“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose” ~Maureen Killoran
We all get stressed at some point in our lives, some more than others. In today’s uncertain and competitive times, stress tops the list as the cause of lifestyle related health issues. ‘The silent killer’, as stress has been called, is on the prowl and here is how you can protect yourself.
Know the symptoms of stress and acknowledge its presence. Acceptance is always the first step to remedy. How often have you heard people saying “I’m just very busy, no point in being a wimp about it” or “Stress? Me? Ha ha!!” even while they move around being moody, irritable or simply listless?! Some common symptoms of excessive stress are feeling unusually tired, anxious, irritable or depressed; losing interest at work; trouble sleeping; headaches; stomach problems; lack of concentration etc. Noticing your feelings and acknowledging the stressors in your life is the first step to identifying the remedies.
Don’t stress about stress. Some amount of stress is normal, unavoidable and, in fact, good. You might be reading this because you want to eliminate stress. Well, my advice is to focus on reducing and not eliminating stress … or the stress of eliminating stress might get to you. A certain amount of stress can help you focus and perform better; it is when this starts piling up and becomes excessive that it’s bad for you.
It IS in your control. Always remember, while there may be external catalysts that trigger stress, how you react to these is completely within your control. Yes, there are days when nothing seems to go your way but even then you can choose to either let it drive you up the wall or simply decide that it can only get better from here and work on making it better. Focus on the larger picture and ignore the small stressors.
Stress can be prevented. We can avoid stress with the help of effective time management, prioritization, planning and by avoiding self-defeating behaviours. A contingency plan can help avert many stressful situations and planning your day, time and commitments effectively goes a long way in preventing stress.
You can also prevent stress by avoiding self-defeating behaviours which make you either too tough on yourself or too easy. So, on one hand, you may add to stress by being a perfectionist, overly competitive and constantly comparing with others and, on the other hand, by being very lax about time, or your health or allowing too much procrastination. You need to pull up your socks but set realistic expectations for yourself to beat stress.
Beat Stress. We cannot completely do away with stress but we can manage the stress in our lives by focussing on the following areas:
Good mental health is essential to manage stress. It is important to break the vicious cycle where stress impacts your mental peace and the lack of mental peace makes you more stressed.
1. Identify your stressors – and take measures to prevent them. Some common stressors are:
- Feeling out of control/helpless
- Guilt over procrastination
- Feeling direction-less
- Change, especially enforced change
- Not being able to live up to own/others’ expectations
2. Understand and Manage your response to stressors – Whenever next you are in a stressful situation, pause, close your eyes and focus on your thoughts and feelings. It is important to recognize your stress response and emotional experience. Next step is to identify things that can calm you or divert your attention such as the stress busters in the next section. This will help you develop capacity to manage your reactions in the face of your stress triggers
3. Stimulate your mind – It is important to stimulate your mind by indulging in activities that you enjoy which challenge the grey cells without being violent or stressful such as reading, puzzles, games or any hobby that you get pleasure from. Mental stimulation improves brain function, protects against cognitive decline, can help alleviate the symptoms of stress and keeps you from worrying about the trivial stressors.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff – Some things are just not worth it. Put every irritant or stressor through a simple test – ‘Will this matter as much tomorrow morning?’ and ‘Does this really change anything in my life?’ If it doesn’t pass this test, let it go. Invest time on the opportunities of tomorrow not the worries of yesterday.
5. Take a break – Taking breaks is essential to rejuvenate, internalize experiences and learning and to engage fully at work.
1. Get Moving – Exercising helps manage stress in multiple ways –
- It makes our pituitary gland release endorphins which are natural pain-relievers and stress-fighters and create a feeling of well-being.
- Can help relax tight and strained muscles which can add to stress.
- Improves blood circulation and helps maintain a healthy body which reduces susceptibility to stress.
- Serves as an effective vent for pent up tensions.
2. Eat Right – Low blood sugar can make you feel irritable and stressed. Have smaller meals and try to eat small healthy snacks in between. Avoid consumption of too many stimulants such as coffee, tea as they may increase your irritability.
3. Avoid excess Alcohol and Nicotine – While alcohol may give a temporary feeling of relaxation, excess consumption leads to higher anxiety levels and can lead to addiction. Nicotine, again, is a stimulant which actually increases anxiety.
4. Stress Busting Activities – There are various stress busting techniques such as laughter exercises, deep-breathing, meditation, relaxing music etc. which can help you remain calm in stressful situations. A technique I have found very useful is to close your eyes, take a deep breath and slowly exhale while chanting the word ‘Om’, repeat three times and then slowly open your eyes.
If you need quick relief from stress, try slowing down and stop to smell the roses occasionally. We often become so busy earning a living that we forget to live and enjoy our lives. If the quote below sounds like your life… stop, think and start taking care of yourself before someone else is forced to do it for you.
Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. ~Natalie Goldberg
An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column
Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.