How To Manage Stress
Editors note: This article was originally published August 30, 2012. It has since been updated.
Whenever we look back on the past, our minds have a tendency to cast things in a warm, rosy glow our memories invariably focus on the good parts and gloss over the bad. Which is why, when those who are removed a few years from their college days reminisce about that time, all they typically remember are the parties, the girls, the spring breaks, and so on.
What they forget . . . is the stress.
The stress of both holding down a job and being a student, the stress of stretching a meager budget each month, the stress of breaking up with someone you thought youd spend your life with, the stress of fighting with a roommate who was once your best friend and is now your sworn enemy, and of course, the stress of cranking out a 20-page research paper and struggling to remember chemistry formulas on your final exams.
All of which is to say, the stress you will experience after leaving home is real, and learning how to deal with it is one of the most important skills a young man can master. Since it is true that your stress will likely increase with age, learning how to manage it now will prepare you to live happily and confidently not just into your 20s, but for the rest of your life as well.
Talk It Out With A Friend
When youre feeling stressed, take a break to call a friend and talk about your problems. Good relationships with friends and loved ones are important to any healthy lifestyle.
Theyre especially important when youre under a lot of stress. A reassuring voice, even for a minute, can put everything in perspective.
Talk Yourself Through It
Sometimes calling a friend is not an option. If this is the case, talking calmly to yourself can be the next best thing.
Dont worry about seeming crazy just tell yourself why youre stressed out, what you have to do to complete the task at hand, and most importantly, that everything will be okay.
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Ways To Manage Your Stress
occurs when you feel like the demands placed on you such as work, school, or relationships exceed your ability to cope. It can be a reaction to a short-lived situation, such as being stuck in traffic or late for an appointment, or it can last a long time if you’re dealing with relationship or money problems, the death of a loved one, or other serious situations. While some stress can be beneficial, such as stress that motivates you to study for an exam or perform well in a sporting event, long-term, untreated stress is linked to serious health concerns including depression, heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system.
Since 2007, the American Psychological Associations annual Stress in America survey has found that women consistently report higher levels of stress than men. We dont know whether this is because women often have more demands on them than men, such as frequently taking on more family responsibilities, or because women experience stress differently. But its clear that if we dont find better ways to manage our stress, chronic stress can have physical and emotional consequences.
For women juggling many responsibilities, it might seem difficult to find time to adequately manage stress. People with high stress levels may try to manage their stress in unhealthy ways, such as over- or under-eating, drinking alcohol, or lying around the house. The good news is there are effective ways to manage stress. Here are seven smart ways to help you cope:
Focus On Just Two To Three Stressors At A Time
You cannot deal with everything or everyone in your life that makes you feel stressed. Instead, focus on just two or three main stressors at a time.
If you use a stress diary, or a tool like our quiz Whats Stressing You Out?, it is easy to identify the most common and/or most stressful situations in your life. You can then start to work out what you can do to resolve them.
Once you have sorted your top stressors, you can then move onto lesser stressors.
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The Damaging Effects Of Too Much Stress
Too much stress can do a number on both your body and mind, causing everything from diarrhea and constipation, to tension headaches and hair loss. Below we describe more of the deleterious effects of stress:
1. Weight gain. At the height of your stress response, you will likely experience a decreased appetite. But once the stress starts to wane, the cortisol that was released into your bloodstream may spur you to eat sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods. This made sense back in primitive times: the fight or flight response usually preceded a bout of physical exertion , and after the stress had passed, it was time to replenish your body. These days, when you may experience the stress response while remaining chained to your desk, gobbling down donuts as you descend from your stress peak will only lead to a primordial-sized gut.
2. Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. Cortisol also decreases testosterone production, which in turn can depress a mans libido and cause erectile dysfunction. If you want to enjoy a healthy sex drive in adulthood, youll need to get a handle on your stress today.
3. Increased blood pressure. Cortisol, along with the other hormones that are released when were stressed, causes our hearts to beat faster and constrict our blood vessels in order to prime our bodies for fight or flight. Fine in the short term, but prolonged stress can lead to hypertension, and all its attending health problems.
Ways To Cope With Chronic Stress
“Its key to recognize stressful situations as they occur because it allows you to focus on managing how you react,” Dr. Stoll says. “We all need to know when to close our eyes and take a deep breath when we feel tension rising.”
Use these tips to prevent or reduce chronic stress.
1. Re-balance Work and Home
All work and no play? If youre spending too much time at the office, intentionally put more dates in your calendar to enjoy time for fun, either alone or with others.
2. Build in Regular Exercise
Moving your body on a regular basis balances the nervous system and increases blood circulation, helping to flush out stress hormones. Even a daily 20-minute walk makes a difference.
3. Eat Well and Limit Alcohol and Stimulants
Alcohol, nicotine and caffeine may temporarily relieve stress but have negative health impacts and can make stress worse in the long run. Well-nourished bodies cope better, so start with a good breakfast, add more organic fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods and sugar, and drink more water.
4. Connect with Supportive People
Talking face to face with another person releases hormones that reduce stress. Lean on those good listeners in your life.
5. Carve out Hobby Time
Do you enjoy gardening, reading, listening to music or some other creative pursuit? Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy research shows that reduces stress by almost half and lowers your heart rate, too.
6. Practice Meditation, Stress Reduction or Yoga
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Helpful Organisations For Money Worries
It is important if you are worried about your finances and debts that you do not try to deal with them alone. There is a lot of help and support available to you through organisations such as Step Change and Citizens Advice.
You should also talk to your GP or a trusted health professional if you are worried about how debt is affecting your mental and physical health.
Why Is Stress Helpful
Historically, stress was our friend. It acted as a protective mechanism that warned us of danger a natural reaction that told us when to run. This response is now referred to as the fight or flight response, or the stress response. When your evolutionary ancestors saw a saber-toothed cat and ran from it, stress saved their life.
Stress has remained part of the evolutionary drive because of its usefulness in survival. When used at the right time, stress increases our awareness and improves physical performance in short bursts .
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Make Gratitude A Regular Practice
Several studies have revealed the positive effects of expressing gratitude. While studying brain activity, National Institutes of Health researchers found subjects who showed more gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that has a huge influence on our stress levels. Plus, gratefulness also activated the regions associated with dopamine, one of those feel-good neurotransmitters. To reap these stress-reducing benefits, write down your feelings of gratitude daily in a journal, or by sending little notes to friends or family letting them know how much you appreciate them.
What Are Practical Ways To Reduce The Impact Of Stress
Life is often stressful, but there are things you can do to become more resilient and cope with lifes ups and downs.
- Exercise: Regular exercise can relieve tension, relax the mind and reduce anxiety.
- Time management: Developing regular routines and planning ahead can reduce the chaos that can lead to stress.
- Spend time with family or friends: Being with people you find uplifting, resolving personal conflicts, and talking about your feelings can help.
- Look after your health: Maintain a healthy diet, ensure you get enough sleep and avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope.
- Do things you enjoy.
- Change your thinking: Sometimes stress is more about our perceptions or attitudes to a situation than the situation itself. Unrealistic expectations of yourself or others can lead to stress. If you have a tendency to negative thinking, it can help to write down these thoughts, try to come up with a more realistic view and focus on the positive.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy : This involves working with a therapist to change your thinking patterns.
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Stress And Your Appetite
Stress can have a huge impact on your eating habits. During acute stress , the stress response can shut down appetite. The fight-or-flight response is designed to suppress hunger you wont be effective in battle or run that fast if you are thinking about food. But chronic stress has the opposite effect. Repeated doses of cortisol in your body due to high stress can lead to an increase in appetite.
According to the Harvard Health Letter, gender can play a role in how you eat during times of stress. Some research suggests women are more likely overeat due to stress while men turn to alcohol or smoking.
And the reality is that food really can make you feel better during times of stress. So-called comfort food like chocolate cake and ice cream literally blunt the bodys response to chronic stress. The problem with continuing to self-medicate chronic stress with comfort foods is that it will lead to weight gain and poor health.
Just as you need to reframe your view of stress and exercise and meditate to give your body a break from stress, you can also adopt strategies to use food to help you better cope with stress.
When To See Your Gp About Your Stress Levels
If you’ve tried self-help techniques and they aren’t working, you should go to see your GP. They may suggest other coping techniques for you to try or recommend some form of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
If your stress is causing serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, you may need to take medication or further tests.
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Ways To Managing Stress
Positive and negative stress responses happen to everyone, including children, teens, and adults. Its hard to avoid, but you can work on techniques to manage your stress. There are several ways you can prepare for and manage stress in your life:
- Understand what stress does to you.
- Identify healthy ways to manage your emotions.
How Different Types Of Stress Affect You
Sometimes stress can be helpful, and other times it can be harmful. It depends on the severity and length of the stress, how your body reacts to it, and sometimes the types of resources and relationships you have to help you cope:
- Positive stress happens in situations like making a new friend or mastering a new skill. These positive experiences produce important hormones to protect your body.
- Tolerable stress can come from hard life events like divorce, a natural disaster, or the death of a loved one. It can trigger the bodys alert system and create bigger health problems if left unmanaged.
- Toxic stress goes beyond your ability or resources to handle it. Severe trauma, neglect, and hostile home and work environments can cause such high levels of stress that they physically damage the body. This can mean a change in your stress response system or even the structure of the brain.
The longer any stress continues, the more at risk your body and brain are for problems later in life, like heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression. This is especially true when the stress happens during childhood.
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Accept The Things You Can’t Change
Changing a difficult situation isn’t always possible. Try to concentrate on the things you do have control over.
“If your company is going under and is making redundancies, for example, there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Professor Cooper.
“In a situation like that, you need to focus on the things that you can control, such as looking for a new job.”
Look After Yourself Physically
When you are physically fit and well, it is much easier to cope with stress.
When you become stressed, it is harder to motivate yourself to care about what you eat, or whether you exercise. However, not doing so can also make you more stressed. Get into good habits while your stress levels are fairly low, and you may find that they never go up again. These good habits include:
Taking regular exercise
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body.
These are the fight or flight hormones that evolution has hard-wired into our brains and which are designed to protect us from immediate bodily harm when we are under threat. However, stress in the modern age is rarely remedied by a fight or flight response. Physical exercise can be used as a surrogate to metabolise the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state.
Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis, either before or after work, or at lunchtime. Regular physical activity will also improve the quality of your sleep.
You can assess your levels of daytime sleepiness with the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.
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Learn To Recognise The Signs That You Are Becoming Stressed
There are a wide range of possible signs and symptoms that may be associated with stress. These include headaches, stomach upsets and indigestion, and sleep problems. Many people also find they become very emotional and have trouble regulating their emotions.
Unfortunately, most of these signs are fairly non-specific: that is, they may be associated with many different illnesses and conditions. It can therefore be hard to identify when your symptoms are the result of stress. You should always consult a doctor if these symptoms last any length of time.
It is a good idea to learn to recognise the signs that you are becoming stressed, so that you can take action early on.
There is more about this in our page on What is Stress?
Different Stress Management Techniques & Strategies
These tips are thing we can all benefit from doing more of. The techniques are categorized into three groups:
Explore the below options and find what combination works best for keeping your stress levels under control.
Action-oriented approaches allow you to take action and change the stressful situation.
As Nelson & Hurrell said:
Stress is inevitable, distress is not
1. Be assertive
Clear and effective communication is the key to being assertive. When were assertive, we can ask for what we want or need, and also explain what is bothering us. The key is doing this in a fair and firm manner while still having empathy for others. Once you identify what you need to communicate, you can stand up for yourself and be proactive in altering the stressful situation.
You can read more about how to be assertive here.
2. Reduce the noise
Switching off all the technology, screen time, and constant stimuli can help us slow down. How often do you go offline? It is worth changing, for your own sake.
3. Manage your time
If we let them, our days will consume us. Before we know it, the months have become overwhelmingly busy. When we prioritize and organize our tasks, we create a less stressful and more enjoyable life.
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