Stress management is simply:
“set of techniques and programs intended to help people deal more effectively with stress in their lives by analysing the specific stressors and taking positive actions to minimize their effects” (Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine, 2008).
Some of the most popular examples of stress management include meditation, yoga, and exercise.
First, we have to understand that it’s not possible to be stress-free all of the time. That’s unrealistic. It’s an unavoidable human response that we all experience from time to time. But we can all benefit from identifying our stress and managing it better.
Before we dive any deeper into managing stress, let’s cover what stress is all about.
What is stress?
Stress is the “psychological, physiological and behavioural response by an individual when they perceive a lack of equilibrium between the demands placed upon them and their ability to meet those demands, which, over a period of time, leads to ill-health” (Palmer, 1989).
Common stress symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Teeth grinding
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sweaty hands or feet
- Excessive sleeping
- Social isolation
- Feeling overwhelmed
You can find more examples of stress symptoms here at The American Institute of Stress website.
Why is stress harmful?
Stress can have wide ranging effects on emotions, mood and behavior as well as serious effects on various systems, organs and tissues all over the body. Repetitive exposure of stress response on our body is proven to lead to psychological and physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression, as illustrated by the following diagram from the the American Institute of Stress (AIS).
7 Tips for stress management
Adapted from The American Psychological Association.
1. Understand your stress
How do you stress? By understanding what stress looks like for you, you can be better prepared, and reach for your stress management toolbox when needed. Stress can be different for everybody.
2. Identify your stress sources
What causes you to be stressed? It could be work, family, change or any of the other potential triggers.
3. Learn to recognize stress signals
We all process stress differently so it’s important to be aware of your individual stress symptoms. What are your internal alarm bells? Low tolerance, headaches, stomach pains or a combination from the above “Stress Symptoms?”
4. Recognize your stress strategies
What tactic do you use for calming down? These can be behaviors learned over years and sometimes aren’t the healthy option. For example, some people cope with stress by self-medicating with alcohol or overeating.
5. Implement healthy stress management strategies
If you currently follow unhealthy coping behaviors, you can try to switch them out for a healthy option. For example, if overeating is your current go to, you could practice meditation instead, or make a decision to phone a friend to chat through your situation.
6. Make self-care a priority
We need to make time for ourselves; that is, we need to put our well-being before others. This can feel selfish to start, but it is like the airplane analogy—we must put our own oxygen mask on before we can assist others. Some of the simplest things that promote well-being are getting enough sleep, food, downtime, and exercise.
7. Ask for support when needed
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to a friend or family member you can talk to. Speaking with a healthcare professional can also reduce stress, and help us learn healthier coping strategies.
Source: Positive Psychology