Stress Management: Ten ways to de-stress your life
Learning effective stress management techniques can be the greatest gift you ever give yourself. We all have stressful times as we go through life. The outcome of those times often relies not on what actually happens but how we deal with it. Use the following tips to help you stay calm and productive through stressful times.
#1. Stay in control.
“The less you control what you do, the more what you do controls you.” Don Stanton
Many of us feel we are just rushing through life, lurching from one task to another, our lives completely controlled by a long list of stuff we just have to do. The first step to managing stress is to work out how many of these tasks we really have to do and how many can be delegated or (I hope you’re ready for this) just not done at all. I cannot say this loudly enough - It’s OK to say no. You don’t have to get involved in every activity, social commitment, and fundraiser that someone asks you to. You don’t have to do half the tasks you’re doing at the moment. Or you could get away with doing them less often.
Discriminate between tasks you have to do (eat, sleep, work, remember to pick up your child from daycare, keep your home’s hygiene standards at a level where no-one actually gets sick), and those you feel you should do (enrol each of your children in four after-school activities, bake cookies for the school bake sale, volunteer at a fundraiser for a cause you don’t even feel that strongly about, disinfect the fridge every week).
Cut out everything except for the things you and your family are really passionate about, or that you need to do for health and safety reasons and let the rest go. Manage your time. Schedule in the vital things first, then the important things, then the things you’d like to do if there’s time to spare. Nothing else needs to even get close to your to-do list.
#2. Connect with others.
One of the most powerful contributing factors to any stressful situation is social isolation. This is especially the case if you’re going through a major life change such as bereavement, divorce, new motherhood, or immigrating to a new country.
While most doctors agree that post-partum depression, for example, is caused by very real hormonal changes, studies have shown that new mothers with a strong social network are less likely to suffer from it. They still experience the hormonal swings and associated feelings. It’s just that their support system helps them deal with these issues effectively. As any new mom knows, sometimes all you need is a good whine with other moms about how you’re all sleep deprived, up to your elbows in dirty diapers and desperate for a night out with your partner. Post-whine, stress levels mysteriously decline, even though your situation hasn’t actually changed.
#3. Face your problems.
Stress often comes not from having problems but from having unsolved problems. Stress builds when we feel helpless. Taking even small steps to face your worries and find solutions can cut stress levels instantly. If you’re stressed by the amount of work you have to do, in your job, at school or at home, the quickest way to deal with that is to start getting on with it, making inroads into it, feeling a sense of achievement.
If you need to do something unpleasant – re-negotiate your debts, fire some staff, file for divorce – you will probably feel more stressed just before you do it than once you actually take the first steps toward it, and of course it will be over quicker. Dealing with your problems is generally less stressful than hiding from them.
#4. Pick your battles wisely.
This is by far the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. If you stress out over every little thing, you are almost certainly generating unnecessary stress. Learn to let some things go. Accept that there are those things you can change and those you can’t. Fighting every battle is a waste of time and energy. Save it for the stuff that really matters, and remember the less battles you choose to fight the more you tend to win. Those around you will quickly recognise that if you are making a big deal about it, it’s important to you, whereas if you fight over everything, people fight back because they figure you’re fighting for the sake of it and you might cave in quite easily.
#5. Find realistic ways to relax.
If you’re a single mom with three kids and a full-time job, it’s probably not realistic to schedule in a weekly massage or a relaxing lunch with friends on a regular basis. But you may be able to get a 15 minute soak in the tub some days after the kids are in bed or ten minutes quiet reading or meditation before bedtime.
Some moms find the only realistic way to relax is to find an activity that they can do with the kids that they find relaxing. It could be walking in the park, going skating or swimming or scrapbooking. Just as long as it can be pitched to your children’s age levels and still be a fun activity for you.
#6. Do something creative.
We’ve become a nation of consumers, but very rarely do we, as individuals, actually produce anything. People who have a creative hobby, such as drawing, writing, sculpting or jewellery making tend to report lower levels of stress. Losing yourself in your art can be a great way of taking your attention away from everyday stresses, and producing something - whether it’s a short story or a beautiful bracelet - can be an immensely satisfying, and stress busting, change from all that consuming.
There are actually therapists who recommend not Prozac but literature to depressed clients. Many of us can identify a book that has helped us through a difficult patch in our lives, and it’s not just typical self-help books that have that power (though there are some good ones out there). Losing yourself in a wonderful story can have the same effect as losing your self in creativity, and can sometimes have the added bonus of making you realize just how great your life is. Reading biographies of people who have overcome much greater adversity than you are ever likely to face can be particularly inspiring.
#8. Count your blessings.
When we’re living through stress we often don’t want to hear that there are a lot of people worse off than ourselves, but invariably there are and focussing on what’s good about our life, even if it’s something basic like having enough food to eat and some kind of home to live in, can help put stress in perspective. Celebrate the positive aspects of your life. List all the things you have to be grateful for. If you need a real tangible reminder of how lucky you are go and volunteer in a hospice or homeless shelter.
#9. Take care of you.
Eat well, sleep well, exercise. Being physically fit won’t make you immune to stress but it will help you deal with the effects. Everything looks less overwhelming if you’re healthy and well rested. Looking after yourself physically will give you the strength to deal with emotional stress.
#10. Make some positive plans for the future.
The concept of “This too shall pass” can be difficult to grasp when you’re in the depths of a stressful situation, but it’s true. Whatever you’re dealing with now will come to an end. You will deal with your situation and move on. There will be good times again, and, because this is the way life tends to work, bad times again as well. Plan a way out of your current stresses and work towards that solution, step by step, experience by experience.
When dealing with a crisis some people find it useful to simply think:” What’s the worst case scenario?” (Be wary of trying this if you are a dramatic pessimist who will convince yourself that death and destruction are the worst possible outcome of your situation.) Often even the worst thing that can happen is still something that you could cope with and live through. Asking yourself “Will this matter a year from now?” (or five, or ten years from now) can also help. It won’t stop the stress you’re feeling right now, but it may help put it in perspective, and give it its rightful place as a horrible but short-lived glitch in your long and ultimately functional life.