Stress is how we respond to pressure, expectation, demands and threats. Stress in small doses can be helpful, but too much for too long can be damaging for us. Stress can be experienced in short bursts; for instance when there is a deadline at work. However, stress can also be experienced for long periods of time, for example if you have worries about money that are not being resolved. How we recognise and manage stress is very important to how resilient we are in our lives.
We will all experience stress at some point in our lives, and it seems that some people manage better than others, at least it appears like that on the outside. Different lives have different stressors and require different ways of coping and managing. Learning what your stress trigger points are is very helpful for this as well as learning what your current coping mechanisms are. It is not helpful to judge your stressors as less stressful or less important than the stressors others seem to be experience, we are all individuals and we all respond differently.
Short term stressors such as hearing a house alarm going off and not being able to stop the noise can be very annoying – however, if you are able to be mindful of your judgments of how annoying the noise can be and are able to bring your focus to another activity or move to a different part of your home or put on headphones this stress can be reduced very quickly.
Long term stressors need a different approach. Recognising what situations trigger you to feel stressed is important – some people thrive on the pressure to meet commitments and deadlines or managing a house full of young children, while for others this could be their idea of stress hell. Often we cannot avoid our stressors so we need to learn to help ourselves and be able to reduce the impact that they have on us. First you need to recognise your signs that you might be feeling stressed – do you start to have thoughts that things are impossible or do you have thoughts that I just can’t cope with all this, do you start having urges to drink alcohol every night to “take the edge off”, do you start to get snappy with people you care about, do you start to leave the activities that you know make you feel good in the long term for short term relief? These are all signs that you might be feeling stressed, but you need to know what your own signs are. Once you are able to identify that you are feeling stressed there are a number of strategies that you can use to help reduce the impact of the stress on you – we can’t always remove the stressor from our lives so we need to be able to manage its impact.
The first one of these strategies is taking care of yourself. By taking care of yourself, both your physical health and your pleasures in life you build in to your life ways of coping with your stressors. If you are in any way unwell your ability to manage any stressors in your life will be compromised so it is vital that you attend to your physical health. Increase your physical activity: engaging in physical activity is a great way of improving your fitness but also improving your ability to cope with stress – you can work some of the stress out of your body and you can find time for your mind to focus on something other than what is stressing you. Further, physical activity helps to increase the likelihood of a good night’s sleep which is another very important way of taking care of yourself.
Sleep deprivation reduces our capacity to manage stress, to function well and to reach the goals we are trying to achieve – and it could actually increase your level of stress. Ensuring that you get to bed at a time that means you have the potential for achieving your own optimum amount of sleep (this is different for everyone) and making sure your room is cool and dark and that you avoid screens for half an hour before trying to go to sleep is helpful to managing to get a good night’s sleep.
Eating well, healthily and regularly is also important. Your brain is like an engine and needs fuel to be able to run, if you do not keep the engine stoked it can not run and you are not able to think straight which makes you less able to manage your stress. Eating well and healthily can also improve your physical health. Reducing your caffeine intake, and your alcohol intake will also be beneficial for you in managing your stress as both of these contribute to less restful sleep.
As well as taking care of your basic needs, you also want to make sure that you include things in your life that make you feel good, that feel like treats to you and allow you to feel that you have something to give. Having regular social contact, engaging in hobbies that you enjoy, taking time to meditate, treating yourself to time alone can all be helpful ways to feel revitalised and help you have a buffer against the impact of stress on your life.
These strategies are beneficial at helping you manage stress, but they are also helpful to incorporate into daily life before you become stressed so that you are more resilient when stressors hit. Making Incorporating these strategies into your normal routine will make it much easier to stick to them in times of stress. To make yourself more resilient to manage stress in your life take the time now to write down what your signs of stress are, what you find helpful to do when you are feeling stressed and a reminder of why you might want to commit to these strategies to increase your well-being.