Stress management techniques, exercises and mind tools are designed specifically to help cope better with stresses by realising the triggers and taking actions to minimise the effects.
Stress management can not happen overnight as the triggers do not build up in a single day. “Oh, I can’t handle this anymore! I’ve had enough! This is too much!” These are usually our reactions to being stressed. We hold our heads in our hands and proceed to massage our temples when situations overwhelm us. We wonder whether we can cope with the pressures.
When situations overwhelm us and we wonder whether we can cope with the pressures, we call it stress. We feel it when we are posed with challenges or threats that affect our happiness and well being. We get stressed when we want to get things done but can not move past the obstacles and sometimes we just simply stress about not being stressed. Read on…
Stress… The 21st century health epidemic
WHO has designated it a 21st century health epidemic. The numbers are staggering and no! this article is not to scare you but to help you to re-evaluate your life.
1. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States estimates that stress account about 75% of all doctors visit. In fact, the big six killers – cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide – are directly connected to it.
2. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, after analysing data from more than 6,300 people, believes that there’s more stress in people’s lives today than 25 years ago. 44% of Americans feel more stressed than what they were just 5 years back.
3. According to National Institute on Occupational Safety & Health around 80% of workers feel stressed on the job. 40% of workers report their job is “very” or “extremely” stressful.
4. A 2011 poll conducted by Nielsen found out that 87% of women in India were stressed most of the time. In fact, Indian women are more stressed than women from any other country.
Stress is a Reality…
With life having tuned into a rat race, it often becomes difficult for us to segregate all its aspects into separate containers. There are times when we are happiest and the very same day can get us our ultimate lows. Thanks to a lot of search and vocabulary, we brand this dis-balanced as stress.
Stress up to certain point acts as a performance booster…
Think of an emergency breaking in order to avoid a collision. How fast do you react? And most of the time it is an instantaneous reaction, isn’t it? But, when it becomes too much, it affects the normal behavior and working pattern.
The driving analogy of Psychologist Connie Lillas is a simple but effective projection of stress response of a human. This is the most common reaction that happen to a person when they are subjected to extreme stress…
1. Foot on Gas: This is an extreme agitated response when you are unable to sit calm.
2. Foot on Brake: This is a withdrawal response when you are depressed a lot and you feel having little energy or interest to do anything. You break the car, stop engine and move out.
3. Foot on Both: This is an extreme case of response when you are frozen and do not know what to do.
Some amount of stress is good BUT…
Stress is a part of life and experiencing some amount of it in life is protective and adaptive. Daily life stresses have the capacity to make our minds and bodies prepare us for life challenges. It gives us tools to address the different issues in the time of crisis. Some of the stress’s are… marriage, work promotions, child birth, making new friends, studies etc…
But when this stress escalates and spirals out of control, it takes the shape of damaging stress – distress. In distress mode the body continuous to produce cortisol the stress hormone – keeping the senses in perpetual fight or flight mode, which inhibits the smooth functioning of body functions.
This relentless cortisol buzz damages the endocrine health and can make one emotionally, mentally and bodily non functional; causing to lose the will and strength to face life.
Common stress symptoms
There are several signs that indicate you are falling into a dark zone. They could be behavioral, emotional, cognitive and physical in symptoms.
1. Behavioural Signs: Isolation, erratic eating habit, loss of appetite, nail biting, sweating, procrastination, etc. as some of the common signs that reflects in your behavior, withdrawal to a state of denial, loss of confidence, shift in behavioral pattern.
2. Emotional Signs: Sense of loneliness, depression, short-temper, mood shift, feeling like crying, etc.
3. Cognitive Indications: Loss of concentration, flushing, facial tics, sweating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, dizziness, aches, cramps, loss of libido and chest pains etc. Stress also affects “Brain in the Gut”, leading to upset stomach, stomach-ache, acid stomach, burping, nausea and indigestion.
How do we respond to stress?
Heart palpitates, muscles tense up, blood pressure rises, breathing quickens, nausea hits you, senses sharpen and beads of sweat appear. This is stress response.
The stress response signals generate from the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands together form hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA). It is the HPA that governs a multitude of hormonal activities in the body.
1. Under stress response, the hypothalamus secretes corticotrophin hormones, which rouses the body.
2. These hormones, on reaching pituitary gland, stimulate the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone that pulses into your bloodstream.
3. On reaching the adrenal glands, adrenocorticotropic hormone releases cortisol – the body’s Fight or Flight mechanism – influencing your thoughts and behaviours, emotional reactions and involuntary responses.
Normally, the feedback loop switches off when the threat passes and things can normalise within 90 minutes of the threat response.
But in some cases, the cortisol levels rise too often or simply stay high leading to stress overload known as Distress.
This Distress stress contributes to almost all the lifestyle-related ailments, which form around 90% of all our 21st century health issues.
Stress self test
Take the following self-test to know the level of your stresses and what its impact on you is. The questions are based on your feelings and experiences over the last month.
Mark yourself on a scale of 0 to 4, where…
0 = Never
1 = Almost never
2 = Sometimes
3 = Fairly often
4 = Very often
1. How often have you felt nervous and stressed?
2. How often have you felt that you were on top of things?
3. How often have you felt that things were going your way?
4. How often have you been able to control irritations in your life?
5. How often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?
6. How often have you been angered because of things that were outside your control?
7. How often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?
8. How often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?
9. How often have you felt that you were not able to control the important things in your life?
10. How often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?
After you’ve completed the questionnaire, calculate your total score. The score will give you a hint about the level of stress you are presently going through.
0 to 10 – You’re dealing successfully with stress at the moment keeping it away from your life.
11 to 14 – You’re experiencing small bouts of stress but so far there’s nothing to worry about. You simply need to direct your stress to eustress.
15 to 18 – You’re in the mid-level of stress and might not be aware of how much it can affect your work and personal life.
19 and above – You’re a victim of high levels of stress which is taking a toll on your body, mind and soul.
The above-mentioned self-test is adapted from the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) developed by Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University. The PSS is one of the most widely used psychological instruments for measuring the perception of stress.
Stress management techniques: The ways to manage, reduce, eliminate…
The key to stress management is to keep re-conditioning and to keep shifting the Brain Set Point by working on the voluntary personal actions and fulfillments.
Please remember that coping with stress in a healthy manner and keeping it under control is a long term commitment. There are no quick fixes. Managing it has to be made a part of ones daily life.
To avoid harming the body and soul, effective stress management techniques and exercises are necessary and for that you need to identify your stresses and address them properly.
Please consult a professional, an expert who can be a mirror and help you help resolve your issues. Read on…
1. Recognise the nature of stress that is affecting you.
1. What are you worried about?
2. Where exactly are you feeling pain?
3. Does stress lead to pain in your body?
4. What are the symptoms you’re feeling?
5. Since when have you been feeling them?
6. What is the regularity/length of these signs?
7. You now need to go deeper into the problem. What is the source of your stress?
8. Try recollecting the first time you experienced the symptoms and whether they come back frequently.
9. Is it related to your work, finances, love, social interactions, spirituality or is there some other reason?
List them down one-by-one starting with the problem that gives you maximum stress. Now you have the reasons for your stress in order of their intensity.
2. Did you address the previous problems?
If yes, how? Which solutions did or did not work? Along with the stress busting strategies or exercises you’ve used earlier, what new ways can you think of for dealing with the more recent stress problems?
3. Create firewalls around your tasks
Firewalls are a must to stop the spread of fire from one structure to another. Likewise, make sure to create a buffer space between two work-life tasks because overlapping tasks can add burden to the already packed day, leading to mental agitation. This task overlap is a reality but it can be minimised with a bit of planning.
A few examples of these firewalls are… getting up earlier by 10 minutes, reaching a meeting 5 minutes ahead of time, suspending judgment on issues. Stresses are inevitable but its management is possible. Create firewalls.
4. Learn to suspend judgements
Not everything needs your expert opinion and analysis, at least, not as an immediate reaction. Learn to look at the issues from a distance; a third person perspective. Remember to count till 10 before you react with your judgement. Suspend your judgement, give the issue in hand sometime o unravel on its own; helps to eliminate unnecessary stresses.
5. Stress is subjective
Over age and with time, the factors that we consider stressful or problematic are subject to change. What was considered stressful in middle school will be cakewalk today.
Similarly, what stresses you right now will be irrelevant tomorrow. In all probability, stress is a result of perception, is subjective and is over much based on how we see things rather than how something warms up to us.
The basic objective of learning how to manage stresses well is that you have to know it can be kept at bay. The best part is that it bothers us only as long as we want it to do so, more often than not.
Change your attitude… “Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it”. See if this is the case with you.
6. Stress management is a process
In order to manage daily living, you need to be clued into yourself. Never ever expect somebody to cajole you or take your hand at the right moment. Sure you could be lucky to have these support systems but then again, never take things to exist as they are always.
Moving on to a deeper level, you will realize that you need deeper understanding of the whys and hows of stress itself.
7. Knowing the crux of stress
Stressful nights, days or phases are all attributed to problems. The best bit about managing stress, when it comes to this context, is that you have to know how to face a problem. The moment you begin to take a problem as something that is commonplace instead of something that is only curtailing you life, this distress bubble is busted.
Effective stress management requires rational thinking. Average human beings tend to think that the entire world and even destiny is up against him/ her. This silly thought has to be out rightly rejected.
8. The more you allow stress to dominate you, the greater will be the damage inflicted
The major crisis that comes from stress is the result of how poorly you take stress. We always tend to equate a problem with a paramount end result. You might never once realize that the problem would fail to exist if you actually tackle it calmly.
The worst problems are those that stem from personal relationships, finances and even a profession. For instance, in case you had a monetary problem, you would always want to have more money. But then, thinking more practically— as yourself – is it always possible to suddenly get monetary influxes from time to time? No, it is not!
The idea that I am trying to propagate here is that money will cease to be a stressful factor only when you see it as a need but not a dominator.
Try changing you outlook and set your own limits first. This is the best way you can keep stress at bay. We will come to more of this is the later parts of the piece. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything happens because it was supposed to. This is the best way to know that nothing, almost nothing, can bother you unless you want it to bother!
9. What are the resources at your disposal?
Who constitute your support network? Prepare a list of such people or things. Then, focus on developing your stress skills.
1. What are the current stress skills you possess?
2. Are they powerful enough or do you need to modify or enhance them?
10. Think about the psychological aspect of dealing with your stress.
Are you well prepared or hesitant regarding your ability to confront your stress issues psychologically? Stress diminishes our urge to succeed in life and realise your true potential. So, find out where you wish to see yourself in future. What is it that you want to accomplish in life? Mark a time period by which you want to achieve that.
11. Make a day-to-day stress management strategy
1. Stress management meditation. 30+ minutes of daily meditation can help overcome destress and help change perspective.
2. Laughter yoga. Do something fun and enjoyable OR simply practice laughter yoga for at least 15 minutes everyday. Laughter yoga has been scientifically proven to reduce stress chemicals in the body.
3. Practice yoga asana. Practice hatha yoga for at least 30 minutes everyday. Hatha yoga reduces perceived stress and negative affect and balances the cortisol “stress chemical” levels in the brain.
4. Learn to relax. Practice stress management techniques like yoga nidra, meditation, or some simple quiet time.
5. Get regular exercises. Exercise is a great way to take time for you, blow off steam, and release tension.
6. Find a support system. Sometimes we just need to “vent” or get something “off our chest.”
7. Know the importance of “me time”. Take 10 minutes break for every 2 hours. Know your “red flags” and be willing to take time to do something about them.
8. Learn to say “NO”. Saying “NO” is liberating… It does not mean you are self-centered and/or uncaring.
9. Get a hobby, do something different. A hobby helps you tap into the inner child hidden under the layers, it helps you connect to SELF. A hobby helps De-stress.
10. Slow down. Take the time you need to do a good job. Poorly done tasks can lead to mistakes, poor performance and added stress.
12. Practice breathing exercises
Shallow and rapid breathing is a part of our response to stress, which can, in turn, prolong anxiety and lead to added stresses. Under stress, body functions in the ‘fight-flight-freeze’ mode, making us take short sharp breaths to prepare us for the upcoming eventuality. In other words, we hyperventilate.
When you are hyperventilating, the body starts drawing more air into the lungs than the required level. This leads to more oxygen into the bloodstream than the body can cope with. As a result of breathing out very fast, more than the usual amount of carbon dioxide is washed out of the bloodstream making the blood more alkaline. This causes a pH imbalance.
More oxygen and less carbon dioxide produces anxiety and other physical & mental symptoms, creating a vicious cycle in which our stress levels remain elevated.
Diaphragmatic sine wave breathing pattern helps to relax the nervous system, activates alpha brain waves, encourage the body to relax, by activating the parasympathetic response; physiological antithesis of the stress response.
13. Create backup plans
The real answer lies in the fact that we have forgotten to set limits for ourselves as we age. Younger days meant days of less worry. Then, why the issue of worrying so much over every setback, low or failure NOW? Are we not more mature as we age?
The reality is, youth is forgiving, mind adjusts easily but with age we start to lose our body-mind capacity/ inclination to process unnecessary stress.
The best learning is to prioritise and to not take in excess stress. Learn to set boundaries, learn to create backup plans. Learn to let go…
14. Stop carrying baggage
Fumbling along the path of life is natural. There is no way out of fumbles or jumbles in life. This in no way means that you have to be perpetually stressed.
The more you think of what could have been instead of focusing on what it actually is, the worse it gets. You really have to realize that this struggle can be cut back if you give up all those thoughts of what you had to leave behind.
We always want a better future but are afraid to give up the past baggage… This is so because there are a hundred particles of greed we have within us. Human beings are created in a way that they long for what is gone or is not theirs… At least most humans!
15. Leave a room for spillage or changes
The fact that you tend to talk too much of ‘what could have been instead of what is’ is another huge reason for stress. Living in the moment helps. Plan life, create backup plans, but not to the point that you become enslaved to the plans. Always leave a room for spillage or changes.
16. The tendency to feel guilty
The worst bit that renders it more difficult to manage stress is the inclination you have towards pining all guilt on your own self. This is especially true in relationship where one tends to link up every aggression or negativity to the fact that you might have done something wrong.
There are some individuals who are either too arrogant or they never indulge in self guilt. However, none of the two extremes work to help you build a happy life. At times, you need to know that if things are amiss it is because you need to do them some other way and with more effort than ever before.
17. Self esteem woes
The basic issue that prolongs our stresses is that we pin everything to the point of self esteem. We barely understand that our self esteem needs to be right on track if we were to actually see the end of a problem. The gullibility of the human race makes it more prone to accepting everything as a fault- either it is our own or somebody else’s.
Make a change by tackling it without pinning it on a label. Trace the main source of the problem. Try and anticipate the immediate effect and get going on solving the same. Try and see what best you can do to salvage the damage. Stress management actually means that you take the bull by the horn.
Stress management does not mean forgetting everything and sitting behind the issues that have come into being. That is poor management.
18. Categorise your objectives based on time period
It is necessary to categorise your objectives based on the time period needed to accomplish them. Divide your goals into short-term, weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual.
Get organised and establish priorities. Take responsibility for your life. Be proactive, focus on problem solving rather than worrying too much.
19. What is the difficulty level in the attainment of your stress management goals?
Are they easily achievable, moderately difficult or too challenging? Make sure your objectives in life, it is necessary to keep them within reach… Don’t make them too easy or too lofty.
Stress management is a clear case of understanding how to manage something without hurting yourself. The fact that stress management is such a popular term proves that stress can never bash you up. Let Stress make you better, not bitter!
Please consult a professional to know more about stress management exercises and techniques to manage it… Also attend stress management classes, courses, workshops and stress management yoga retreats, wherever possible.
In fact, of late, I have been observing a few experts offering diploma, certification and online courses. All the Best!