Your main causes of stress aren't always (or even usually) what you think. It probably isn't your teenagers or your spouse, your boss or co-workers, the weather, or terrorists, the government, or the state of the world as reported in the media! It probably isn't even your personality or your style!
Thoughts, feelings, and attitudes: To identify your true causes of stress, look closely at your thoughts and attitudes about all those things that bother you, when they are bothering you. Look at your habits and the excuses you give yourself and others for your behavior when you are behaving in stressful ways.
Keep a Stress Journal One really powerful way to identify your main causes of stress in your life is to keep a Stress Journal. There are four things to pay attention to and note in your stress journal so make 5 columns in your Journal.1) Time of Day, 2) The Stressful Event, 3) Physical and Emotional Symptoms of your Stress, your 4) Thoughts and feelings and/or Self-Talk and 5) What you did to feel better. This journal will help you see patterns in how particular kinds of stresses show up both in your body and in your mind. Developing this kind of awareness is a powerful way to manage stress in your life. What you may find is that it is not the "Stressful Event" that creates the stress inside you, it is your thoughts and feelings about the stressful event and your self-talk. You can manage your thoughts and your self-talk and find it one of the most effective ways to manage stress you'll ever learn.
The Stress Journal is going to help with this a lot. But you will also want to do some research on whether or not your ways to manage stress are healthy.
A lot of times our efforts help in the very very short term, but they really hurt us in the long term. For example, by the time you get home from work, your strategy may be to just crash in front of the television with a glass of wine. Forget dinner... just order pizza to go with the wine.
The following are NOT good ways to manage stress: Smoking; Drinking too much; Overeating or undereating; Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer; Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities; using medication or other drugs to relax; sleeping all the time; procrastinating, become busy, busy, busy, every minute of the day to avoid facing problems; taking out your stress on others (like your spouse, kids, co-workers, customer service reps). Of course you might also do some healthier coping such as getting exercise or visiting with friends, reading to your kids or cooking a great meal.
Regardless, there are ways manage stress and to cope that are healthy. You can change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter (change the situation), adapt, or accept (change your reaction).
Learn how to say “no.” Saying "no" is a conscious choice you make to avoid living in a stressful situation. Some of us really value achievement, and helping our families and others, and contributing to the community. So knowing our limits and sticking to them is a must stress management skill to develop. In our personal, professional, and community life, we can learn to refuse to accept (and stop volunteering for) added responsibilities and commitments. Taking on more than we can handle will certainly result in added stress, and reducing our commitments is one of the great ways to manage stress.
You can also Pare down your to-do list: Ways to manage stress must include analyzing your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. Then just quit shouldin' on yourself! Drop the items that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list, delegate them, or get rid of them entirely if you just don't want to do them.
Avoid people and situations that cause stress for you: This stress management skill seems so cut and dried. And much of the time it really is as simple as it seems. You could ... take a longer but less congested route home, get up a little earlier than usual and go to the grocery before work when it isn't so crowded(or shop online and have it delivered!), say hello to George at the post office and scoot out to avoid getting involved in a political debate.
But it can be a tough one too sometimes. Suppose you are invited to Cousin Susie's wedding and Uncle Jessie is giving away the bride. You love Cousin Susie but Uncle Jessie is just a slime ball! How do you deal with THAT situation? This is a time to make a choice about Accepting, Altering, or Adapting described as a way to manage stress in Skill 4.
You might not be able to avoid a stressful situation, and it might not be healthy to do so. Instead, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t crop up again. Most of the time, this means you will be changing the way you communicate and make things happen in your everyday life.
Express your feelings instead of keeping them hidden inside. If a person or situation isn't working for you, or is bothering you, communicate what isn't working in an openly and respectfully. If you don’t say something about your thoughts and feelings, you will build all kinds of resentment and the situation will remain the same... or get a lot worse!
Be willing to compromise. Recognize that you may be bugging them too! One of the great ways to manage stress is to be aware that you can be the one to change, be willing to acknowledge the need and make the change. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground or an entirely new place where both of you are happy.
Be more assertive. Speak up. Deal with stressors and challenges head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got a report to finish and your chatty roommate just got home from a party, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
De-clutter your life This is one I personally have struggled with for my entire life. Many of us have blocks to getting rid of the clutter in our lives including; our schedules, homes, offices, garages, and our minds! I can work with you on the clutter in your mind, but I am certainly not an organizing coach! I do have a colleague named Hans Hallanger, The Organized Man who can help you with that.
Reframe the experience. Thing about the stressful situations from a completely different perspective. Think, "what could be her positive intention?" And rather raging about the traffic, take the opportunity for a mini-vacation, listen to music, or enjoy some alone time.
Look at the big picture. Ask yourself, "How important it will be when I'm celebrating my 80th birthday?" Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over in the long run? If the answer is no, focus your thinking and your energy on what does matter.
Of all the ways to manage stress, this not the easiest ... conversely too many of us do it by default and that is NOT a healthy thing to do. When we consciously choose to accept the person or the situation for what it is, then we can also consciously choose how we will think about it, feel about it, and behave around it. Those choices remove us from the Victim role and give us responsibility and power. The choice is ours! And that is often difficult but really, it is empowering.Pray the Serenity Prayer daily to guide you through these choices.
Adjust Your Attitude!. That means, among other things, to shift your expectations. Neither you nor anyone else in your life has to be perfect. Perfectionism is one of the main causes of stress. One of the best ways to manage stress is to take the attitude that "good enough really is good enough.
Learn Thought-stopping and Changing the ChannelI go into a little more detail when I talk about Quickie ways to manage stress because once you learn to stop thinking negative thoughts about yourself, your situation, and the people involved... you can have almost instant relief from stress. Thought-stopping is a way to manage stress and prevent you from setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection.
Change the Channel: Focus on the positive. So when you notice that you are stressing and worrying ... and that the negative and unhappy thoughts are swirling uselessly in your mind, you can stop the thinking and change to positive and useful thoughts and emotions. One of the best ways to manage stress is to take time every day, think of 3 or 4 things you are grateful for. After a few days you'll have a long list of gratitudes, and after years you will have an endless stockpile of things you are grateful for ... then when stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
And finally look for a suitable and approved method to manage your time, or better: to get control over your task lists. A quite simple yet highly effective way to lower your stress caused by a task overload is easytasking and my other colleague, Ron Hell, has written an ebook (free!) to teach you how to assess your to-do list, prioritize your tasks, and plan head so you don't stretch yourself too thin.
Schedule time for yourself. Include some leisure time, exercise time, play time, social time, hobby and creative time. And quite importantly, schedule time for your meal and for sleep time.
Do nothing at all. Set aside some time (10-15 minutes) in each day just to sit back and relax. Don't let your other responsibilities stop you. This will help to learn the importance of the last point which is really part of managing your time:
Make time to connect with positive people. You want to develop a support system, people to do fun and relaxing things with, people to talk to about things that are important to you.
Laugh! Keep your sense of humor. Especially laugh at yourself. The physical act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of way and it helps prevent stress from even occurring.