We live in stressful times. Merely turning on the news or talking with friends can bring on new concerns. Personal issues, too, can create stress about your health, your job, financial security, as well as relationships with family and friends. Even everyday annoyances, such as getting stuck in traffic, dealing with a computer problems, or preparing for a work presentation can stir up stress.
A great deal of research suggests that exposure to long-term stress can harm your body.
Chronic stress influences high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, gastro-intestinal disorders, cancers, and ulcers. You can avoid or ease the negative effects of stress through relaxation techniques and Cognitive Therapy. The following are suggestions for you to start managing your stress on your own.
Recognize your Stress
The first step in dealing with stress is recognizing when it is occurring. There are three basic components of stress: physiological, behavioral, and cognitive. Physical stress can include shallow, rapid breathing, heart racing, increased respiration, nausea or stomachache, and muscle tension. Signs of behavioral stress are increase in conflicts with others, emotional sensitivity, loss of patience, rushing, being careless or forgetful, change in eating habits, or the use of substances. Cognitive stress is difficulty with concentration or being easily distracted, intense or intrusive worry, a tendency towards negative, self defeating, or perfectionist thinking or “worst-case” thinking patterns.
Create a Stress Diary
Once aware of your stress, it is helpful to identify the situations or experiences that typically evoke tension or worry. An effective way of pinpointing stressors is by keeping a Stress Diary in which stressful situations are recorded as they occur. This process will involve you being more aware of your individual physiological, behavioral and cognitive signs of stress.
A diary will include date, time of day, location, who you were with, what you were doing, symptoms of stress and stress rating (e.g. 1 to 10). By noting these experiences, you can come to understand your own personal stressors and your unique stress pattern. This will help in formulating a plan to reduce the level of stress in your life.
Stress Busting Techniques
- Set realistic, clear goals. Evaluate goals periodically, and have the flexibility to modify them when appropriate.
- Prioritize your time. If you find yourself overly stressed, consider letting go of some of your activities that you are only doing because you feel you “should.”
- Try new approaches to problems. For example, try “chunking” – tackling one issue at a time or breaking larger tasks into smaller, more attainable goals.
- Develop assertiveness by being more direct in asking for what you need, and learning to delegate responsibilities.
- Deal with both success and failure with a balanced attitude. Recognize that disappointing/negative experiences are a natural part of the cycles of life. Use crises as opportunities for growth, and to reaffirm values and break unhealthy patterns.
- Don’t “drift along” in troublesome or emotionally draining relationships or situations. Take steps to resolve the problems, or consider ending the relationship or experience. Surround yourself with a support network to help you cope in positive ways.
- Make time to be with significant others in relationships that are trusting and reciprocal, and that leave you feeling energized.
- Find time every day for some form of relaxation or fun, such as watching your favorite show, exercising, laughing with a friend, or spending needed time alone.
- Take care of your body. Exercise and eat regularly. Avoid excess caffeine and drugs. Learn relaxation exercises like abdominal breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Practice these techniques regularly!
- Decrease negative self-talk. Challenge negative thoughts about yourself such as, “my life will never get better.” Instead, develop more rational beliefs such as “I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help.” Learn to feel good about doing a competent job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.