This is a guest post for Skills You Need.
Want to contribute? Find out how.
Stress Management is a Skill Worth Improving
We tend to think of stress as an uncontrollable, all-powerful monster that manages to creep into every aspect of our life, no matter how hard we work and how much we try to keep it all under control. Stress management involves more than simple logic; you know very well that stressing about not spending enough time with your kids won’t give you more hours, but you do it nonetheless.
Stress management is an acquired skill you can learn and use to make your life a bit less nerve-wracking and more enjoyable.
The two main pillars of stress management are control and prevention. Of course it's not always the case that you can control and prevent stress, which is why many people focus on the third approach to stress instead, that of learning to cope with it. However, it is possible to become so good at reducing and preventing stress that you won’t have to cope with it anyway!
Stress is generally identified as the everyday challenges or even risks we need to take or endure. A stressor is a stress trigger: a person, situation or even object that stresses you out.
When it comes to efficient stress management, the answer is to first focus on stress elimination, achieving a state of well-being that is impervious to any external stressors, like fractious children or a looming deadline.
Stress is Controllable
To reduce stress is to understand that the any stress-triggering threat is within your power to control and tackle.
The pressure you might feel when you’re giving a presentation causes your heart to race and your palms to sweat. This is a natural, automatic reaction of your body to an imminent threat, and it’s the instinctive survival-oriented response you engage in when you feel threatened that is commonly known as the fight or flight response. It’s characterized by an increased heart rate and blood pressure, pupil dilation, blood sugar level increase, muscle tension and even shutdown of the immune system.
Identifying Stress Triggers and Dealing With Them
As we said, our fight or flight response is instinctive. However, your reaction can be controlled if you learn to anticipate stressful situations. To discover your personal stress triggers, introspection is necessary. You need to:
- Identify or forecast your stressors, learning and recognizing the habits, behaviours, emotions, people and reactions that make you feel overwhelmed with stress
- Understand your accountability, and realize your responsibility for nurturing and perpetuating stress in your life, which will make you see that stress is never entirely beyond your control
- Reduce your negative stress-dealing habits, such as smoking, drinking, overeating, emotional suppression, and procrastination
Once you know what stresses you out, that stress becomes controllable. If the things that are stressful make you engage in harmful activities, it’s time to deal with them.
You can avoid getting stressed by staying away from upsetting situations and people or thinking of positive or motivating words to say to yourself. Having a wide vocabulary will be helpful in this kind of situation so consider software like Vocab1 to help you in this aspect. Knowing what makes you stressed will allow you the time to work out the circumstances for avoiding altogether a stressful situation or minimizing its negative impact.
If you cannot avoid a stress trigger, see if you can change it. For instance, if meeting your spouse’s parents makes you nervous, try engaging with them in less threatening situations, like seeing them only in larger gatherings and not at four-people formal dinners.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
Stress is Unavoidable
If you cannot change the stress trigger then you need to accept that the stressor is inevitable; for example, you will from time to time have to interact with your spouse's parents.
Accepting the inevitability of your stress trigger places you in a must-deal-with-it mindset. The only way out is always through, as Robert Frost would say.
Accept the fact that the stress trigger is unavoidable and try looking for any positive aspects in the situation. Speaking up and articulating how the situation is making you feel will also help you realize that despite stress being unavoidable, it is always controllable.
Turning Stress Into Productive Energy
Instead of bottling up stress, try to release it - but learn to release it productively. Stressors instinctively put us in an alert state in which our pupils dilate and our body is filled with action-ready hormones. This is an ideal readiness situation which, if channelled constructively, can help you achieve great things. If a deadline stresses you out, making you feel uneasy and restless, you can turn that otherwise paralysing energy into constructive power for working towards completing your project.
When you learn to harness the power of stress, it increases your mental clarity, floods you with energy, and sharpens your judgement and acuity. This makes for the ideal circumstances for being productive and action-oriented. Since stress activates your body’s survival mode, it’s up to you to use it effectively rather than allowing it to paralyse you.
A research paper titled “Rethinking stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response” has been recently published. As the paper describes, the psychologists conducting three different studies confirm that how you think about stress (your "stress mindset") is an important variable that determines how you will ultimately deal with it. If you consider stress a situation which can be productive, creative, and results-oriented then your attitude towards stress will also be positive and constructive.
Learning how to manage your stress will benefit your health and optimize the outcome of every day.