What Is Stress
It goes without saying that when I say stress in this article, I am referring to psychological stress. My favorite definition of psychological stress is by scholars Lazarus & Folkman (1984) which says that it is “a particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and endangering his or her well-being.” From this definition two things are clear. The first is that stress is subjective; meaning that whether or not you feel stressed is determined by you. What stresses me, may not be a source of stress to you. The second is that, there has to be a belief that one’s resources are not adequate to cope with the situation, and this threatens one’s wellbeing. Before I suggest options you can use to deal with stress, let’s explore some of the things that cause us stress.
Common Sources of Stress (Stressors)
I mentioned adequate resources in the explanation of what stress is. Common resources are time, money, strength, tools and knowledge or access to information, the most common of them being money. Anything that happens where we believe we do not have enough of these resources to cope, is called a stressor. Money or the lack thereof can only become a stressor if it causes you stress. So money in itself is not a stressor. The same goes for time and the others. Having little time to do certain things like finish an exam or paper, prepare food for guests, get to work on time or finish a project can be quite stressful. Also a lack of knowledge to complete a task can be quite stressful.
At times, it may not be so easy to pinpoint what is stressing you out. For example, you may be on your way to work feeling stressed with no close deadlines. Upon deeper reflection, you realize that your stress is because you dread seeing a colleague you had an unsuccessful romantic relationship with. So it is very important to spend some time evaluating your situation to figure out what exactly is causing your stress. There may even be multiple stressors at the same time.
Effects of Stress
A little stress is a positive thing because it serves to motivate you to find solutions to your problems. It is actually a survival mechanism built into the human body. For more on this read how your body responds to stress. However, if not managed properly, stress is one condition that worsens everything… literally everything! Stress can prevent you from enjoying good company. It can prevent you from thinking clearly and making well-informed decisions. It makes any and all diseases worse, even the common cold. There is an undeniable relationship between stress and cardiovascular (heart and lung) diseases amongst others. Lack of sleep, acne, loss of hair, weakened immune system, headaches and ulcers are examples of other health conditions linked to prolonged and unmanaged stress.
Stress can affect our ability to interact positively with others and put a strain on relationships. In dealing with stress, you may make poor financial decisions that will cost you unnecessarily. Examples of such situations include shopping sprees, spending on drugs, alcohol or other substances in large quantities, spending on medication to treat bodily symptoms of stress. As you can see, the effects of prolonged and unmanaged stress are extensive.
How to Manage Stress
In light of this information, what can you do to deal with stress? As mentioned earlier, a little stress can go a long way to motivate us. But how do you manage when you can’t manage? Here are some useful tried-and-tested options to consider in dealing with stress. Sometimes you need a combination of options, rather than just one.
This one of my personal favorites. It is meditation without the extra chanting and stuff. So regardless of your religious beliefs, it is a great form of meditation. There are even some with religious guidance if you prefer that. YouTube has many great options to choose from. There are other great apps you can download on your phone for guided mindful meditation as well.
Rather than spend time stressing about your stress, finding solutions to your challenges can help eliminate your stress. Identify your sources of stress, the resources you need to cope, how to obtain these resources and put a plan into action.
Religion & Spirituality
Some people find that they get significant comfort when they refer to their religion and/or spirituality for guidance. A number of my clients attest to finding peace and solutions to their stressors, this way. So if this applies to you, religious music, texts and prayer can be a great approach to deal with stress.
Take a Break
Taking a break is so underrated. Sometimes your mind is so inundated with thoughts that it just needs time to clear itself. This helps you to have a more refreshed mind, ready to conquer the world!
While this may not necessarily eliminate the stress it is a great way to refresh and release pent up energy. Just like taking a break, it helps clear your mind to better deal with our situation. An added bonus about this option is the calorie burning and improvement of health.
Sometimes dealing with stress on your own can be quite challenging, especially if you have tried many of the above options without success. Mental health professionals are a valuable resource to help you deal with stress. We are trained to assess your unique circumstance and guide you to find solutions that help eliminate the stressful situation in you life.
Staying up at night worrying about a stressful situation does not make it go away. Rather, you begin your day tired, even more stressed, and your mind unable to problem-solve properly. So sleep, your problem isn’t going anywhere. Wake up well-rested and refreshed to deal with your situation.
Positive Social Support & Boundaries
It is always good to have people in your corner you can turn to when you feel stressed. You may want to deal with stress alone but when you can get the support you should do so. Ask for help or talk to a friend or loved one about the way you feel and what you need help with. Some solutions will come from others. A big thing to do is to create boundaries as well. People places and information that cause you more stress should be avoided. Negative news, negative Nancies and bearers of bad news should be kept at bay, at least until you feel mentally ready to deal with them.
If you were stressed at the beginning of this article, I hope by now you have found some information and ideas that you feel good about.
1. Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer Pub. Co.