When stress levels go through the roof, the health of both your mind and body are at risk. It affects your ability to enjoy your daily life, function effectively and think clearly. How to overcome stress is a problem you must solve if you are to make effective progress on your goals.
Discover the Causes
What is stress all about? To manage it effectively, you must first identify the sources around you. This isn’t so easy.
Major stressors, like moving, changing jobs or getting a divorce, are easy to uncover, but chronic stress is far more subtle. It’s hard to identify the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that increase your stress levels each day. You may think deadlines are what’s causing your stress when it’s actually you procrastinating too often.
To understand what’s actually causing it, observe your attitude, habits, and excuses. For example:
- Do you gloss over stress, deem it temporary, though it’s been ages since you last took a break? (“I’m so busy now, I’ll relax when I have the time”)
- Do you believe stress is an unavoidable part of your home/work life, or of your personality? (“This is just how things are here” / “I’m just an energetic person”)
- Do you hold events or other people responsible for your stress level or think it’s perfectly normal?
Until you take responsibility for your part of the equation, you’ll never learn how to overcome stress.
Journal your Stress
Documenting your actions can help you discover your daily stressors and how you normally react to them. Ask yourself: what is stress and when does it occur in my life? Whenever it happens, make a note in your log.
As you maintain your journal, common themes and patterns will naturally appear. To manage stress effectively, write the following for each occurrence:
- Stress triggers,
- How you are affected by stress, both emotionally and physically,
- Your reaction to stressors,
- How you improved your mood.
Replace Negative Coping Patterns
The way you deal with stress may actually compound it. Some unhealthy patterns are as follows:
- Binging on comfort junk food,
- Drugs and pills,
- Withdrawing from family, friends or various activities,
- Taking it out on others,
- Getting busy to avoid problems,
- Zoning out,
If the ways you deal with stress do not contribute to your overall physical and emotional health, you may want to replace them with others. There is no single solution for this problem. You must test different strategies and find what works for you. You’ll know it’s working when it’s making you feel in control and calm.
Stress Management’s 4 A’s
Stress is your brain’s response to stressors, some of which are quite predictable. Family gatherings, meeting your boss or commuting to work are all fairly easy to predict.
You can learn how to overcome stress in these situations by changing your response or the situation itself. To manage stress effectively, when deciding on a course of action for certain situations, it helps to use the 4 A’s: alter, avoid, accept or adapt.
Alter the Stressor
If a stressful situation is unavoidable, try altering it instead. This often involves modifying the way you operate and communicate in your day to day life.
Instead of keeping your feelings bottled up, express them. If you’re bothered by someone or something, express your concerns, be assertive, but do it in a respectful and open way. If you’re studying for an exam, and your brother wishes to chat about the game, tell him from the beginning you’re on a 5 minute break. Unvoiced feelings cause resentment and an increase of stress.
Compromising is sometimes necessary. Before asking someone to alter his / her behavior, you should be willing to bend yourself. If you are both willing to change even a bit, a middle ground will be much more easily attained.
Balance your schedule. If you work all day but don’t play at all, you’ll learn what is stress sooner than later. It’s difficult, but as much as possible, you should balance your family life, work, solitary pursuits, downtime, daily responsibilities and social activities. Planning out your day can help with this greatly.
Avoid Unneeded Problems
Some stressful situations need addressing or they might get worse. However, you may find quite a few stressors you can easily eliminate by simply avoiding them.
To learn how to overcome stress, the magic word is “no.” Never take on more than necessary, whether in your professional or personal life. Even after eliminating all unnecessary habits, you’ll find you barely have enough time for what’s truly important. So, say no to distractions and stick to your schedule. Once a task is done, don’t dwell on it. Finish it and move to the next.
Avoid stressful people. If someone is a constant source of stress, cut them out of your life or at least limit your contact with them.
Control what’s around you. Get rid of stressful items or factors in your environment. If TV stresses you out, get rid of it. If you get tense in traffic, go for a route with fewer vehicles.
Cut down on your schedule. Analyze your responsibilities, schedule and tasks for the day. If there is simply too much for you to comfortably do, use the magic word “no” and cut down on tasks starting from the least important onwards.
Accept Unchangeable Stressors
You cannot avoid some stress sources. A loved one’s death, the recession or a grave illness may appear randomly and teach you what is stress in the worst possible way.
When something out of your control happens, accept it. If you could have made a difference, but didn’t, accept there is nothing you can do anymore. Learn from the situation and forgive yourself. To manage stress effectively, you must realize things will eventually get better.
Here are a few things you can do to overcome this stress:
Search for the bright side. Suffering is a great opportunity for self improvement. Learn from the situation. Reflect on the choices you’ve made that may have contributed to it and learn / evolve from them. You will feel better and will become better.
Express your feelings. Even if you cannot change the situation, sharing your feelings with another can have a cathartic effect. Speak to a therapist or a close friend. Allow the emotions to flow out of you instead of gathering and growing into something dark.
Adapt to the situation. If you can’t change the situation, change your own mentality towards it. By changing your attitude and expectations, you can regain control of your mind and ease your stress levels.
Reframe the situation. There is a bright side to even the darkest problem. Instead of getting angry over an overdue project, look at it as an opportunity to develop your discipline, as a learning opportunity.
See the big picture. To learn how to overcome stress, try to see the problem in perspective. In the long run, how much will this situation affect your life? Will its effects be noticeable a month from now? How about a year? If not, then is there really a point to getting angry or upset over it? Is it really that important to your overall existence?
Lower your standards. Perfectionism isn’t synonymous with self improvement. It is just another answer to the question “what is stress?”
Nothing ever goes as planned and things rarely turn out perfect. So, by aiming for perfection, you’re inevitably aiming towards failure, pain and stress. Aim for the skies, but set reasonable expectations for your day to day activities. If you try to do too much, you will actually achieve less and burn yourself out in the process.
Be grateful. Just because one part of your life is falling apart, it doesn’t mean all your life is a mess. Take a moment to remember the numerous things you are grateful for, and you will see this unfortunate event isn’t as big as you make it out to be.
When you’re going through a stressful period, moving your body is not likely on your to do list. However, workouts are great stress relievers, so to learn how to overcome stress, you should definitely take advantage of them.
You don’t have to spend your entire day in the gym to get the benefits of a proper workout. Move as much as you can as often as you can. Even 10 minutes of running on the spot while watching a movie will release endorphins, brighten your mood and help relieve some of your worries.
Though it’s most beneficial to exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes, you can build up your resistance in time. During the day, every little thing you do adds up, so get moving:
- Go walk with your dog;
- Cycle or walk;
- Avoid the elevator;
- Do group sports;
- Go for a martial arts class;
- Play with your kids;
Manage stress effectively with rhythmic exercise:
Though all forms of exercise will help you manage your stress and tension, rhythmic workouts are particularly useful. Great options are martial arts, running, swimming, walking, aerobics, tai chi and dancing. Regardless of your choice, pick something engaging, so you’ll stick with it.
While working out, consciously listen to the physical / emotional sensations in your body. Coordinate your movements and breathing, or pay attention to your surroundings. Being mindful of your situation will disrupt the constant negative thoughts which accompany stress.
Connect with your Peers
Few things are as calming as spending time with someone who makes you feel understood and safe. Interacting face to face with another human being causes a flood of hormones in your body, which stop the fight or flight response. This stress reliever is as old as society, and it also works great against anxiety or depression.
Those you communicate with don’t necessarily need to be qualified to handle your stress. They just have to lend you their ears. You won’t be a burden or look weak if you open up, so do it. Those who love you will find your trust flattering. You’ll learn how to overcome stress, and your bond will be strengthened.
When stress overwhelms you, there won’t always be a friend nearby, but you can raise your resistance to stressors by creating a group of friends.
To build relationships, consider the following tips:
- Speak to coworkers;
- Take an acquaintance out for coffee or lunch;
- Speak to a loved one and ask them stay in touch;
- Go to a concert or movie with someone;
- Email or call an old pal;
- Workout or walk with a friend;
- Go for a dinner date;
- Join a club or take a class to meet new friends;
- Speak to a sports coach, teacher or clergy member.
Relax and Have Fun
Other than a positive attitude and a responsible approach, you can decrease the stress you’re facing by taking time out of your schedule for relaxation. Don’t lose yourself in work and forget to handle your needs. Including leisure time in your schedule or you’ll learn what is stress.
During this time, forget all other responsibilities. Afterwards, every day, do something enjoyable, be it riding your bike, stargazing or painting. Finally, maintain a healthy sense of humor. Learn to laugh at your own mistakes. You can also use deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and other techniques to relax your body and enter a restfulness state.
Create a Toolbox for Stress Relief
Think of healthy ways in which you can recharge and relax. Use one or several of the following ideas daily, even if your mental state is already good:
- Take a walk;
- Visit nature;
- Work out;
- Call a friend;
- Build a journal;
- Smell some scented candles;
- Take a bath;
- Have fun with your pet;
- Drink some tea or coffee;
- Go to a massage parlor;
- Take care of your garden;
- Read a book;
- Enjoy some music;
- Watch a relaxing movie.
How to Use Your Time
Misusing your time can be a big cause of stress. It’s hard to be focused and calm when you’re behind on work. Also, you’ll tend to cut back or avoid healthy habits which normally help you deal with stress, just to keep up. Fortunately, there are ways to balance your life and work, so the stress you receive is minimal.
To learn how to overcome stress, here are a few rules of thumb:
- Don’t put too many things in your schedule. Back to back scheduling is a sure fire way to get stressed. You’ll rarely achieve everything you want, and you’ll get frustrated every time.
- Check your priorities. Create a list of all your tasks, make a sign near the important ones and take care of them. The faster you take care of stressful and / or unpleasant tasks, the more empowered, capable and relaxed you will feel. If you start your day completing a major task, the rest of it will seem much easier in comparison.
- Small chunk your projects. Some projects are so big, they’re overwhelming. If you don’t split them into manageable bites, your mind will deem them too hard to handle and will convince you to postpone them. You’ll procrastinate endlessly and get more and more stressed the closer you get to the deadline. To get past this mental resistance, it helps to split the task into tiny bits and focus on the first.
- Delegate. Completing tasks is stressful, so why not give these stressors to someone else. You’ll be surprise how much more work you’ll get done when leaving nonessentials to someone else.
Besides exercise, there are several other lifestyle choices you can make to help you deal with stress:
- Go for a healthy diet. It’s so much easier to deal with stress when you’re full of energy and healthy. On the other hand, sugar and chemicals negatively affect your emotions, your ability to reason and your energy levels. Is all that worth the momentary taste and satisfaction of your cravings? If not, go for a healthy diet.
- Get off drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. If you’ve engaged in these vices, perhaps you already know the short term benefits related to them are simply not worth it in the long term. They do work as stress relievers but cause more stress later down the line in the form of health problems, missed deadlines, arguments with your friends and family, etc. With so many better options out there, are drugs, cigarettes and alcohol really worth it?
- Though there is such a thing as too much sleep, if you’re getting less than 7 hours per night, that’s probably not your problem. To manage stress effectively, some people need more sleep, others less. Find out how much your body needs and take a nap. You’ll think more rationally, it will be easier to deal with problems and your stress levels will plummet.
Finally, to learn how to overcome stress, you must take immediate positive action. I encourage you to choose one of the ideas above, and implement it now.