How to manage everyday stress

Let me distract you for a moment and tell you a short story.

Once upon a time, a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from 50 gms to 200 gms.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”

The moral:  It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries.  No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you.  If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.

From this story, we understood that the common cause of the stress.

Let’s see about the stress in terms of psychology.

What is stress?

Stress is often described as a feeling of being overloaded, wound-up tight, tense and worried. We all experience stress at times. It can sometimes help to motivate us to get a task finished, or perform well. But stress can also be harmful if we become over-stressed and it interferes with our ability to get on with our normal life for too long.

What are the signs of stress?

When we face a stressful event, our bodies respond by activating the nervous system and releasing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body which help us to react quickly and effectively to get through the stressful situation. This is sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response. The hormones increase our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism and muscle tension. Our pupils dilate and our perspiration rate increases. While these physical changes help us try to meet the challenges of the stressful situation, they can cause other physical or psychological symptoms if the stress is ongoing and the physical changes don’t settle down.

These symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling moody, tearful
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart disease

Tips on how to manage everyday stress

Learning to handle stress in healthy ways is very important. Fortunately, it is easy to learn simple techniques that help. These include recognizing and changing the behaviors that contribute to stress, as well as techniques for reducing stress once it has occurred. The following tips can help you look after your mind and body, and reduce stress and its impact on your health.

Identify warning signs

It is very helpful to be able to identify early warning signs in your body that tell you when you are getting stressed. These vary from person to person but might include things like tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, getting headaches, or feeling irritable and short tempered.

Identify triggers

There are often known triggers which raise our stress levels and make it more difficult for us to manage. If you know what the likely triggers are, you can aim to anticipate them and practice calming yourself down beforehand, or even find ways of removing the trigger. Triggers might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, hunger or over-tired children.

Establish routines

Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, can be very calming and reassuring and can help you to manage your stress.

Routines can include:

  • Regular times for exercise and relaxation
  • Regular meal times, waking and bedtimes
  • Planning ahead to do particular jobs on set days of the week.

Spend time with people who care

Spending time with people you care about, and who care about you, is an important part of managing ongoing stress in your life.

  • Spend time with friends and family, especially those you find uplifting rather than people who place demands on you.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with others when opportunities arise. Don’t ‘bottle up’ your feelings.

Look after your health

  • Make sure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise.
  • Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing.
  • Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.

Notice your ‘self-talk’

When we are stressed we sometimes say things in our head, over and over, that just add to our stress. This unhelpful self-talk might include things like: ‘I can’t cope’, or ‘I’m too busy’, or ‘I’m so tired’, or ‘It’s not fair’. While we might think that these are fairly truthful descriptions of what’s going on, they are not always helpful to repeat, and can even make you feel worse.

  • Notice when you are using unhelpful self-talk, and instead try saying soothing, calming things to yourself to reduce your levels of stress. Try more helpful self-talk like ‘I’m coping well given what’s on my plate’, or ‘Calm down’, or ‘Breathe easy’.
  • Keeping things in perspective is also important. When we are stressed, it’s easy to see things as worse than they really are. Try self-talk such as ‘This is not the end of the world’ or ‘In the overall scheme of things, this doesn’t matter so much’.

Practice relaxation Make time to practice relaxation.

This will help your body and nervous system to settle and readjust. Consider trying some of the following things:

  • Learn a formal technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
  • Make time to absorb yourself into a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music.
  • Plan things to do each day that you look forward to and which give you a sense of pleasure, like reading a book.

Hope this would help you to stress-free.

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