It’s not an exaggeration to say that 2020 has been a critically stressful year! No matter what opinions we have with regards to politics or the pandemic, the stress created by the many changes we’ve faced has dramatically heightened for almost everyone.
Although stress is a natural and beneficial survival mechanism, too much stress can negatively affect our personal health. In fact, chronic stress plays a role in health problems such as high blood pressure, infertility, cardiovascular issues, and poor mental health. Fortunately, we have access to a wealth of techniques and programs to manage our stress levels and take back control of our well-being.
Taking Control of Stress
The first step to managing stress is acknowledging the problem. Some people may not realize they are burning the candle at both ends until it starts to burn out. Stress overload can cause obsessive-compulsive behaviors for some, while others may find they can barely get out of bed. Knowing how our stress is impacting our behavior is necessary for identifying the triggers and preventing health issues.
Next, we need to identify our stress triggers. While some stressors, such as a pandemic, are obvious; they may not always be evident. Sometimes daily activities we don’t consider to be particularly stressful can become problematic when compounded with other factors. Many parents, for example, need to complete work projects while providing primary care for their children. This is stressful even under perfect circumstances! Any hitch in the flow can cause tensions to build. When tempers become shorter and normal daily activities become aggravating, the need for stress management techniques becomes more evident.
Choosing a Stress Management Strategy
Managing stress is a choice, really. We can choose a negative management technique like alcohol or take a more positive approach, like meditation. Some of the more beneficial approaches include breathing techniques, self-care routines, and professional counseling. In the article referenced above, Amba Brown identifies three broad approaches to stress management. Each is best suited to different situations or personality types.
An action-oriented approach to stress management works well for many people, especially in the workplace. This approach aims to directly limit or reduce stressors. Steps we can take to implement this approach include:
- Communicating effectively to avoid confusion
- Getting organized to better manage our time
- Setting boundaries
- Taking a break to clear our heads
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Viktor Frankl
To change how we perceive a situation in order to manage the feelings around it, we can take an emotion-oriented approach. This approach works well in a variety of settings and is valuable for younger people in particular. Steps we can take to embrace this stress management approach include:
- Using positive affirmations
- Participating in cognitive behavioral therapy to change our perceptions of stressors
- Taking an optimistic view of future events and focusing on positive outcomes
Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way.Mavis Mazhura
Lastly, we can take an acceptance-oriented approach for situations in which we have no real control — such as a pandemic. In this approach, we accept the situation and instead focus on how we can feel better as an individual. Activities don’t target the stressors, but instead help improve us in a more holistic way.
- Eating a healthy diet
- Deep-breathing or meditating
- Resting and sleeping
- Avoiding social media sites which might exacerbate negative feelings
We are what we repeatedly do.Will Durant
Finding the Technique(s) That Work
Whether in the workplace or at home — and for many of us those may be the same place right now — we can always try to improve our mental health. Even though there are a wide variety of stress managemnt techniques, none are one-size-fits-all. It takes some exploration and practice to figure out our stressors as well as the most effective methods for dealing with them.
Finally, on a positive note, we need to remember that by searching for stress relief, we are essentially working on self-improvement. While success may not be immediately obvious, we can take comfort in the knowledge that we are making progress toward changing our mental states for the better.