If we are in a constant state of living with high levels of stress, we are putting our entire well being at risk be it our physical or emotional health. Our ability to think clearly, resolve problems and function in an effective manner are impacted. It is at this point that we need to take a step back, think and seek to control matters in our own better interest.
We need to realize that by effectively managing our stress levels we can break the vicious cycle and stop the hold stress has on our life so that we can move towards a more productive, healthier and happier existance. So, the question might arise, what should be our aim ? We need to aspire towards obtaining a greater balance in our life. We need to identify and maintain an equilibrium between the time we allocate to our work responsibilities, our responsibilities at home, leisure, as well as, most important ‘me time’. By doing so we will be able to build our resilience to stand up to the pressures surrounding us and meet the challenges we are facing.
Managing our stress levels work differently for each person. That is why it is important that we identify what works best for us. When we review and decide what choice to make in any situation we can use the concept of the four A’s :
- AVOID : All situations which arise need to be handled and addressed. So learn to identify your limits within your personal as well as professional life. It is important that we also learn to say “NO” when we cannot handle it. It may similarly be best to avoid people and situations which stress us out.
- ALTER : At times it maybe in our best interest to find a middle ground with the concerned persons to resolve the issue. The best way is to share our concerns and find a resolution which is acceptable to both parties. Sometimes this may involve changing habits and our manner of communicating with others, but the effort is worth the results.
- ADAPT : At times one cannot avoid or change problems. So, the other alternative is that we can try to reframe and look at them from a positive stance and adjust our perspective towards it. We can also adapt ourselves to stressful situations by changing our attitude and lowering our expectations to a more realistic level.
- ACCEPT : Some stressors are beyond our control, so we need to learn to accept them. At times acceptance may be difficult but objecting and denouncing such a situation will not change it. The behaviour of another person is beyond our control so learn to modify your own response instead. Free yourself of negative energy and learn to forgive and move on.
Apart from the above concepts to handle stress there are some other very useful lifestyle techniques that we can adapt to bring an equilibrium into our lives.
- ADOPT PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES : Being active and participating in moderate physical activities help to combat stress and also improve our sleep. We do not need to become an athelete, as even some moderate exercise or activities release endorphins in our body which make us relax and feel good. The first step we need to take is to get ourselves moving and then build it up to 30 minutes a day at least. A brisk walk of about 30 minutes is a very relaxing and energizing activity. While exercising pay attention to the rhythmic movements and the sensations you are feeling. By being mindful of your activity and surroundings you will relax and come out of your stress cycle.
- CONNECT SOCIALLY : Connecting with friends and family is a natural stress buster and also helps to stave off anxiety and despair. It helps to calm us down as we feel safe and secure when we spend quality time with another person. Close friends might be good at listening to our problems, sympathizing and offering good advice. Emotional support helps to increase positive emotions as it also promotes a feeling of strength and confidence. By building a network of close friends we can improve our resilience and be ready to face the stresses that come up in our lives.
- RELAXATION : Research studies show us that practicing relaxation techniques help to reduce psychological stress and anxiety in us. Most of these practices can be learned easily and adopted by us on a need basis. To start ourselves we can even just take five minutes a day to sit in a quiet place, close our eyes, relax and breathe slowly and deeply. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation trigger the relaxation response in a person and generate a sense of peace and relaxation. The stress levels within us decrease and our mind and body both become calm and centered.
- EAT HEALTHY : Increase your resistance to stress by adopting a healthy lifestyle. If we have a well nourished body we are better prepared to cope with the stresses and demands on us. So, start your day with a good breakfast to keep your energy level up throughout the day. A diet which is high in a variety of nutrients provide more energy to manage work and home life stresses and also contribute towards protecting our health. Aim to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables as well as fish, meat etc to stay healthy and energetic. Limit your consumption of unhealthy fats and sugar. Reduce consumption of caffeine as well, as it causes a temporary high but ends in mood and energy crashes.
- MANAGE YOUR TIME : When we stretch ourselves out it becomes hard to stay calm and focused. At the same time we cannot meet our deadlines and priorities which results in a lot of stress. But we can do things which can help to achieve a healthier work-life balance. We need to learn to prioritize our tasks and not over commit ourselves. Apart from that we should try to break up tasks into manageable steps and focus on each step one at a time instead of trying to take on everything at once. Most important learn to delegate as you do not have to do everything by yourself, be it at home or on the job.
- REFRAME YOUR THOUGHTS : Stress and anxiety cause us to panic but by practicing to reframing our thoughts we can manage our emotions more positively and reduce our stress levels. It is by understanding the concept that our thoughts have an influence on our emotions and responses, which in turn influence our behaviour that we can manage to reduce these. If we realize that our thoughts are moving towards a worst case scenario, we need to apply the brakes, stop ourselves and put our mind to less worrying situations to reduce stress levels.
It is very important for us to learn to deal with our stress no matter what the situation is. Being involved in a demanding or hectic work routine, or with a tense moment at home, stress needs to be managed immediately. It is in such situations that the need for quick stress relief comes in. The easiest and fastest way to do so is by taking a few deep breaths and relaxing your whole body and mind. You can also use your senses – see, hear, taste, touch – by listening to music, going for a walk or any other activity to relax and re-focus yourself. Learn to find what works best for you and apply that for your own benefit.
Remember “Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose.” – Maureen Killoran