Due to its commonplace nature, stress is quite a buzzword today, more so in the post-COVID scenario. With the pandemic playing ups and downs with life in all ways, the level of stress experienced by most of us has risen. Therefore, it’s not astonishing at all that everyone talks of reducing stress to achieve a more peaceful life.
Before we chalk out ways to combat it, let’s understand what it’s all about. In easy terms, stress is a normal (and healthy (hold on!), to an extent) psychological and physical reaction to the demands of living. A light amount of stress is positive as it guides one towards better performance e.g. before a stage show, a small amount of stress felt by a performer actually helps them rehearse harder and do better. So far, so good. But coping with daily life challenges like long commutes, traffic jams, targets, deadlines, social events and managing a family can often test the limits of our coping abilities.
From a biological angle, our brains are wired to prevent us by setting off an alarm in a threatening situation. During a threat, our body gets a brain signal to secrete hormones, which increase the heart rate and blood pressure – the usual “fight-or-flight” response. It fuels us to deal with the threat using more oxygen, energy and the consequent physical and mental rush. Once the threat has vanished, our body should return to its normal, relaxed self but sadly, it isn’t so in many cases as the rushed scenario of modern life never lets some people’s alarm systems shut off. This unhealthy state greatly affects our mind and body over the longer term.
Signs of excessive Stress
Some common symptoms of stress are
- Non-stop worrying
- Chest pain, rapid, irregular heartbeat
- Chronic diarrhea/constipation
- Procrastination /shirking responsibilities
- Taking lots of alcohol/drugs
- under– eating /over – eating
- Too much excitement
- Inability to focus
- Agitation, inability to relax
- Irritability, moody behaviour
Stress management training
Stress management training can help us re-set the alarm system to help us adapt and be flexible. Without this flexibility, we may be on a high alert always and with time, this chronic stress can lead to health problems. Therefore, waiting until stress actually harms health, relationships and the quality of life isn’t sensible. You can do a lot of things to drive out these pressures and have a peaceful and tension-free life by following stress management techniques.
Job-related pressures, relationship issues or financial troubles are relatively easy to identify as being common stressors. But the seemingly little things like waiting in a queue or dashing for a meeting can also increase the stress. To boost, even apparently positive events like tying the nuptial knot or shifting to a new house can cause of stress. In fact, any change – be it positive or negative- can be a source of stress.
Remember that stress is never going disappear from our life. Thus, stress management needs to become a part of our daily living. By recognizing the stressors and practicing relaxation, we can hope to counter its ill-effects and improve our coping. Of course, you don’t have to deal with all alone as you can find help from family and friends.
Importance of stress management training
High stress levels can endanger our physical and mental well-being. Excessive stress upsets our emotional balance and physical health, interferes with thinking and functioning and deprives us of our ability to enjoy life. Apparently, it appears as if there’s nothing you can do to counter it. Hold on! You can exercise a lot more control than you think.
Stress management training can help you become stress-free and happier, healthier, and more productive. The main goal behind this is achieving a life of balance in which you have enough time for work, relationships and fun and you can build the flexibility you need to meet challenges. But there is no universal solution and you’ll have to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Stress Management Techniques
Training your mind is a vital part of stress management, which begins with identifying the stressors. Though identifying major stressors e.g. job change, job loss, shifting and divorce may be easy to spot, chalking out the reasons behind chronic stress can be more difficult as our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors also are the main factors in the stress we feel.
As an example, you may be worried over deadlines, but the stress may be due to procrastination, rather than the demands of your job. To find out the real stressors, you need to examine your habits, attitude, and excuses and ask yourself:
Do you believe stress is temporary though it has always been present?
(“My plate is full to the brim right now”)
Do you think stress is an essential part of your being?
(“My life is crazy always, “I am always very nervous)?
Do you apportion the blame for your stress to others or some external events?
Until you accept the responsibility for your own role in creating / maintaining stress, it will remain outside your control.
Have a stress journal to record major, regular stressors and how you handle them. Whenever you feel stressed, note in your journal to find patterns and common topics like:
Who/ What created it?
How did it feel – physically and emotionally?
How did you respond?
What did you do to come out of it?
Looking back, I recall how I could maintain our workforce morale in the first lockdown after COVID. The first lockdown was strict and frustrating, especially for our plant workers, many of them having been stranded away from homes. We had arranged lodging and boarding for many of them, whose families stayed far away and who were suddenly stuck here. Since no physical movement was possible, we thought of an innovative solution and kept them involved through Zoom meetings frequently. We would talk about innovations and our collective energies helped us make a biodegradable product. Not only did they get something meaningful to keep busy, but it also brought about a technology breakthrough, besides reducing their stress.
Personally, my almost-doctor daughter, too, was stranded at home, and felt bored and stressed. There were no classes then and the only thing there was the fear of another lockdown. Slowly, I gently shifted her thoughts towards writing her ideas, which had been brewing in her mind for a long time. Not only did she get an innovative outlet, but she also kept herself engaged and brought out her first-ever A Million Dreams.
So, try to be imaginative and creative to de-stress yourself!
The 4 A’s
Stress is an automatic response of our nervous system but some stressors are predictable e.g. a commute to work, meeting your boss or social events. For such predictable stressors, you can change the situation or the way we react using mind power training. Follow the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept to reduce stress.
To avoid a stressor isn’t healthy, but you can eliminate many stressors.
Accept your limits and say a clear “no” to taking more than you can manage. Distinguish “shoulds” from “musts” and say a “no” to taking on too much.
Monitor your environment. If news makes you stressed, stay away and if the traffic sounds tense you, take an alternative route. If a market visit is unpleasant to you, shop online.
Check to-do list. Make a list of your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you have too much work, shift the tasks that are relatively unimportant to the bottom.
If avoiding isn’t possible, change how you communicate and work. Express your feelings. Should something bother you, express your concerns assertively, openly and cordially. If you’ve an upcoming exam and your friend just drops in, tell them you only have five minutes to talk. If you don’t, resentment builds, which increases your stress.
If you would like someone to change their behavior, be ready to reciprocate it.
Keep a balance between work and family life, social activities and solo things.
If you can’t change a stressor itself, change yourself. Adjust to a stressful situation to get control by changing your expectations.
Look at a stressor from a positive frame of reference. Rather than being frustrated over ending traffic jam, pause, listen to a song, read or enjoy some “me” time.
Look at the bigger thing: How vital will it be in the long run? It is worth being upset about? NO, then focus your energy elsewhere.
Do not chase perfection as it will create avoidable stress. If you look for perfection in everything, you may be planning to fail. Try to set reasonable standards and be alright with “good enough.”
Some stressors are unavoidable e.g. we can’t prevent a loved one’s death, a serious illness or recession. So, we need to accept them as they are. Accepting it may be hard, but it’s easier than fighting something we can’t change.
Many things are out of control, especially others’ behaviour. So rather than getting stressed out over them, we need to focus on things in our control i.e. how we react. See major challenges as opportunities for more growth. If you were accountable for a stressful situation, try to learn from your mistakes.
We live in a world with imperfect people, who constantly make mistakes. Thus, it’s better to let go of anger and resentment as forgiving and forgetting is a sensible idea.
Vent out your feelings to find catharsis by talking to friends / family member.
Indulging in physical activity is a huge stress reliever as it releases the feel-good endorphins and may be a valuable distraction from daily worries. Regular exercise for 30 minutes gives you the most advantage but build up your fitness level with time. Even small activities can add up to much in the course of a day.
Dance to a song.
Walk your dog.
Walk or cycle to a store for vegetables/ groceries.
Avoid using the elevator. Take the stairs.
Park your car at a far off location and walk the rest.
Pair with an exercise buddy to motivate each other.
While any physical activity would burn away stress, walking, running, swimming, dancing, cycling, and aerobics are more effective. Choose something enjoyable so that you stick to it.
During exercise, pay conscious attention to bodily and emotional sensations and focus on coordinating breathing with bodily movements. The mindfulness element helps you break the negative cycle that accompanies excessive stress.
Spending face-to-face time with others who makes you feel safe and understood is calming. Face-to-face interaction triggers hormones to counter the “fight-or-flight” response, which is a natural stress reliever (and staves off depression). So talk regularly face to face with family and friends.
Others may not “fix” your problem but they can be good listeners. Do not think of yourself as being weak or a burden as your loved ones feel flattered by the trust you show. Having a close friend network enhances your resilience to stressors.
- Reach out to colleagues. B. Help others.
- Share a lunch/ tea with a friend
- Request a loved one to check in on you frequently.
- Accompany someone to an event/ theatre /exhibition/concert.
- Call or email a long-forgotten friend.
- Walk with a workout buddy.
- Have a weekly dinner date.
- Talk to new people. Attend a class or join a club.
- Confide in a teacher/mentor/ guide
Have some “me” time to minimize stress. Do not be caught up in the rush of life so much that you forget own needs. Improving yourself is a necessity, not a luxury and you deserve it! With regular fun time, you can handle the stressors better.
Watch the stars, play the piano or go out biking. Keep your sense of humour alive, including laughing at yourself. Laughing at oneself is a mark of emotional maturity. Even otherwise, laughter therapy helps you reduce stress levels.
Try yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to trigger the relaxation response. Your stress level will decline as a result, making you calm and focused.
Make only those commitments which you can fulfill and avoid packing too much into a day. Often, we underestimate how long things take and then it leads to a problem.
Make a list of tasks and complete them in the order of importance. Tackle high-priority items first and so on. For something particularly stressful, complete it early so that the rest of the day feels more pleasant.
Break a project into small, manageable steps and focus on a step at a time, rather than taking everything in one go.
If others can take care of a task, why not let them do so? Avoid managing every step, thereby letting go of the unnecessary stress.
Balanced, healthy lifestyles
Other lifestyle choices are an important part of stress management that can improve the resistance to stress.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet as a well-fed body is better prepared to fight stress. Be mindful of your eating and begin your day right with a healthy breakfast, to be followed by balanced, nutritious meals to keep you active and your mind clear.
Try to reduce caffeine and sugar as the temporary “highs” they bring often end in a mood crash. By minimizing coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks, you’ll feel relaxed and will have better sleep.
Quality sleep rests your mind and body. Feeling tired worsens your stress as it makes you think irrationally.
If you’re worried over your morning commute, are stuck in stressful meetings or are hassled over an argument, a quick stress management technique is in order.
The quickest route is deep breathing. View a favorite photo, smell a scent, listen to a favorite song, play with a pet for quick relaxation and focus. There isn’t a single thing that always works, of course. You need to experiment to find the unique experiences that work best for you.