Stress can feel like an unwanted, normal part of life. There are even times where it feels like there is nothing that can be done about it. Whether it is bills that keep piling up, the demanding responsibilities of work and family, or just simply trying to make a living. Fortunately, simply realizing that you need to take control of your stress is the first step to stress management. Stress management is about taking control of every aspect of your life from your lifestyle, your way of thinking, your emotions, and even how you react to problems in your life. But did you know that we have more control over our stress than we even realize? We actually do, and I am here to help you see that there are real steps you can take to deal with everyday stress.
What Are the Affects of Stress?
Not dealing with stress may affect your overall health. It’s possible that a nagging headache or insomnia are caused from being stressed out, and not because of illness. Stress can cause a lot of problems that can ultimately affect your mood, your body, and even your behavior. There are even studies that have shown how stress can affect your risk for cancer.
No need to worry, not all stress is equally harmful. For instance, short-term stress does not have the same harmful affects as long-term, or chronic stress. Generally, short-term stress, or acute stress, is stress over a shorter time period. For example, it could be you stressing out right before hosting a big dinner with family and friends. Acute stress tends to subside when the event is done, without causing any harmful long-term effects. However, acute stress can turn into a more serious condition if not managed properly. Any type of stress should be addressed and managed. But for some, managing stress may need the help of a proper medical professional. There are different levels of stress and different ways to manage it.
However, chronic stress can be much more damaging. This is the type of stress that comes from a situation that last for months, or even years, without a definite end point. Research shows that people who experience chronic stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, and weakened immune systems. A weakened immune system can leave you prone to viral infections such as the flu. It can also cause chronic headaches, trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety. Living with chronic stress can eventually lead to major health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain and depression.
Some studies have suggested that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. In studies of mice carrying human tumors, researchers found that in mice isolated from other mice – a condition that increases stress – the tumors were more likely to grow and metastasize. “In one set of experiments, tumors transplanted into the mammary fat pads of mice had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. Studies in mice and in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that the stress hormone norepinephrine, part of the body’s fight-or-flight response system, may promote angiogenesis [growth of tumor-supporting blood vessels] and metastasis,” the NCI reports.(1)
According to the National Cancer Institute, there is not a lot of solid evidence that stress can cause cancer directly. However, there are studies that have linked various psychological factors that can increase your risk of developing cancer. For example, stress hormones can inhibit a process that is specifically designed to kill diseased cells and prevent them from spreading. This process is called anoikis. Leaving this unchecked could possibly lead to the development of cancerous tumors.
Chronic stress can also affect your mood and behavior, which can cause bad-decision making. When your mood is affected, you may experience anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, anger, and sadness or depression. These changes can cause you to experience overeating, under-eating, angry outbursts, drug or alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and social withdrawal. Bad-decisions can cause more health concerns and issues. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can self-manage your stress.
Helpful Tips on How to Manage Stress
Acknowledging that you need help with stress management is a great start in relieving pressure and regaining control. You DO have more control over your stress than you may realize. Unfortunately, no single method works for everyone. Everyones’ situation is different. But, you can experiment with different techniques and strategies. Once you find what works for you, then you will be able to focus on gaining control of your stress.
Identifying the source of your stress.
Although finding the major stressor like moving or going through a divorce may be easy to identify, but pinpointing sources of chronic stress may be somewhat complicated. Looking closely at your habits, attitude and excuses are key to identify your true source of stress. Accepting responsibility for the role you play in creating and maintaining your stress level is key. Otherwise, it will continue to remain out of your control.
- Do you explain away stress as temporary?
- Do you define stress as a part of your home or work life or part of your personality?
- Do you blame your stress on others or on outside events? Or is it entirely normal and unexceptional?
Here are some ways and ideas, that may help you better manage your stress. Please note that I am not certified to give professional advice. These are simply helpful tips that I have found useful. I do recommend that you speak with your doctor or therapist if you are experiencing serious problems related to stress.
Start a Stress Journal
Keeping a stress journal may work for you. It can help with identifying regular stressors in your everyday life. Each time you feel stressed, write it down. By keeping a daily log, you will begin to see patterns that cause your stress. In your journal, I would suggest writing down what caused your stress. Then write down how you felt, how you reacted, and what you did to not feel less stressed. From a personal experience, my dog had an accident in his kennel while I was cleaning the whole house. This was a stressor for me. After noting that moment of stress, I would then write down how I felt in that exact moment, both mentally and physically. I felt anger and frustration after my dog had an accident. I was tired and not wanting to clean up the mess my dog had just made. After writing how I felt, I would then put how I reacted. I scolded my dog for having an accident by saying “No, no potty in kennel” and cleaned up the kennel. Despite my anger and frustration, I took my dog for a walk. I felt less stressed out about the fact that he had an accident and he also seemed less stressed about being in the kennel. We both got exercise and we bonded while walking.
Now, this was just a small example of one of my personal experiences. I tried doing this for a week and I found it very helpful. By compartmentalizing my stressors, I found that I was able to coupe with stress a little bit easier. After a few days of seeing a pattern, I didn’t feel as stressed when a repeating stressor came along. I was physically able to see the progress and get through the stressful event faster, more efficiently.
Practice the Four A’s of Stress Management- Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept
Avoid Unnecessary Stress
Obviously, avoiding situations altogether simply because it may be stressful it not going to help you. These are just a few tips that may help you get through some stressful situations.
- Avoid people who stress you out. If they tend to cause more stress for you, limit your time with them. If it is extreme, then consider ending the relationship altogether.
- Avoid stressful environments. Take control of your environment and find an alternative. If going to the grocery store stresses you, then try doing your shopping online. If watching the news gives you anxiety, then turn off the TV. Instead of watching the news, do something you enjoy.
- Learn your limits. Avoid overwhelming yourself for the day. If you are one to make to-do lists, then drop a few tasks that are not as important. If you can’t drop any task for the day, try to share the responsibility with a family member or friend.
- Distinguish between ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts.’ Whenever possible, avoid taking on more than you can handle. It does not matter if it is in your personal life or your professional life, learning when to say “no” is key. It is not about being rude, it is more about knowing your limit. You do not want to stress yourself out by taking on more than you can handle. You will not be very productive.
Alter the Situation
There will be times when avoiding a situation is not an option. Instead of avoiding, try to alter it. Altering can make it less stressful. Altering a situation involves changing how you communicate and operate, which can make life less stressful.
- Create a balanced schedule. You can easily get burned out from all work and no play. Try to find a balance between work and your own downtime. When you are not working, find something you really enjoy doing. You can even involve family and friends.
- Compromise can go a long way. If you are stressed by someone’s behavior, compromise. Be willing to bend a little to both of you changing your behaviors that seem to clash. Finding that happy middle ground can be the key to finding a stress-free relationship.
- Instead of bottling up feeling, express them. In an open and respectful way, express how you feel. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only led to building resentment. And effectively, your stress will increase.
Adapt to the Stressor
There will be times that you can not change the stressor itself. You can try to change yourself and adapt to the situation. You can regain your sense of control by changing your attitude and expectations.
- Have a different prospective. Try looking at a stressful situation with a more positive view. Instead of getting upset that about a really slow workday, look at it as opportunity that you are still making money. The day may be going super slow, but at least you will have money to spend on something you rather enjoy doing.
- Look at the bigger picture. In any stressful situation, ask yourself how important will it be in the long run. Will it matter in a month, a year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If not, then focus your time and energy somewhere else.
- Adjust your perfectionism. Demanding top perfection is one way to set yourself up for failure. Setting reasonable standards for yourself and for others will help lessen the stress. And it will open you up to more excitable opportunities.
- Practice gratitude. Whenever you are feeling down or stressed, try reflecting on the things that you appreciate in your life. Focusing on the positive qualities will help you keep things in perspective.
Accept the Things You Can Not Change
There are some things we just can not change or avoid. Acceptance can be one of the hardest things to do, but it is easier than going against it.
- Do not try to control what can not be controlled. There are many things we can not control. In particular, we can not control each other’s behavior. Instead of stressing out over it, focus on what you can control. For example, you can control how you react to your problems.
- Always look for the upside in challenges. If you look at your mistakes as opportunities for personal growth rather than a problem, you will find it less stressful.
- Forgiveness is tough but effective. Let go of anger and resentment by forgiving. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. Forgive yourself or others, and free yourself. By doing that, you are able to move on to live healthier and happier.
- Share your feelings. There is nothing wrong with sharing your feelings. Expressing yourself, whether it is positive or negative can help. Sharing with a trusted friend, family member, or a therapist can be very therapeutic.
Make Time For Yourself
Life can be very demanding. But there is nothing wrong with having a little “me time.” Do something that you truly enjoy. It doesn’t have to be shared with anyone, if you don’t want to. It is okay to be selfish every once in a while. Nurturing yourself is a must. Overall, making time for yourself will help you be able to handle stress a lot better.
Be Healthy, Be Happy
Eating healthy and making healthy lifestyle choices will increase your resistance to stress. Eating a well-balanced meal throughout the day can help keep your energy up and your mind clear, so you can focus on your day. But try to avoid those caffeine highs that send you crashing. This will help you feel more relaxed and help you sleep better at night. And as always, do not self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol may seem like an easy escape from stress, but that is not true. Masking the problem with them only does more harm than good. You need a clear, focused mind. Drugs and alcohol will only add to the stress, not solve it.
Stress management is easier said than done. Stress itself can be debilitating and hard to over come. I know from personal experience. But, there is light at the end of your tunnel. These tips may help you, or even give you ideas on how to better deal with stress. I do recommend speaking with a professional, like a therapist or doctor, if your stress is too much and nothing is working for you. I just want you to know that it will get better and to not give up.
Special thanks to my Sources: