Stress typically refers to either a person’s perception of pressure or their body’s response to that pressure. Stress affects virtually every aspect of our physiology from how effectively we process food to how fast our heartbeats to how much sleep we get.
It can also affect our memory, thought process, and speech. A bit of stress is a natural reaction when faced with uncertainty or danger. But constant stress, whether the byproduct of job, health, relationship or other issues, is a different story altogether and if not managed effectively, long-term stress can result in:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sexual dysfunction
- Skin problems
- GI problems like reflux
But how does one effectively cope with stress?
What Does it Mean to “Cope With Stress”?
Coping with stress is the process of making a conscious effort to minimize, transcend or otherwise master it. The process requires a person to develop a set of tools they can utilize to effectively neutralize stress when it rears its head.
Most coping mechanisms seek to address either the thoughts resulting from the stress, the thing that is generating the stress or the feelings that result from the stress.
Coping strategies are typically either positive in nature or negative. A positive strategy seeks to address the source of the stress head-on. While a negative strategy addresses the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms resulting from stress.
As no two people are exactly alike, different people will require different coping strategies. The key to successful coping is to determine which strategy plays to your particular strengths.
What Are Some Causes of Stress?
Causes of stress are everywhere. These “stressors” (as they are called by clinicians) include:
- An unfulfilling job – Feeling your talents aren’t being recognized or utilized
- Death of a loved one – Especially if they endured a protracted health struggle
- Separation or divorce – Stressful on virtually every level from emotional to financial
- An excessive workload – Working too hard is tough mentally, physically, and emotionally
- Increasing financial obligations – Money matters are a huge source of stress
- Moving – So many unknowns, as well as sadness over what and who you are leaving behind
- Chronic illness – Fear, pain, financial problems, and more can result from illness that drags on
- Loss of professional control – Being passed over for promotion
- A dangerous work environment – Never feeling safe is extremely stressful
- Little chance for promotion – Dead-end jobs create anxiety and uncertainty about the future
- Escalating responsibility – Being put in a position where you have authority over others
- Having a child – Becoming a parent can be a very stressful experience
- A traumatic event – Being assaulted or raped, being in a serious, and barely surviving a natural disaster can all create lingering stress
“Anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist in the physical world” – Wayne Dyer
How do We Manage Stress?
We manage stress by addressing the cause, the feelings or the thoughts generated by the stress. Here are a number of scientifically valid ways for reducing stress levels.
- Address the cause – Sometimes the only real way to relieve a stressful situation is to address it head-on. Here are a few examples of how people do that:
○ If the problem is relationship-oriented, you may want to arrange for counseling sessions where a qualified 3rd party can act as a mediator.
○ If the problem is you’ve taken on too much work, it’s time to stop saying “yes” to everything and delegate some of the work you have.
○ If you have a nagging injury, you’ve been neglecting it’s time to see a doctor.
- Exercise – Exercising is one of the simplest and most effective ways to relieve stress. It allows you to burn off nervous energy. And once you reach “the zone,” your brain begins to release endorphins that then help normalize energy transfers between synapses in your brain.
This helps you to relax. A strenuous workout will also help you sleep better.
- Cut back on the caffeine – Coffee and other caffeinated drinks have become such a part of our everyday lives that many people lose track of how much they actually consume. You may well treasure your latte breaks but if you are feeling stressed reducing caffeine intake should be at the top of your coping strategy list.
Once you’ve cut back on the stimulants, you’ll get a much clearer picture of exactly how you feel.
- Write – Psychologists have long known the therapeutic value of writing things down. If you’re trapped in a particularly vexing situation or you’re trying to cope with a sudden loss, writing about your feelings and holding nothing back can be very therapeutic.
It might not solve the situation all by itself but reading back what you’ve written can help provide valuable insight and perspective.
- Stop procrastinating – One reason some people wind up under the gun is that they have developed the habit of waiting until the last possible moment to do things. This can leave the person scrambling to catch up or make a deadline they could have easily made if they had started earlier.
Cut back on multitasking and try to see one thing at a time through to completion, well ahead of schedule.
- Try yoga – Yoga is a great way to manage stress and rid your body of stressful energy. During a yoga session, you learn how to heighten your breath and body awareness. This helps you wrest control of your physical self back from the stressor.
Why Do We Experience Stress?
We experience stress because our body and mind are reacting to stimuli. That stimulus can take many forms, as can the stress it produces. As mentioned in the introduction, a little stress now and then is normal. Chronic stress, however, is not and will need to be addressed lest your quality of life begins to suffer.
Stress acts like acid on our mind and body, slowly eating away at physical and mental well-being. If you’re often under stress, take the above tips to heart. Above all, don’t let small things become major stressors by ignoring them. And if you feel you need professional help to deal with the stress in your life, don’t hesitate to seek it out.