Some Simple Steps for Managing Stress
Last updated 10/20/2006 at Noon
From the laid-back surfer type to the gung ho workaholic, everyone feels the effects of stress from time to time - many people on a daily basis. Where your individual disposition comes into play is not with regard to avoiding stress, but managing it. For many, especially those with a more easily excitable temperament, managing stress can be a difficult problem to solve, one that can have significant and potentially life-threatening negative side effects.
That said, managing stress doesn’t have to be that difficult. There are several things you can do, day-in and day-out, that will help you avoid the pitfalls of stress, which can cause? heart disease, fatigue and alcoholism.
• Exercise. Though many people experiencing extreme or even moderate stress may claim they don’t have the time to exercise, the combination of stress and lack of physical activity will actually make it more difficult for you to manage what time you do have, as fatigue is bound to catch up with you. Exercise will not only increase your physical health, but has been proven in countless studies to increase mental health as well.
Through exercise, you’re giving your body a chance to drain the built up energy that stress creates. A stress reaction in your body actually increases the amount of energy you have, but continuing to go on with that built-up energy inside and providing it with no outlet is dangerous. Exercise is a wonderful way to both escape stressful thoughts and relieve your body of nervous energy. It’s important to make sure you exercise regularly as well. Once a week, for instance, is only a marginal improvement from no exercise at all, and won’t do much in the way of stress energy relief. Three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes each day won’t put a drastic dent in your active schedule, but will do wonders for your health, both mental and physical.
• Decrease or remove caffeine from your diet. Caffeine comes in a number of products you probably enjoy everyday, be it coffee or chocolate or soda. Eliminating caffeine is a good way to relieve stress, because caffeine is a stimulant that causes a stress reaction in your body. Removing or greatly reducing the amount of caffeine in your body can help you eliminate feelings of being on edge. These feelings only enhance the negative impacts of stress. Though caffeine is likely not the primary cause of your stress, eliminating or minimizing the amount of caffeine in your diet will help you better manage stress.
• Learn to relax. Do you include relaxation as part of your daily regimen? Most people do not. The reasons for this are more often than not psychological. In a 2004 survey paid for by Beverly Hills-based Hilton Hotels and conducted by Harris Interactive, researchers found that nearly a third of the roughly 1,550 participants said they postpone leisure activities because they feel guilty when not doing something productive. That same study revealed that 70 percent of respondents were aware they needed more fun in their lives.
Such findings reveal a culture that perhaps cultivates stress, possibly placing too great an emphasis on work and not enough of an emphasis on creating an equal balance of work and leisure. Properly managing stress might not call for an even 50/50 split in terms of work and leisure, but certainly involves allotting substantial time for relaxation. Proponents of meditative techniques have long claimed that meditation is more beneficial than sleep. Whatever your means of relaxation, making time to relax every day is nothing to be ashamed of.
• Sleep. A great way to manage stress is to get some sleep. Many people suffering from daily stress battle constant feelings of fatigue. Add to that lack of sleep (which can be a result of stress-induced insomnia) and your stress could quickly reach drastically unhealthy heights. In their 2005 “Sleep in America” study, conducted with 1,506 adult participants via telephone, the National Sleep Foundation found that nearly 25 percent of Americans are not getting enough sleep. Twenty percent of males and 26 percent of females are not getting the minimum amount of sleep necessary (seven to eight hours per night). People who fail to get enough sleep typically respond worse to stressful situations, as lack of sleep only worsens the fatigue problems their stress has already caused. If you’re trying to sleep more but seem to be suffering from insomnia or it’s taking you extended periods of time to fall asleep, consult with your physician and make sure you tell him or her about yourcurrent stress levels. Oftentimes, insomnia is a result of stress, and your doctor might have a solution that could help you reduce your stress levels so you can get a good night’s sleep.
• Manage your expectations. A good way to manage stress is to manage your expectations. Unrealistic expectations, both in your professional and private life, can cause a great amount of unnecessary stress. In the workplace, setting yourself up for stress is easy, especially if you work in a deadline-controlled environment. Setting unrealistic personal deadlines is foolish. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit you’ve taken on more than you can handle. Remember, a good way to relieving stress is to relax, which you can do with your family. If you set unrealistic expectations at work, you’re decreasing the amount of time you can spend with your family and putting yourself in a stressful place while removing a key element that is necessary to relieve that stress in the first place. Similarly, learn to set proper private expectations. You may work five days and have the weekends off, and try to cram too much into those two days to make amends for long work weeks. Expectingtoo much out of your weekends can be extremely stressful, as you’re more inclined to feel angry if you’re not getting everything out of your time away from the office.
To learn more about stress, visit the International Stress Management Association Web site at http://www.isma.org.