We all feel stress in our lives to a certain degree, and all of us have felt extreme stress that has impacted us negatively at least once in our lives. While feeling stressed about something is never pleasant, there is evidence that suggests that it’s not always a bad thing.
Research has found that stress, in small and manageable doses, can have a positive impact on our productivity, improving our behavioural and cognitive performances.
However, if left unchecked, chronic stress can consume us, causing us to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Not only can this wreak havoc on our mental wellbeing, leaving us vulnerable to depression, anxiety, irritability, and anger, but it also impacts our body’s physical health.
Having practical strategies in place to deal with stressful situations can assist in reducing stress levels, developing the resilience to cope with these situations, and enable us to take on new challenges with confidence.
Strategies for Managing and Coping with Stress
There’s no one correct way to manage stress and you will need to test and find out what works for you. However, starting from the beginning is ideal if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Identify the sources
The first step to effectively managing ongoing stress is to identify what situations are causing or contributing to stress levels. It might sound like an obvious step, as most of us can identify common sources of stress, such as work, family, and commitments.
However stress doesn’t just arise from situations, it can also come from our responses to these situations. Identifying your stress can also mean acknowledging the role you might play in perpetuating your stress, whether it’s from time management, overcommitting to things, or using limited coping mechanisms.
- Prioritise and segment your stressors
Once you have pinpointed the causes of your ongoing stress you can begin to assess what the biggest causes are, and how to deal with them. Make a list of the things causing you to feel stressed, from the biggest contributors to the smallest.
From this list, divide your stressors into two categories: Changeable and Unchangeable. You’ll likely find that your biggest stressors will be in the Unchangeable list, but that it will be a shorter list. The Changeable list will likely include much smaller contributors of stress, but it will be a longer list.
- Adapt what you can change; accept what you can’t
Using your list, you now have a clear picture of what you can’t change and what you can. First focus on what you can change, using an “adapt or alter” strategy. Work through your Changeable list and try to find ways to either adapt or alter situations to reduce the negative impact they have on you.
If you have taken on too many commitments, sift through them and remove the least important ones. If sitting in traffic grinds your gears, try to find an alternative route, even if it means leaving a little earlier.
For unchangeable stressors, the best thing to do is to come to terms with them and accept their place in your life. For those situations that you can’t change, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage them, which include the strategies mentioned below.
- Make more time for yourself
You may think you don’t have enough (if any) time to do something you genuinely enjoy, but taking some self-care time out of a busy schedule can do wonders for lowering feelings of stress. Whether it’s going for a walk, painting, doing some quiet reading, or watching a movie, you can set the time and frequency for your self-care.
You may never feel like you have the time but prioritise and insist on making the time, even if it means occasionally saying no to someone or not taking on something. In the long run, it will help you live a happier, less stressful life, allowing you to do and give more when you need to.
- Adopt a healthier lifestyle
On top of making changes to your schedule, changing your lifestyle can help you weather stress more effectively:
- Get a sufficient amount of sleep every night.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Exercise regularly, even if it’s simply taking a walk or doing some stretching.
- Find alternative means of relaxation that don’t require stimulants, such as practising mindfulness.
- Keep things in perspective
Remember that your perspective can play a large role in driving ongoing stress. You might not be able to change a stressful situation, but changing your perspective on it can help to decrease reactive stress.
Try to look for the positives in situations, even stressful ones. If you can’t find a positive spin on something, try to simply accept it for what it is and don’t focus on it more than what’s necessary.
It’s essential to note that these are suggestions for coping with everyday stress, and will not apply to every situation. These suggestions are also not meant to act as a substitute for professional help should you require it.
If you are experiencing an ongoing level of stress or anxiety that stems from a traumatic situation, or circumstances beyond your control, that impact your ability to live your day-to-day life, it’s best to seek help from a mental health professional.
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