Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Stress is a normal part of life and involves a change in your environment that puts you on alert and influences physical, emotional, and psychological responses. Stress can even be healthy depending upon how you perceive it and whether periods of stress are also followed by periods of relaxation. Acute or chronic stress is a negative emotional response that is experienced over longer periods of time where the indivdiual feels that they have little or no control over their environment.
However, in modern times, it may feel more difficult to manage stress and set limits in our professional and personal lives. Most of us experience a state of constant connectivity through use of mobile devices, which translates into incessant demands for our time and attention, catchier advertisements trying to distract us, increasing competitiveness, and more fluid boundaries between work and leisure time. It's no wonder that most people suffer from some form of stress and feel that they don't have enough time!
Social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, who wrote Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History, noted, "Clearly, we have had to pay a heavy price for our efficient society. We have quickened the pace of life only to become less patient. We have become more organized but less spontaneous, less joyful. We are better prepared to act on the future but less able to enjoy the present and reflect on the past." With the need to fit more and more tasks into shorter and shorter spans of time, many people are experiencing the shadow side of productivity--isolation, feelings of meaninglessness, burnout, stress, and depression.
Acute or chronic levels of stress can lead to significant health problems, such as headaches or migraines, stomach problems or ulcers, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, problems with sleeping, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, as well as mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Why is this such an important topic? Recent statistics from WebMD indicate that 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress related ailments. The same source states that 50% of psychological disorders are attributed to stress, while 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress. We all can do better when it comes to minimizing stress and practicing stress management skills.
Identify What is Stressing You Out
Sometimes, just getting clear about why we are feeling the way we do or identifying the major areas of negative stress in your life can be empowering. By identifying stressors, you can then decide if there is anything you can do to remove or minimize stress right now. If it's something you can't change right away, you can develop a plan to change it, find healthier coping skills, or try to adopt a different attitude when dealing with stress. Common sources of stress are lack of time, financial strain, work-related stress, or relationship stress. Identify the areas in your life that cause you the most stress and commit to finding a way to either change it or try to cope with it more positively. Next, examine whether everything you do is necessary and prioritize what needs to get done. Start setting better boundaries, which may mean avoiding stressful situations or people, learning to say "No" to others, and refusing to take on more than you can handle. We live in a society that has made a religion of busyness and rushing around! By learning to set limits and re-prioritizing your own needs, you may find yourself feeling clearer, more confident, and engergized. Lastly, learn to express your feelings, have the courage to ask for help when you need it, and be willing to compromise if it seems appropriate. Learn to distinguish the battles worth fighting for and accept what is within your control (sphere of influence) and outside of your control.
Practice Mindfulness and Letting Go
Mindfulness is the process of bringing one's attention to experiences, sensations, thoughts, and feelings occurring in the present moment. The practice of mindfulness can involve simple observation in daily life, such as becoming aware of your thoughts, habits, or even simply being aware of small tasks that we take for granted, such as chewing your food or walking. Mindfulness can also be cultivated by learning to doing one thing at a time. Most of us are encouraged to multi-task in order to get more done, but this can lead to concentration issues, mistakes, and discomfort with stillness. Sometimes, we become so habitual in how we approach our day that we become totally absent mentally and emotionally. By practicing slowing down through meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking or any other form of exercise can help bring consciousness into your other daily activities.
As we learn to slow down, we may become aware of negative thought patterns or common scripts we play within our mind. You might try to do stream of consciousness or automatic writing and become aware of your “go to thoughts or attitudes.” Familiar scripts re-inforce guilt, shame, criticism: “I am not doing enough,” I am not good enough,” “I am failing at this,” or “what others must think of me.” As you become aware of these unconscious repetitive thoughts, you can begin to observe and deliberately choose how you speak to yourself. How you treat yourself and talk to yourself is primary; it carries out into our relationships with others and sets expectations in terms of what you think you deserve.
When we slow down, we can begin to observe our internal script and move to identifying with thoughts to witnessing thoughts. Witnessing can help shatter negative thought patterns and help you choose your thoughts.
Mindfulness and presence in each moment allows us to act creatively rather than reactivity and from a place of fear or fight or flight response. When we are calm, clear, and grounded, we can better handle stress and often make better choices and less mistakes. Recognize that each moment, no matter how insignificant, is an opportunity for learning. When we are consumed with the past or future, we are less likely to fully meet each moment with awareness, presence, and grace.
Another part of mindfulness may involve opening up to repressed feelings, as well as painful and unpleasant experiences. This can help us begin to heal from the past and move through a difficult situation more quickly and with grace. You might also ask yourself what your biggest fear is. Close your eyes, breathe, and imagine and feel how you would feel if you found yourself face-to-face with your biggest fear. If you can practice accepting and facing your fears, this can reduce the negative emotional charge and help avoid creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cultivating awareness of one's automatic thoughts with an attitude of compassion and self-acceptance are key to learning let go of the past. Letting go and surrendering is always the hardest part!
13 Tips for Stress Management
1. Declutter and simplify your physical space.
2. Get clear on priorities and complete the most important tasks first.
3. Best not to make decisions while in escalated state or anxious state of mind.
4. If feeling overwhelmed, break projects down into manageable sizes.
5. Examine whether everything you do is necessary and prioritize what needs to get done.
6. Avoid unnecessary stress, including stressful people or situations.
7. Learn to say “No” and refuse to take on other unnecessary obligations and tasks.
8. Identify what is within your power to change and what is not.
9. Practice acceptance of what is not within your control.
10. Reframe problems and try to find the lesson or learning in the experience.
11. Try to look at the big picture and ask yourself, “Will I remember this on my deathbed?”
12. Let go of perfectionism and unrealistic standards.
13. Practice gratitude for the little things.