Stress Management: Take the edge off

Are you experiencing headaches or neck stiffness? Or are you having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep?

It’s possible that you are experiencing stress. Put down the coffee cup, stop ordering triple shoots from your local barista and switch to decaf.

Stress management is a learnable skill, and most people can learn how to deal with the stress in their lives. You can inoculate yourself against stress by making a number of simple changes.

Here are some strategies you can begin using today:

  • Identify the source of the stress symptoms.
  • Develop strategies to combat the symptoms.
  • Maintain a balance and achieve a stress-free life.

Stress can come at us from many directions, including missed deadlines, manufacturing mistakes, personality conflicts and unrealistic expectations of performance. Much of the stress we feel is self-imposed. When business gets tougher, we drive ourselves harder, we sleep less and eat the wrong foods. We drink more caffeinated beverages, increase our consumption of alcohol and eat snack foods laced with sugar. All of these bad habits increase our blood pressure, sugar levels and weight while reducing our ability to handle stress.

There are strategies that can increase your ability to handle the stress that you are exposed to on a daily basis.

Deep breathing is an effective method of reducing stress. Taking deep, slow breaths will reverse the effects of the shallow and fast breaths that you experience when stressed. As you become more aware of how your body handles stress, you can use this biofeedback technique to gain control over your emotions and thoughts.

Another proven approach is muscular relaxation, tensing and relaxing various muscle groups. This can be performed while driving or sitting in your office chair. Combined with the deep breathing exercise, your blood pressure can be lowered, your pulse slows down and the affects of stress are reduced. You cannot be uptight and relaxed at the same time.

Visualization is another strategy that can be added to your portfolio. When I teach this tool, I call it “going to your happy place.” Like other strategies, it takes practice to make it work. The more detailed your visualization, the more effective it is. What you are doing is “derailing” the stress. You should be aware that our feelings and behaviors are influenced by our own thoughts. As you concentrate on the visualization, you take energy away from the thought that is causing you stress. Visualization breaks the cycle of stress. The more you practice this technique, the more effective it will be. In imaging a peaceful place, you have also distracted yourself from whatever thoughts you were having.

In addition to the approaches mentioned above, an article published in www.helpguide.org in December of 2008 offers six additional stress management strategies.

Avoid unnecessary stress. Not all stress can be avoided. You need to address situations that cause you stress. Some simple steps are to learn how to say “no” and reduce the time spent with the people who cause you stress. Take control of your environment, turn off the television, shop online, and leave early to avoid traffic. Manage your time, your schedule, and your responsibilities by prioritizing your daily tasks.

Alter the situation. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Learn to express your feelings in an open and respectful way, otherwise resentment will build and the situation will worsen. Be willing to change your behavior, when you ask them to change theirs. Find middle ground, where both parties can be comfortable.

Adapt to the stressor. Learn how to reframe the problems and view them in a more positive perspective. Look at the big picture. Is it worth getting upset over? If not, focus your energies in another direction. Avoid the stress connected with trying to be perfect and set reasonable standards for yourself and your employees.

Accept the things you cannot change. Acceptance permits you to deal with the unavoidable, the recession, the death of a loved one, or a serious illness. Focus on the things you can control, the method in which you react to problems. Learn from your mistakes so you will make better choices in the future. Free yourself from negative feelings by forgiving and accepting we live in an imperfect world.

Make time for fun and relaxation. Set aside time for fun with friends and family. Connect with people who enhance your life. Select activities that you enjoy, for example exercising, playing an instrument, painting or even writing poetry. Maintain your sense of humor by watching a funny movie or comedian on cable. Laughter is really the best medicine. 

Adopt a healthy lifestyle. You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your body. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing tension and stress. Eating a healthy diet will keep up your energy and your mind clear. Avoid using alcohol and drugs to deal with daily stress. Instead, get enough sleep to provide your body the fuel it needs to deal with stress.

Finally, 52 additional steps to reduce stress can be found at www.twu.edu/o-sl/counseling. This is the Texas Women’s University’s Self Help Library and Counseling Center.

If you find that these strategies do not reduce the stress in your life, then you should consider entering into a therapeutic relationship. A trained therapist can teach you how to recognize the sources of your stress and how to deal with it in a constructive manner.

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