Nowadays, dealing with stress is as challenging as having a full time job. Stress comes with responsibilities and limited time, and stress therefore builds up until you can’t handle it anymore and end up burned out. Your body decided for you that it’s time to stop listening to all these sources of stress. It is time to listen to yourself. Dealing with stress may seem impossible, since dealing with stress is just another responsibility you have to take care of. However, dealing with stress is more about taking it easy rather than doing more.
The problem with stress is that it slowly accumulates and limits your sense of freedom, limits your time to relax. But stress can only accumulate if you decide to add something new to your to-do list. By listening to your body, intuition, thoughts and emotions you will see that stress management is easier than it looks like. Dealing with stress is about making decisions in your favor. This page provides you with handy tips and tricks regarding stress management and will make your life more enjoyable.
At Barends Psychology Practice we offer (online) coaching and counseling for stress management. For more information, please read: online counseling. Orcontact usto schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, sometimes treatment will be reimbursed).
Before you can start dealing with stress you need to know what causes the stress. Some sources of stress are obvious whereas others may be more difficult to find. A demanding boss is easy to recognize as a source of stress, but your parents’ expectations of you may cause you to stress as well without knowing it. In both cases, you may feel irritated, worried and pressured. And because you are irritated, pressured and worried you may make mistakes at work or become more forgetful. This may cause more stress and eventually you are caught in a vicious circle.
By identifying your true sources of stress you can start dealing with stress. There are roughly 2 different types of stressors: acute stressors and chronic stressors. Acute stressors come up quickly and last only a short while, they are often unpredictable and leave us with a poor sense of control. Chronic stressors last longer and usually come up slowly. Chronic stress is stress resulted from repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones.
Conflicts with a colleague.
Packing for a trip.
Getting a speed ticket.
Asking someone out on a date.
Giving someone feedback.
Making a confession to someone.
Financial problems. Relationship issues.
Loss of a loved one.
Major life changes.
Pressure from parents or partner.
Common fears you may have.
Before you can start dealing with stress you need to identify every single stressor in your life. If you have financial problems, this may cause you a lot of stress. Perhaps due to these financial problems you have arguments with your partner (relationship issues) and perhaps it makes you moody and forgetful. Forgetfulness may cause you to be late for work and that may cause acute stressors, such as: rushed mornings, conflict with your boss and so on.
For some people it may be smart to start a Stress Journal:
Write down your thoughts, activities and the things you still have to do. Include thoughts about conflicts or things you forgot to do.
Rate those activities from 0 (no stress) to 5 (very stressful).
Write down how you felt when these activities popped up or when you did them.
Note down how you acted upon them.
Write down what you did to make yourself feel better.
2. Analyse your stress coping skills.
Knowing where your stress comes from is the first step when you are dealing with stress. Analyzing your stress coping skills is an important second step when it comes to dealing with stress. If your coping skills are not very efficient then you will experience a lot of stress related problems. Coping skills are those skills that we use to offset our disadvantages from day to day life. Some coping skills may reduce stress temporarily, but cause more damage on the long run.
Examples of unhealthy and harmful stress reducing coping skills are:
Eating too much or too little.
Withdrawing from social activities.
Sleeping too much or too little.
Watching television for hours.
Using pills for relaxation.
Avoiding thoughts that trigger stress.
Verbal or physical abuse towards others.
These above mentioned coping skills can cause serious physical, mental, emotional or financial problems on the long run. On top of that: they do not take away the source of stress and therefore within a few hours or perhaps a few days you will experience the same stress again.
So what are healthy coping skills when it comes to dealing with stress?
Dealing with stress is all about setting boundaries and knowing your own capabilities. Because everybody responds different to stress, some tips may be more helpful than others for you. Here are four ways which make dealing with stress a lot easier:
3. Dealing with stress – Change the situation:
Learn to say `No´. You make a good impression on others when you say Yes to every request, but there are two major disadvantages to this behaviour: (1) people will start using you and the number of requests increases, and (2) stress accumulates. By learning how to say no you prevent stress from building up, stay in control of your own agenda and keep your to-do list acceptable. Dealing with stress also means that you have to say “No” every now and then.
Be honest about your feelings. People usually choose to keep in their negative emotions and consequently suffer a lot. Later, they may ventilate to the wrong person. Honesty, although it may seem difficult at first, is the best stress reducer possible. If people annoy you, if you cannot handle your to do list, if …if….if… then talk about it to the other person. Sometimes it may hurt the other person, but at least you are honest and you do not experience this accompanying stress anymore.
Limit contact with people who stress you out. Some people drain your energy faster than others. Some people demand a lot from you or come with requests all the time. Avoiding these people doesn’t really reduce your stress because you will experience stress while trying to avoid them. In stead: be honest to them and tell them that it is difficult for you to spend time with them today. Or make sure you respond delayed to their questions and requests.
Ignore certain topics during a conversation. Talking about religion or politics may cause significant stress, frustration and can turn your mood upside down. Why bother talking about these topics? All that happens is: it ruins your day. So stop it. Don’t talk about it, walk away or tell the other that this is not the time to discuss this topic.
Use the environment to your advantage. In stead of dealing with your environment the way it is and thus accepting the stress it causes, you could also use your environment to your advantage. Dealing with stress is a lot easier if you do your grocery shopping when there are less people around, avoid driving during rush hour, turn off your mobile phone and computer when your body/mind needs a break, and so on.
Be in charge of your own life. Be assertive and flexible. Before problems arise try to solve them or prepare for them. If calling your friend usually takes a long time, then perhaps tell your friend up front that you have a busy schedule and can only talk for 10 minutes. Dealing with stress is a lot easier when you are assertive and flexible.
Evaluate your to-do list. If you need to do a lot today and you know it will become stressful, then try to cut down your to-do list by focusing only on the ¨Musts¨ rather than the ¨Shoulds¨. Explain to those who expect something of you that your day is filled already. They will understand.
4. Dealing with stress – Change your reaction:
Talk about your feelings. Talking to your best friend, partner or counselor reduces stress, even if the situation can’t be changed at all. By giving words to your feelings, your stress levels reduce significantly, and with the right response from your friend, partner or counselor you will refill your energy bar. Remember, talking about your feelings is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
Look at the big picture. Sometimes you are all stressed out about something that is actually of minor importance. For instance, many people stress out when they go on a holiday because they are afraid to forget something. Arguments and moodiness are common right before you go on a holiday. But is it worth it? Can’t you buy toiletries or a towel on your destination? In stead focus on something that is worth focusing on.
Reframe problems. You can look at a problem in two different ways: a depressing way and an optimistic way. The depressing way takes away your motivation and drains your energy, whereas the optimistic way makes most tasks easier. In stead of wasting energy complaining about everything you need to do, it is better to use that energy to make a to do list and start with the musts. You will see this strategy requires a lot less energy.
Get rid of perfectionism. Perfectionism creates stress. People will not reject your or think less of you if you make one minor mistake. In stead, it makes you look more human and approachable (people will feel more comfortable around you, since they make mistakes themselves as well). Talk to a counselor if you do not know how to get rid of perfectionism.
5. Dealing with stress – Have fun and relax:
Make time for relaxation. Write it down on your to do list, or in your agenda. Make relaxing part of your daily activities. Often people feel guilty when they are relaxing, because relaxation equals wasting time. But relaxation is fuel for the mind and body. It is exactly the same as having lunch: without food you feel weak, grumpy and you cannot concentrate… Without relaxing you can’t concentrate either, you are grumpy and can’t sleep properly. Therefore start doing things you like: go for a walk, take a long bath, go out for dinner, play with your pet, meet with a good friend, go for a massage and so on.
Spend time with others. Stress and isolation seem to go hand in hand. Meeting with other immediately reduces stress, since you are changing environments, changing your rhythm and the atmosphere. You can focus on other things but your stressors and enjoy a good conversation.
Use humor. Humor is a lovely stress reducer and makes heavy tasks look easy. For some it may be more difficult than for others, but try to laugh at yourself. It is great when you are able to put things in perspective and realize how silly you are at the moment.
6. Dealing with stress – Adopt a healthy life style:
Exercise regularly. 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week will reduce stress, improves your self esteem and makes it easier to put things in perspective.
Eat healthy. Don’t diet, because that gives you more stress than simply eating healthy. Do not skip meals and try to keep unhealthy snacks to a minimum. And remember, it is not a crime or a sin to treat yourself once in a while.
Reduce sugars and addictive products. Sugar rushes have a nasty side effect: after the sugar rush you feel tired and have no energy any more… About the addictive products: that’s clear as it is I guess.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is really important. Without enough sleep, your mind can’t process previous experiences, can’t store new information, you can’t focus for longer periods of time and you are moody, sloppy and make mistakes. Do not go to bed too late, because that’s also devastating for your night’s rest. Shut down your tablet, laptop, phone or television one hour before you go to bed, so that your mind can start relaxing a bit as well.