Our society today treats stress as though it is a normal part of everyday life. Far from being a normal part of life, stress is damaging to our emotional, psychological, and physical well-being. Living with high levels of stress puts your entire well-being at risk. There are several healthy things you can do to develop healthy coping skills for stress.
Uncontrolled stress can by a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. Stress hampers our ability to think clearly, be productive and can rob us of our ability to enjoy life. These things, in turn, lead to feeling more stressed. Learning to manage stress puts you back in control of your life.
The primary coping skill to deal with stress is to avoid it when possible. That sounds overly simplistic, but think about the amount of time you spend stressing over things that you cannot control. Learning to identify what is beyond your control, and letting go of stress over those things is liberating and healthy. When you find yourself feeling stressed, the first question you should ask yourself, “Is this something I can control or change?” If the answer is no, then stress is a wasted form of energy you could invest in something you do have control over.
To cope with the stress that you cannot avoid, use the following tips to hone your coping skills:
- Identify the source of stress. Stress can be both acute and chronic. It is usually easier to identify sources of acute stress. Things like changing or losing a job, moving, or divorce are acute stressors. Chronic stress is harder to detect. Chronic stress comes from an inability or unwillingness to determine the role we play in creating the stress in our lives.
An example of chronic stress would always be feeling stressed about looming deadlines, but failing to recognize that the habit of procrastination is the heart of the issue. Another example of a pattern of chronic stress would be blaming stress on an unhealthy relationship without recognizing our responsibility in seeking or creating unhealthy relationships.
- Once you have identified the stressors in your life, it is time to take action. You have two choices in dealing with stress. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. If your commute to work is a daily stressor in your life, you can choose to change the way you feel about the commute, or you can change your job or your work schedule. Examples of ways to improve your reaction, in this scenario, would be:
- Leaving earlier for work
- Using the time to listen to audiobooks or music you enjoy and purposefully deciding to repurpose your commute.
- You could carpool, or take public transportation to reduce the stress you feel why commuting.
- Change the route you normally drive to one that might take longer, but makes you feel less stressed while driving.
- Set realistic expectations. Stress happens when reality clashes with our expectations. A key strategy to manage this type of stress is to manage our expectations. Taking a realistic approach to goals, no matter how large or small helps to manage mental stress.
- Build healthy relationships. We all need support from people we can trust during stressful times. Focusing on our relationships with friends, partners, and family can help you to keep a balanced perspective on what is important in life. Make time, even in the hectic seasons of life, for the people that matter most in your life. Healthy relationships are the kryptonite for stress.
- Do not skimp on self-care. During periods of high stress, we tend to take short cuts in caring for ourselves. Not practicing self-care is counterproductive; it increases stress and decreasing our coping ability. Establish healthy self-care practices and stick to them, even when you are experiencing anxiety and high-stress levels.
- Make time to exercise. Whatever your exercise routine, find the time to stick to it. Physical movement helps to burn away stress and focus our minds. Exercise also keeps our bodies in better shape, which serves not to create further stress.
- Get enough sleep. Practicing good sleep hygiene and sticking to a sleep schedule gives your mind and body the chance to recharge. When we are well-rested, we are much less likely to experience an overload of stress hormones. Getting enough sleep reduces the stress hormones in the body and increases our sense of well-being.
- Find the time to do things that relax you and bring you pleasure.