Many of us experience stress in life, whether this is in the short term from one-off projects, or long-term stress from a high-pressure career.
Not only can this be profoundly unpleasant, it can seriously affect our health and our work. However, it is possible to manage stress, if you use the right tools and techniques.
What is Stress?
A widely accepted definition of stress, attributed to psychologist and professor Richard Lazarus, is, “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”
This means that we experience stress if we believe that we don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to handle a situation. In short, we experience stress when we feel “out of control.”
This also means that different people handle stress differently, in different situations: you’ll handle stress better if you’re confident in your abilities, if you can change the situation to take control, and if you feel that you have the help and support needed to do a good job.
Signs of Stress
Everyone reacts to stress differently. However, some common signs and symptoms include:
- Cold or sweaty hands and feet.
Insomnia, nightmares, disturbing dreamsPersistent difficulty concentrating.
- Social withdrawal or isolation.
- Constant tiredness, weakness, fatigue
- Increased frustration, irritability, edginess
- Significant weight gain or loss.
- Consistent feelings of being overwhelmed or overloaded.
- Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness.
- Frequent crying spells, depression or suicidal thoughts
How to Manage Stress
The first step in managing stress is to understand where these feeling are coming from.
Keep a stress diary to identify the causes of short-term or frequent stress in your life. As you write down events, think about why this situation stresses you out. Also, use the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to identify specific events that could put you at risk of long-term stress.
Then, consider using some of the approaches below to manage your stress. You’ll likely be able to use a mix of strategies from each area.
1. Action-Oriented Approaches
With action-oriented approaches, you take action to change the stressful situations, e.g.:
- Manage your time and priorities
- Be more assertive in managing your boundaries
- Take action to minimize stress in your working environment.
2. Emotion-Oriented Approaches
Emotion-oriented approaches are useful when the stress you’re experiencing comes from the way that you perceive a situation.
To change how you think about stressful situations:
- Use Cognitive Restructuring and Thought Awareness, Rational Thinking, and Positive Thinking to change the way that you perceive stressful events
- Use positive affirmations and imagery to overcome short-term negative thinking, so that you feel more positive about stressful situations.
3. Acceptance-Oriented Approaches
Acceptance-oriented approaches apply to situations where you have no power to change what happens, and where situations are genuinely bad.
To build your defenses against stress:
- Use techniques like meditation and physical relaxation to calm yourself when you feel stressed.
- Take advantage of your support network (e.g. your family and friends).
- Get enough exercise and sleep, and learn how to make the most of your down time, so that you can recover from stressful events
- Use laughter, humour and smile to de-stress yourself and transform stress to strength 🙂
How are you coping with stress in your life?
What approach helps you the most?