Stress. We all deal with it. Whether it arises from our jobs, family life, drama with friends, a relationship problem, or finances, stress is there. While a little stress is good for you, allowing you to grow physically and mentally, excessive and chronic stress is harmful. Prolonged stress can even lead to tension headaches and other health problems that limit your functioning at work, at school and in your relationships. Rather than letting your stress take over your life, try some methods of stress-management that you can apply to prevent and deal with stress before it jeopardizes your health.
1. Be aware that stress begins with our perceptions.
Your body has a very efficient reaction to dangerous events that pumps up your "fight-or-flight" response, allowing you to jump out of the way of an oncoming car and save your life. This reaction causes your heart to pound, your pulse to quicken, and your muscles to tense. But you may also unconsciously perceive that this reaction is necessary for non life-threatening situations, such as traffic jams, looming deadlines, or family issues. You must learn ways to counter your body's stress response so that you can "put the brakes" on and allow your body to relax.
2. Identify types of thinking that lead to stress.
You may be experiencing unproductive, negative thoughts that lead to worrying, which can trigger the release of stress hormones.This is a response that is appropriate if, say, you run into a stressful situation like a bear in your path, but may not be appropriate when traffic is making you late to work. Identify common stressful thoughts by noticing if they fall into these categories:
"Should" or "Must" statements: You have a strict list of things you "should," "must," or "should not" do, and feel stressed out or anxious when you do not follow these rules.
Catastrophizing: You expect the worst-case scenario or blow things out of proportion. Even small problems are "horrible" or a "disaster."
All-or-nothing thinking: You see things only in black or white, as good or bad. Instead of acknowledging the complexities (or "gray areas") of being human, things are either wrong or right and there is no in between.
"What if"ing: You find yourself having an internal conversation about things you fear, such as "What if my child is hurt?" "What if I fail?" "What if I'm late?" and so on.
3. Reframe your thoughts.
Sometimes, a stressful situation is just a matter of perspective. Pessimism, for example, is an excellent example of avoidable stress we put ourselves through. Instead of focusing on the negatives and the problems that are causing you anxiety, concentrate on the positives.
Negative thoughts lead to a negative mood state and positive thoughts lead to a positive mood state. When you feel down, pay attention to your thoughts. What have you been telling yourself? Try to spin negative thoughts into positives.
For example, you may think to yourself "I'll never finish all my work." Change this thought by spinning it: "If I work at a steady pace and take regular breaks, I can knock this work out in __ hours."
When you change your viewpoint, you can change your level of stress altogether. Do your best to see things in a positive light, and avoid cynicism at all costs.
4. Challenge your negative thoughts.
Another way to combat stressful thoughts is to ask yourself whether there's really any truth to them. Disputing and disproving your thoughts can help you view your thoughts objectively instead of immediately accepting them as truth.
5. Try writing down two categories of information about the problem impacting you.
Make a column for evidence of/for the stressful thought and another for evidence against it. Or, if you don't have paper or time, try to do this exercise mentally.
Write the evidence in the appropriate column. So if you're catastrophizing because you're been running late (and you are thinking "I'm going to be fired"), your "for" column might look like: "I was late twice last week and they're not going to tolerate me being late again;" while your "against" column might look like: "My boss said he understands that I have to drop my son off at preschool before I can drive to work," "We have a time and attendance policy that allows me to be late a certain number of times, and I'm nowhere near that point," and so on.
Note that not all stress reducing activities will work for all people. Experiment with different techniques to see what works for you.
Read a good book when you feel stressed.
Think of the positives in your life and think of a special moment that has happened today. Do this everyday.
Drink tea with no caffeine, as caffeine can make it harder to cope with stress. Go with decaf.