Some of the happiest and most successful people face very stressful situations everyday. Yes, life can be very demanding and stuff does happen, but that do not have to rob us from our health and joy.
First, let us understand this: we need stress. Without a certain level of stress life can become rather boring. Stress can bring out the best in you, inspiring you to be the best you in the world and for the world. It mobilises a student to spend an extra hour behind her books, sharpens a lawyer’s mind to be alert and to use the best possible arguments, helps the athlete to put in the extra effort to make the winning difference, and energises a doctor or nurse to handle a crisis. We can call this “eu-stress” or good stress. It is your friend and can help you to perform.
But tension can also be your enemy which paralyses you, highjacking your focus and energy from the job at hand. It can even cause you to become dysfunctional – be it in your decision-making, sex life, driving in busy traffic, handling telephone calls, or coping with the responsibilities of parenting. And when your life is marked by never-ending stress, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, depression and even burnout. This is “dis-stress” or bad stress.
After a stressful situation stress hormone levels need to drop so that you can relax and regain your energy. However, when that does not happen and the stressful conditions continue or when you keep on getting worked up by minor issues it can cause huge damage – not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally and relational. Medicine can help, but the long-term solution will be to learn to manage yourself better. Managing your stress is an important part of a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Here are some stress management strategies:
1. Press the STOP button
It is impossible to manage something that you are not aware of. Start making frequent internal checks and be honest about your emotional state. When you realize that you are over-stressed, it is time to press the stop-button. First acknowledge the stress. Then decide how you will manage it from here. What thinking pattern, behaviour or circumstances must I change? Set boundaries for yourself as healthy protective measures.
2. Deal with the past
Some people are highly susceptible to stress due to baggage from past experiences. Consequently bitterness, inner pain or unrealistic fears and worries can shape your perspective on life and people in a very unhealthy way. If that is you, it may be time to talk about the past and deal with it.
3. Embrace and employ Good stress (eu-stress)
Stress comes with life – it is part of the package. When under strain, refuse to view yourself as a victim, feeling sorry for yourself or trying to get the pity of others. Make peace with it, even make friends with it and start to use it for your own benefit. The more realistic and optimistic you are about stress the better you will be able to use and manage it positively. Nowadays some people even become stressed because they are stressed. That is the optimum of self-defeat.
4. Know yourself
What you know well, you can manage well. It is a dangerous myth that what is stressful to me, is in the same way stressful to you. Remember, a situation is rarely stressful in itself. What causes one person to panic (e.g. to lead a group of people), can be fun and excitement to another. It can also be helpful to do a personality test and understand the challenges that your personality faces. This can be done by a registered psychologist. After that you can develop stress management strategies that relates to your personality.
5. Positive Self-talk
This is a key strategy. Research has shown that you can radically reduce your stress if you can change your thinking about your stressors. We are constantly busy with self-talk. Negative and pessimistic self-talk weakens your ability to cope with everyday life and to fix what is wrong. Instead, condition yourself to employ positive and optimistic self-talk (thinking) about yourself, others, and your circumstances. Cultivate a positive self-image and a “can-do” approach to life. Test your perceptions and beliefs about people and events, and exchange what is false and negative for true and positive mindsets.
6. Manage your time
We all have only 24 hours per day. The art of time management is not to get as many as things done as possible, but to do the right things at the right time as effective as possible. Discern between what is really important and what is just a waste of time. Try to avoid living a life of ongoing urgencies, or being busy just for the sake of business. Plan and focus your time around those things that are really important to you. Prioritise, set realistic goals and deadlines, do challenging tasks when you are still fresh, plan ahead for stressful times, delegate everything you can, make time to celebrate successes.
7. Balance between work and play
Do not take yourself and life too seriously. “All work and no play, makes Johnny a dull boy”. Build in time to play, doing sport, going for a walk, or enjoying a hobby. Laugh a lot. Enjoy humour. Tell jokes.
8. Develop a strong support system
Healthy relationships reduce stress tremendously. The opposite is also true: dysfunctional relationships can cause a lot of strain. Therefore it is important to be proactive. Nurture relationships, deal with relational problems as soon as possible, keep in touch with friends and family, and recognize others’ feelings. Share, serve, and encourage and appreciate others.
9. Create a pleasant climate at home and work
We all create a climate or atmosphere around us. If we are more intentional about it, we can create a happy environment in which we and others can thrive. Change or re-organise things at work to make life easier and more interesting. Be intentional about noticing and enjoying the good things in life.
10. Face your problems and solve them
“Procrastination is the thief of time”, but is also a big cause for unnecessary pressure. Running away from problems, very seldom let them disappear. They rather grow in force. Be brave and face your challenges and problems, and deal with them as soon and effective as possible.
11. The power of choice
The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl taught the world that no matter what happens to us – even if it is to suffer in a concentration camp like he did in the Second World War – we are always free to choose our reactions to our circumstances. Stephen Covey took this further by pointing out that your happiness depends 10% on what happens to you and 90% on how you respond to those things. So let us take responsibility for your responses to life – because we are “response able”, that is able to choose our responses!
12. Get help
Sometimes you need someone to guide you through a difficult time. It can be a professional person, such as a psychologist, life coach or a pastor, but often a sensitive family member, spouse or friend can be a wonderful help. At times a medical check up may be necessary to make sure that there are not secondary causes for your stress.
13. Physical Care
Because stress results in a chemical and physical reaction, it is very important to take good care of yourself. Find effective ways how to put back what you take out when your energy resources are put to test. Make sure you get enough sleep, rest and relaxation. Cultivate healthy eating habits. And make time to engage in physical exercise regularly.
14. Time to pray and meditate
Psychologists world wide are busy realizing that apart from mental and emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence is of central importance. It also helps in stress management to connect to the deeper meaning and purpose of your life. Never underestimate the power of God – not only to change circumstances, but changing and empowering you to overcome everything.
Life can be fun amidst of all the pressures. Do not let your joy and health be stolen by stress, but live life to the full!