Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about school deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual assignment demands, that leads to deadline stress.
To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.
1. Create a Serenity Prayer
AABCs of Stress Management.
ALTER: Problem-solving direct communication, organizing, planning, time management, building up resistance, setting goals, changing your perceptions.
AVOID: Walk away, let go, learn to say “no,” delegate, set limits
ACCEPT: Let go of what you cannot change or control.
When creating your own Serenity Prayer ask yourself, “What situations would I like to alter?” “What situations can I avoid?” “What situations do I need to accept?”
A Serenity Prayer is similar to the one and only Serenity Prayer that we know, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
2. Start a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed; keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes.
- What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure).
- How you felt, both physically and emotionally.
- How you acted in response.
- What you did to make yourself feel better.
3. Avoid unnecessary stress
Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a guaranteed recipe for stress.
Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
Take control of your environment – If a particular TV show makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route.
Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
Narrow down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
4. Accept the things you can’t change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to change the stressful situation.
Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
5. Make time for fun and relaxation
By having a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
Go for a walk.
Spend time in nature.
Call a good friend.
Sweat out tension with a good workout.
Write in your journal.
Take a long bath.
Light scented candles
Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea. Play with a pet.
Work in your garden.
Get a massage.
Curl up with a good book. Listen to music.
Watch a comedy
Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to interfere. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be reading, playing with your pet, or working on your bike.
Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
Learn the relaxation response
You can control your stress levels with relaxation techniques that evoke the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the opposite of the stress response. Regularly practicing these techniques will build your physical and emotional resilience, heal your body, and boost your overall feelings of joy and calmness.