
- Be proactive. Go to the doctor for health checkups, and don’t just seek medical help when there’s a serious problem. Make sure to visit your healthcare professional regularly so that you can avoid a problem before it starts, or prevent it from blossoming into a full-blown chronic health issue.
Recharge your batteries
Taking the time to give yourself the attention you need is the single most effective way to manage your stress. It may seem frivolous, selfish even to put a fun and relaxation at the top of your list, but taking care of yourselves actually gives you the energy, stamina, and patience to manage stress more effectively. We get so caught up in the craziness of life that we often forget that we are actually the central force that controls our lives. Recharging is not a luxury, it’s mandatory.
- Make time to relax. Schedule time for relaxation on your calendar if you need to, whatever you need to do to make it a real commitment. Take a break from your problems, your obligations, and responsibilities just for a little while. They’ll still be there later, and you’ll be better able to handle them when you’re well-rested and relaxed.
- Be social. Spending time with friends and family who support and nurture you provides a healthy support network that can act as a shield against the effects of negativity. Being around other people who are positive and upbeat can have a positive effect on your mood. Happiness is contagious—catch it.
- Laugh. Being able to laugh at difficult situations not only releases endorphins and lowers blood pressure, but it also allows you to view problems with a lighter attitude. The ability to find the humor in life, even if you’re laughing at yourself, is a very effective way to manage stress.
- Regularly do things that nurture you, instead of drain you. Read a good book, go for a walk, listen to music, play with your pets, take a bath, call a friend, or watch a movie you love.
The bottom line is that while tension can’t be eliminated, it can be managed. If we learn to incorporate some of these stress-management strategies into our lives, we can actually avoid some common stressors and learn to handle the rest in a calmer and healthier way.