As you’re reading this post, chances are you lead a busy life. You probably have targets to hit, a home to run, and deadlines and expectations to meet.
Whether in the caring profession, a student, parent, business leader, pastor, or teacher, you’ll live with stress at some point — most commonly, when your commitments become overwhelming and too much is on your mind. But there’s good news — stress can be managed.
Despite some of life’s demands being difficult to handle, the use of effective stress management techniques, make it possible for you to maintain good health, overall well-being, and remain productive.
What are the causes of stress?
Typically, stress occurs when you’re faced with difficult life events such as redundancy or the diagnosis of a long-term illness. And more often than not, its associated with feelings of having little or no control over your circumstances. Though not a diagnosed medical condition, if you experience too much stress, it can lead to more severe health problems, such as depression.
This has been my experience in the past. For in trying to manage the pressures of work, family, and people expectations, I slowly spiralled into an emotional black hole, where even the smallest of tasks became overbearing. What I learnt from my experience is helping me to better manage the stressors in my life now and the same could be true for you.
In addition to exploring more common stress management techniques like regular exercise and relaxation, practising the three I’ll share in this post, is helping me to maintain a good level of well-being and cope with life’s challenges. Two of the techniques I’ve practised, and have found helpful. The other, I’m new to, and am still evaluating its effectiveness. You too, may want to consider trying them.
#1. Develop daily routines
In addition to meeting work deadlines, managing your home, and addressing issues with your irrational neighbour, surprisingly, decision-making can in itself, be a big stressor. Why? Because making a decision, big or small, requires exertion of emotional and mental energy, which can lead to stress.
Developing routines reduces the number of decisions you need to make throughout the day, leaving you with more capacity to focus your energies on the things that are most important.
“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
In recognising that decision-making requires mental energy, I’ve found that the development of daily routines like preparing school lunches, getting my clothes out, packing my training gear, and making a list of my priority tasks for the next day, is a helpful and effective stress management technique. Having your own daily routines will help to reduce stress, not only by forcing you to consider and identify what’s most important, but by giving you a greater sense of control.
#2. Use positive ‘if-then’ self-talk
The biggest influence on how you view and respond to situations is you. What you say to yourself makes the biggest difference. Knowing this, one effective stress management technique is to use a self-management strategy known as implementation intentions.This strategy involves the use of an if-then plan, which can lead to increased goal achievement.
With this strategy, you first need to note the things that typically evoke negative emotions. A humorous example may include, the toilet seat being left up — for many women the cause of much frustration. Then you determine your ideal response to this emotion. For example, stay calm. Once you’ve identified your ideal response to this emotion, state an intention that links your desired outcome to the evocative situation. For example, ‘if the toilet seat is left up, then I will remain calm, close it, and enjoy a quiet pee’.
Studies of if-then plans, as a self-regulative tool for thought and action, have shown their usefulness in helping to modify responses to negative emotional stimuli such as fear and disgust. An if-then plan can be an effective stress management technique, as it could also lead to the development of new habits that require no conscious effort — resulting in you being less stressed.
#3. Go easy on yourself
People who give themselves a break from the tyranny of self-loathing and condemnation linked to perfectionism, tend to be less depressed, more compassionate, more optimistic, and here’s the big one — more successful. The more you punish yourself for mistakes and focus on past failures, the more likely you are to be stressed.
Studies have shown a relationship between self-control, perfectionism and stress. The findings highlight the role of self-control as a strategy to deal with high-pressure situations where perfectionist strivings may induce stress. Contrary to some thinking; that ‘cracking the whip’ will result in more success, self-compassion does more good in the long run, in that it can reduce your stress levels and improve performance.
I recently showed a little compassion to my body by taking a two-week break from high intensity training. Though I still maintained healthy eating habits — well, within reason — I noticed that when I recommenced training, I was more invigorated, energized, and most importantly, more motivated, to train at my best. Having periods of self-compassion is an effective stress management technique, that if done well, can produce great results.
How are you managing stress, and what have you found to be helpful stress management techniques?