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Be the boss of your stress!

We are all familiar with stress — it’s a fact of life. With the rapid pace of modern living, it feels increasingly difficult to keep up. Sadly, the negative effects of stress are widespread and growing.

Our stress response is triggered when we are faced with overwhelming demands. The demands can be large or small, but it’s the importance we attach to them that decides their impact. Important pressures we feel incapable of coping with result in stress, and prolonged exposure to these reactions can have an impact on physical, emotional and mental health.

Most of us feel “stressed out” at least once a month, and the majority of visits to doctors, and days off work, are for stress-related problems. But stress also can grow slowly and go unnoticed, or ignored, for years. Lack of time, information and motivation can cause it to build up until something breaks under the pressure.

With this in mind, one of the most important skills we can ever learn is the right way to manage stress. Once the skills are in place, moods become more stable, thoughts become clearer, relationships improve, and the risk of illness diminishes.

It requires a commitment to yourself to take the necessary time and effort to learn new stress management skills. But we should all aim to develop at least one strategy to turn to when we feel our stress levels rising. Remember, relaxation and peace of mind are not reserved only for those with pots of money and masses of free time. They can be yours, too, with a little knowledge and understanding.

There are many effective on-the-spot techniques you can use in the middle of an intensely stressful situation. Practice deep breathing to provide extra oxygen for both physical and emotional well-being. Or take a break to remove yourself from the situation. If necessary, invent an excuse so you can spend a few moments by yourself. You will be able to think more clearly and get in touch with your feelings. Then you can decide what to do to lift the pressure.

To help yourself over the long-term:

  • Try to build stress-reducing activities into your life, such as exercise, relaxation and hobbies.

  • Eat well and ensure you have sufficient rest and sleep to prepare yourself for the inevitable stresses of life.

  • Avoid making self-critical comments.

  • Become aware of your own strengths, weaknesses and needs.

  • Make it a priority to get plenty of support rather than trying to cope alone.

  • Write down your thoughts so they begin to make sense. Decide on priorities and look for solutions.

  • Think creatively — what might another person do in your situation?

  • Delegate, share responsibility, and renegotiate deadlines. Often those around you won’t realize how overloaded you’re feeling.

  • Prepare for events as much as possible in advance, but don’t try to be perfect, or expect other people and events to be perfect.

  • Always seek expert advice when you experience severe physical and emotional symptoms.

Your reactions to an event determine its impact, so it’s always possible to reduce the level of pressure you feel. By knowing yourself well enough to tell when you’re under stress, you can take action as soon as possible.

The time and effort you spend relaxing and learning new stress management skills is always well-spent because of the emotional and physical health benefits it brings. If you are willing to make a change in just one area, let it be an increase in the time you spend relaxing. This is the foundation upon which all the other stress management techniques are built. Without stopping for a moment, we can’t assess our current situation and gain an insight into how we’re being affected, and what needs to change.

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