Short on time? For the key points on how to manage stress, stick to the bold text and the conclusion.
I wish I was more stressed, said no one ever. Yet, we all keep piling up the work, accepting new commitments and juggling multiple tasks at once without considering the mental consequences such as depression, burnout and stress.
It feels obvious, but we still want to point out that the best way to reduce stress is by leading a healthy life: create good habits, eat natural foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and avoid drugs. Additionally, here are three more things you can do to deal with stress.
3 tips to manage stress levels:
Identify the sources of your stress
Stress is usually a reaction to a threat or anxiety. It can be positive or negative. A bit of eustress ahead of an important game can boost your performance but all that distress due to your heavy workload is hardly going to benefit you.
Identify the source so you can learn how to manage stress. The sources of stress can be very varied: it can be your job, a person or your health. Some things can easily be controlled, others take more time. Getting in better shape doesn’t happen overnight, avoiding your annoying boss isn’t an easy fix either but managing your workload is a bit more within control.
Maybe you need to say no more often. Perhaps you don’t set the correct deadlines. Or you’re struggling to switch off after work. All these tiny organisational skills have a big influence on your productivity and stress levels.
Even if you’re a natural talent at all of these, distractions might still get in the way of getting things done. They might cause procrastination and completely mess up your concentration levels. Identify the sources and get rid of these distractions. Allow yourself to find flow and get more done. When you’re more efficient, you won’t need to stress as much.
All these skills will help you work smarter, not harder. Working more hours is good for job status, not productivity and definitely not for relationship status and mental health. To-do lists can help you work smarter and time-boxing is arguably even more beneficial as it focuses on input rather than the outcome.
When you struggle to cope with stress, try to identify the sources. Reducing or completely eliminating these triggers is often the easiest way to relieve stress and anxiety.
Expose yourself to stressful situations gradually
Don’t replace the problem with a quick solution that only makes things worse. Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and binge eating will only lead to more stress causes. Instead, reduce stress by gradually inviting that kind of stress in your life. By getting used to it, you’ll feel less stress in situations that don’t deserve stress. You’ll start recognising the emotions related to stressful events and you’ll learn how to manage them.
In psychology, two practices have been developed to train people how to deal with stress and anxiety. They are called stress exposure training (SET) and stress inoculation therapy (SIT). The difference between them is that SIT is meant to teach you how to deal with existing stress, while SET is more artificial. In military training or sports psychology, for example, it’s used to prepare for future stressful events like a secret mission or a Champions League penalty shootout.
The essence of these practices is simple: by exposing yourself to growing levels of perceived stress, you’ll practise using different coping mechanisms. Eventually, you will develop more tolerance or even immunity to the stress trigger involved.
Even though the goals are slightly different, the process of SIT and SET is very similar. The training is supposed to be guided by a professional but we can learn a lesson or two from this process anyway.
The first stage is all about information and insight. It’s about understanding natural stress responses, why they happen and how others have successfully dealt with them before.
The next step involves skill acquisition. You’re going to put these coping strategies into practice. Repetition is highly important to consolidate your skills and gain confidence.
Finally, it’s time to face your fears and stress triggers with your new skills. Phase three is about applying what you’ve learned and following through with your practice.
On a personal level, you can use these techniques to deal with stress related to public speaking, for example. First, you’ll do some research and try to find stress management techniques public speakers use.
Then, you’re going to practice these at home, in a safe environment. Slowly build up the pressure afterwards. Start by speaking in front of one family member or friend. Move on to a slightly bigger public to gain confidence. Make sure you’re exposed to a little bit of stress with each performance. Not too much so you’ll get anxious but just enough to keep growing. Before you realise it, you’ll have established a successful coping strategy and public speaking will be a piece of cake.
Learn what causes stress and try to understand why it happens. Look for stress management strategies so you can practise them while slowly exposing yourself to increasing levels of stress.
Write or talk about it
Stress journals and gratitude journals are excellent stress management tools. In the former, you’ll track patterns, triggers and solutions. This will help you apply the previous tips. In the latter, you’ll practise gratitude. It’s a guide to focusing on what you have instead of what you don’t have. Taking time to think about all the positives helps you relax and calm done.
Once you’ve discovered the causes, you can tackle them, as we suggested in tip 1. However, sometimes, you can’t deal with it yourself because someone else causes you stress. In that case, address the problem with them. Keeping it to yourself often makes things worse. Your partner or boss might not even know they are causing you extra stress.
Venting your feelings and stress, either by writing or talking, releases tension. It helps to see the issue from a new perspective and reduces stress. You can talk to a friend or professional but also to yourself. Positive self-talk boosts confidence and thus eases stress levels.
Connecting with others, just like physical exercise, is a natural stress-reliever. While interacting, hormones like serotonin and oxytocin get released. These make you feel more relaxed and happier. Conversations often lead to laughter as well. And then some extra feel-good hormones, endorphins, make you feel less tight and more relaxed.
When you talk or write about it, you’re verbalising the problem and labeling your emotions. This simple trick makes you more aware of them. As a result, you’ll be able to classify them and deal with them more efficiently. In your brain, the whole stress situation moves from the very emotional limbic brain to the highly rational prefrontal cortex. You will no longer be overly anxious and stressed but you’ll be able to analyse the stress trigger more clearly.
Share your feelings about stress. Writing and talking about it releases tension and it helps you classify the emotions. Social contact also stimulates the production of feel-good hormones, replacing stress with a more relaxed state.
Bonus: Tips to manage anxiety
- Eliminate common anxiety triggers
- Use stoic practices
- Release anxiety with meditation or sports
Read the full article on how to deal with anxiety.
Say goodbye to stress
When you are stressed, the feeling won’t just go away by itself. You need to grab the bull by the horns. Identify the problem and address it by slowly exposing yourself to increasing levels of stress or reducing the triggers. Spend time with others to vent your feelings. Or write about it in a stress or gratitude journal.
Of course, there’s a lot more to be said about how to reduce stress. We know. Yet for us, these are the top 3 things you can do about it now. If you’re struggling badly and want to learn more, read some of our primary sources below. Reach out to us if you think we can help or contact a professional if the problems persist and affect your life.
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Sources and further reading about managing your stress:
- CDC — https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/copingwith-stresstips.html
- Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith & Rober Segal. Helpguide — https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-management.htm
- NHS — https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/reduce-stress/
- Nathan Reese & Timothy J. Legg. Healthline— https://www.healthline.com/health/10-ways-to-relieve-stress#takeaway
- Diane Dreher. Psychology Today — https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-personal-renaissance/201906/why-talking-about-our-problems-makes-us-feel-better
- Mike Lauria. EMCrit RACC — https://emcrit.org/emcrit/on-stress-inoculation-training/
- Lisa Feldman Barrett. TED Ideas — https://ideas.ted.com/peoples-words-and-actions-can-actually-shape-your-brain-a-neuroscientist-explains-how/