“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over the other.” — William James
The adage “your thoughts, not the situation” bears truth when discussing stress. Indeed, stress is a natural and unavoidable part of life; it is our body’s automatic response to the challenges and adversities we encounter every day. However, our thoughts have more power over such situations, allowing us to choose how to react and not let them affect us.
In the 2022 American Psychological Association (APA) survey, an alarming proportion (27%) of American adults reported that stress affected their day-to-day functioning. Almost 76% of adults reported having health effects in the previous month, which is problematic given that most of them view health care as a significant source of stress in their lives.
While it is typical to experience stressful situations, few people know how to manage them. This article will discuss several evidence-based strategies to overcome stress and turn it into healthy practices.
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What is Stress?
Stress is a state of worry or mental tension as your body reacts to pressure or challenging situations. It is a natural human response to any thoughts or conditions in life that we don’t feel we can manage or control. Everyone experiences stress to some degree, but each one handles it differently. Sometimes it can be good for us, as it motivates us to achieve our goals or be a better version of ourselves.
However, too much stress may lead to harmful physical and mental health effects, such as headaches, chest pain, erectile dysfunction, insomnia, anxiety, or depression. Stress levels may vary, and your ability to think, function effectively, and enjoy life depends on how you react to these challenges.
5 Effective Tips to Manage Stress
Even though facing life’s adversities will inevitably cause stress, there are several healthy ways to deal with it. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage stress better:
1. Know your stress triggers
The first step to overcoming stress is identifying the sources of your worries. Stressors can come from anything: a deeply dissatisfying job, a dysfunctional marriage or family, money problems, or even scrolling through social media can cause tension and worry. Unexpected life events like the death of a loved one, getting sick or hurt, being late, or losing your job are also possible sources of stress.
While it is easy to identify these typical stress triggers, determining the cause of your ongoing distress might be a little more complicated. Besides the actual stressor, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can also contribute to your everyday stress levels, and it can be easy to overlook these things.
According to a study from the American Psychology Society, 65% of stress in America is about money. You may recognize that your financial situation stresses you out, but maybe the problem comes from your spending habits rather than your actual bills. In the same way, your procrastination at work may cause more stress than the job demands.
If you’re having trouble identifying the stressors in your life, you can start a stress journal. It can help you keep track of the things that make you feel angry, tense, worried, or irritable and how you deal with them. Write down:
- The cause of your stress (try to guess if you’re unsure)
- Your feelings (how you felt, both physically and emotionally)
- Your reaction (how you acted in response)
- Your solution (what you did to make yourself feel better)
2. Focus on what you can control
Once you’ve identified the triggers for your stress, focus on what you can control. This means changing what you can and accepting what you can’t. You may not be able to change all the stressors in the world, but you can control how you react to them. In times when you can’t avoid stressing over things, the best way to cope is to accept the situation as it is.
Like issues in the workplace, for example. One survey reveals that 73% of employees consider workload the primary driver of stress at work. If excessive workloads make you anxious or edgy, learn to manage your time and prioritize your tasks. This way, you can be effective at work and still have time for self-care. If a co-worker is upsetting you, communicate your feelings respectfully and be willing to listen.
However, when the root of your concerns are unexpected organizational changes, company layoffs, poor management, or a bad boss, it is essential to remember that you have no command over these circumstances and can only choose how to respond. Instead of beating yourself up for something you can’t control, learn to let go and focus on managing your feelings and reactions.
3. Stay connected and talk to someone
Everyone needs human interaction, and having a network of supportive friends provides various benefits, including staving off anxiety and depression. Spending quality time with someone who makes you feel safe and understood is a natural stress reliever. So make it a point to stay in touch with family and friends regularly and get some bonding time together.
Numerous studies indicate that social support is an important protective factor that minimizes the effects of stress. Not only does social support bolster resilience in stressful situations, but it can also improve overall health and well-being. It can even lower your risk of mortality by up to 50%.
Sure, relationships can sometimes be the source of your stress, but having close friends can do way more good than harm. Here are some tips for building relationships:
- Reach out to a colleague at work.
- Have lunch or coffee with a friend or sibling.
- Call or email an old friend.
- Go on a weekend trip with family.
- Schedule weekly dinner dates.
- Meet new people by joining a club or volunteering in the community.
4. Get physical
Physical activity is one of the best practices for maintaining a healthy mind and body. Even though exercise is probably the last thing you want to do when you are stressed, it is a very effective stress reliever. Movement releases endorphins that make you feel good, more relaxed, and less anxious.
A 2014 study found that regular exercise can help improve emotional resilience to acute stress. According to the study, people who exercise regularly respond more positively to psychosocial stressors than sedentary individuals. In addition, physical activity can also be a valuable distraction, shifting your focus and attention away from your daily worries.
Any form of exercise can help lower your blood pressure, relax your muscles, improve your sleep, and protect you against chronic diseases, which address some of the physical effects of stress. You do not have to be an athlete or spend hours in the gym to experience the benefits. 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise will do, but more is even better.
Here are a few simple ways to fit exercise into your daily routine:
- Walk around your yard or do some gardening
- Use the stairs at work instead of an elevator
- Drive as far as possible in the parking lot, then make the remaining distance on foot.
- Go swimming with family
- Play some sports with friends or colleagues
- If you have a dog, take them for a walk
5. Have fun and relax
From absurd schedules to complicated relationships to unexpected events, stressors can ruin our day and disrupt the balance of our physical and mental states. When your everyday worries become too overwhelming, set aside time to relax and take a break from your daily routine. Having fun and enjoying the pleasures and joys of life will improve your mood and lower your stress levels.
It also helps to practice self-care and have that elusive “me” time you rightfully deserve. According to studies, a lack of self-care is linked to a higher risk of stress and burnout, while those who practice it report lower stress levels and improved quality of life.
Include rest in your daily schedule and do something that makes you happy. This is the perfect opportunity to step back from all your obligations and unwind. Don’t get so caught up with all your other responsibilities that you forget to enjoy life. Here are some practical examples of taking care of yourself while having fun and relaxing:
- Taking a warm bath
- Getting a massage
- Reading a good book or watching a movie
- Practicing a hobby
- Eating your favorite meal
- Listening to music
- Playing with your kids
- Camping with your family
- Traveling the world
The 4 A’s of Stress Management
Although stress may be an automatic response, some stressors present themselves at predictable times. Such predictable stressors allow you to avoid the situation or change your reaction. In whatever scenario you’re in, remember the four A’s—avoid, alter, adapt, or accept—to help you decide which course of action to take.
Avoid unnecessary stress.
You can avoid some stressors, but not the situations that call for action. For example:
- If you have financial issues, avoid stressing over the money you’ve spent but not your bills.
- You can avoid people who stress you out, but you may need to resolve conflicts within your family.
- Taking the longer but less-traveled route can help you avoid traffic, but you still have to show up.
Alter the situation.
If a stressful scenario becomes unavoidable, try to change it. Usually, this entails changing how you interact with others and conduct yourself in everyday situations. When dealing with a relationship conflict, be willing to compromise and find a mutual agreement. That way, both parties can be satisfied. Also, be more assertive and deal with your problems head-on.
Adapt to the stressor.
If the stressor is beyond your control, work on improving yourself. Try changing your expectations and attitude to help you cope with stressful situations better and regain control. Consider the positive side of stressful circumstances or gain a new perspective by looking at the big picture. It also helps to set reasonable standards for yourself and others because demanding perfection may only set you up for failure.
Accept the things you can’t change.
While some stressors are avoidable, others are simply out of your control. When dealing with unpreventable circumstances like natural calamities or death, it’s best to accept them and move on. It may be easier said than done, but it’s the fastest way for you to come to terms with what happened. Learning to forgive and share your feelings will unburden your worries and resentment, allowing you to live a more peaceful life.
“It’s not stress that kills us; it’s our reaction to it.” — Hans Selye
Stress is a normal part of life, and stressors can come from almost anywhere. It may not be possible to avoid or anticipate stressful situations all the time, but your reaction to them is something you can control. You don’t have to let stress take a toll on your physical and mental health.
By practicing the stress management tips outlined in this article, you’re more likely to reduce stress and improve your overall psychological well-being. But if your troubles and anxiety become too severe, you may consult a healthcare professional or talk to a therapist to gain a new perspective on life.
Ultimately, it’s all about how you respond to certain situations. So remember to connect regularly with your friends and family to strengthen your social support. Be active and exercise to maintain a strong mind and body. And most importantly, despite all the adversities you may encounter, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy life.
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