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Stress: 7 proven simple ways to manage stress effectively

Updated on June 23, 2016

Money, self-pressure and lack of sleep are the top three major causes of stress across the world, according to a survey conducted in the summer of 2015 covering over 27,000 people in 22 countries by GfK.

Money is the main source of stress for 29 per cent of people. Putting pressure on oneself is the second-biggest cause of stress, with 27 per cent of respondents citing this as their main worry. Finally, sleep deprivation is a source of stress for 23 per cent.

Money is the top source of stress, beating out work, family responsibilities, and health concerns in the U.S. This is according to the Stress in America survey , which was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association between Aug. 4 and 29, 2014, among 3,068 adults ages 18 and older who reside in the U.S.

Financial worries account for 64 percent ranking higher than three other major sources of stress: work (60 percent), family responsibilities (47 percent), and health concerns (46 percent).

Stress

Feeling stressed? Yes, life is stressful. Stress is an inevitable part of modern life. Everyone experiences stress or anxiety daily at home or at work place.Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. It is the feeling we have when under pressure. Anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our well-being is simply a stress.

There are so many factors that impact an individual’s reactions and approaches to life. Through it is impossible to eliminate it completely from today’s hi-tech life but one can learn to manage it.

If stress is beginning to build up in your day to day life, then make sure to take a closer look at where it might have originated. Although there are a variety of sources of stress in people’s lives, the main sources of stress may be categorised as follow:

  • Environmental stress-strain and hassle in one’s life. Those aspects of the environment and surroundings that are causing you stress, e.g, living next to a noisy, busy street.
  • Social stress- the stress involved in interacting, socializing and communicating with other human beings. It revolves around one’s relationship with other people.
  • Organizational stress- All of us engage with, belong to and are often employed by an organization. Most often this source of stress is associated with work stress and job stress.
  • Physiological stress-This relates to how one’s physiology / body reacts and responds to stressful situations. It is often discussed as physical stress and in relation to the physical stress symptoms one exhibit.
  • Psychological stress-relates to emotional stress or mental stress and involves powerful feelings and emotions.
  • Significant events stress- revolves around critical incidents and significant events in one’s life. E.g., wedding, serious accident etc.

The first step in stress management is to identify the source of one’s stress. Consider the major sources of stress that are identified here and ask yourself where does my own stress come from?

You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.

— Steve Maraboli

Get moving: exercise as stress management

Exercise work as an effective stress reliever. While doing exercises the focus is only on the movement of the body and one forget all the worries and tensions. Physically fit people have less extreme physiological responses when under pressure than those who are not physically fit enough.

Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins chemicals in the brain. These chemicals act as natural painkillers and also improve the ability to sleep which in turn reduces stress, ward off anxiety and feeling of depression.

Exercise is an essential part of good body function and is the route to a well-being. Though there are other ways to cope with stress, but exercise is the most natural, effective and cheapest means of stress coping mechanism.

For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends these exercise guidelines: Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking, swimming etc.) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (running, aerobic dancing, rock climbing or heavy gardening).

Aerobic exercise is different from anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise does not require oxygen and only burns carbohydrates. This exercise builds muscle through short bursts of strenuous activity like weightlifting or performing push-ups at high levels of intensity. In fact, the terms "aerobic" and "anaerobic" refer to the presence and absence of oxygen respectively. Aerobic means “with oxygen” and aerobic exercise uses oxygen to burn fat and carbohydrates producing energy.

Aerobic exercise comprises innumerable forms. Generally it is performed at a moderate level of intensity over a relatively long period of time. It is most common for aerobic exercises to involve the leg muscles, primarily or exclusively.

Aerobic exercise uses your arms and legs to move the body. It makes you sweat, and causes you to breathe harder and gets your heart beating faster than at rest.

Physical activities such as walking, jogging, indoor cycling, climbing stairs, dance classes, hiking, swimming and bench stepping are all examples of aerobic exercise.

Managing stress with progressive muscle relaxation & breathing

One of the most simple and easily learned techniques for relaxation is progressive muscle relaxation.

Developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s, progressive muscle relaxation is a technique for learning to monitor and control the state of muscular tension. It is useful technique for dealing with stress. It help reduces the symptoms of stress and decreases the incidence of illnesses such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

Starts systematically tense any particular muscle groups in your body such as neck and shoulders. Next release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. Usually relaxation begins from the lower part of the body and progresses up to the facial muscles in such a way that the whole body is completely relaxed. It involves relaxing and tensing / flexing the various muscle groups alternately.

People with anxiety difficulties or stress are often so tense throughout the day that they fail to recognize the feeling of being relaxed. Learn to distinguish between the feelings of a tensed muscle and a completely relaxed muscle through practice. By tensing and releasing, you learn not only what relaxation feels like, but also to recognize when you are starting to get tense during the day.

Breathing is an automatic function of the body. Its primary role is to absorb oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide through the movement of the lungs. Muscles that control the movement of the lungs are the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs.

Controlled breathing is another technique in which deep long breaths are used. Taking a long deep breathes and exhaling it slowly is easy but beneficial. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.

Breathing is far more effective when we use our diaphragms, rather than with the chest muscles. Take a deep, slow breath in and hold it for 5-10 seconds. Feel your belly expand as you do this. Breathe out slowly, to a count of 5-10.


Reduce stress by changing your thinking

Positive thinking and rational thinking are another important means of dealing with stress. Many stress-related problems may be attributed to distorted thinking. The way we think, is closely related with, the way we feel. When we are stressed, we have greater tendency to think negatively, which adversely affect our perception of the present as well as the future.

Rational thinking means challenging one’s distorted thinking patterns and irrational beliefs and replacing potentially negative thoughts with positive statements. Optimism is the inclination to expect good outcomes. Optimists tend to assume that adversity can be handled successfully but pessimists anticipate poor outcomes. In contrast to pessimists, optimists use more problem focused coping strategies, suppress competing activities and seek social support.

According to Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, “Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think”.

We can choose the way we think. The key lies in our thinking. Our perception of stress can shift it from a negative force to a more positive one.

Positive thinking means approaching unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. Think that the best is going to happen, not the worst.

Positive thinking often starts with self-talk. Our inner dialogue- what we say to ourselves about what we are experiencing. These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some self-talk comes from logic and reason. Other self-talk may arise from misconceptions due to lack of sufficient information.

It is not always easy to be positive. Further, some circumstances make it more of a challenge than others. However, with practice, one can change one’s self-talk.

Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else.

Be gentle and encourage with yourself.

Evaluate any negative thoughts rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.

But with practice, eventually your self-talk will contain less self-criticism and more self-acceptance. You may also become less critical of the world around you. With optimistic mindset, you will be able to handle everyday stress in a more constructive way.

Time management to prevent stress

Time management is another stress reduction strategy. How you spend your time determines the quality of your life - health and happiness.

The guiding principle of time management is to engage in things that are valuable to us or activities that will help us achieve our desired goals. Knowing what you want to do and organising your life to achieve it is the essence of effective time management. In other words, setting goal- who we want to be or our priorities in life and work- is the guiding principle for how we spend our time and how we manage it. Make sure you are engaging in activities that support your goals, both short- and long-term.

Too much to do, too little time! Poor time management can be related to procrastination as well as problems with self-control.

Time may be viewed as two types- clock time and real time. In clock time, all time passes equally. In real time, all time is relative. Time flies or drags depending on situations we are in.

Important steps of time management include planning for the future, setting goals, prioritizing tasks and monitoring where your time actually goes. Important tips:

To-do lists are a good way to stay organised. Prepare a daily list of tasks that need to be done and refer to it and update regularly.

Prioritise items on the list into important/not important and urgent/non-urgent. Important and urgent are tasks that must be done right away. Urgent but not important are tasks that make the most “noise,” but when accomplished, have little or no lasting value. Delegate these if possible.

Being busy is not the same as being effective. Being effective means doing high-quality work, not high quantity. Focus is not on how busy you are, but on results. To be effective, one needs to decide what tasks are urgent and important and to focus on these.

Evaluate your daily tasks and remove things that waste time.

Learning how to manage time effectively will help in feeling more relaxed, focused and in control. The aim of effective time management is to achieve the lifestyle balance we want.

Sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed during a busy or stressful time. Balance must be balance between family obligations, work obligations, play, downtime and sleep. Getting enough rest each night (about 7 hours for adults) would help you to be more productive and make the most of your time during the day.

Social support: Resilience to Stress

Social Support and religion are also effective stress management activities. Social support is the existence and availability of people who care us, value us and love us. According to Lin N, Simeone RS, Ensel WM, Kuo W., social support is “support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups, and the larger community.”

Social support may be in the form of emotional support (the presence of warmth and nurturance that provides the individual with a sense of value, esteem, acceptance, or affection), tangible support (offering of a material service, such as financial support), and informational support (provision of advice, guidance, or suggestion that enables individual problem-solving) or companionship support (presence of another person who provides a sense of belonging and engagement).

Quality of relationships is a better predictor of good health than quantity of relationships although both are important. The quality of social support is positively linked to health and wellbeing. It acts as protection against stress. When people with high levels of social support from family and friends face stressful situations, they are more likely to experience less stress and cope with it more successfully.

Social support reduces distress such as depression or anxiety and thereby enhances health and lengthens life. Social support gives health benefits to both the giver and the receiver.

Having strong social support can actually make you more able to cope with problems on your own, by improving your self-esteem and sense of autonomy.

The benefits of faith in dealing with stress cannot be ignored. People who hold religious beliefs tend to cope better with stress and hence live longer and happier. This may be due to the fact that these beliefs lead them to adopt healthier life styles, provide them with social support, offer hope and a sense of meaning and purpose. However, it seems to be irrelevant what faith or religion one choose.

2 unusual weird ways to reduce stress: Shaking & adult colouring books

Shake off your stress: Shaking is considered as one of the most powerful natural stress relief methods. Animals from rabbits to polar bears know this and shake dozens of times a day to clear away the effects of trauma and stress. Children know this and our body also knows the healing power of shaking.

Shaking is a natural physiological response to cope with stress that you can adapt to effectively handle stress management. The best motivation for us to do it is the fact that it is easy, requires no skill to do and is extremely fun.

Love to shake! Shake my head, shake my shoulders and shake my whole body. When I shake, things loosen up. Try shaking! Shake a little, shake a lot, shake subtly and shake wildly. Shake sitting in a chair, shake standing and shake lying down.

Shaking is one of the simplest, most powerful and most effective stress relieving strategies of all. It has the ability to reprogram physical, mental, and emotional holding patterns. Shaking loosens joints, increases flexibility, burns calories and raises metabolism. The damaging effects of stress stay stuck in our body unless we have way to clean them out.

Colour your stress away: Unlike children’s colouring books, adult colouring books feature patterns and designs based on geometric patterns with intricate designs. Filling in these intricate patterns is soothing and satisfying. The repetitive motion of filling in the details of these patterns creates a centre point around which our thoughts revolve.

Colouring enthusiasts claim that colouring makes them feel calmer, mentally clearer, happier and more relaxed. Using adult colouring books can help you relax, reduce stress and boost mental clarity.

Adult colouring books can help with a number of emotional and mental health issues. The time and focus that adult colouring takes helps the individual remove the focus from the negative issues and habits, and focus them in a safe and productive way.

Nowadays, adult colouring apps for stress relieve are available online.

Top three major causes of stress- money, self-pressure and lack of sleep- can be effectively deal with a combination of the seven stress reduction mechanisms discussed here in this hub. Stress arising out of financial problem can be resolved through social support, positive and rational thinking. Self-pressure could be minimised by positive self-talks and effective time management. Regular exercise and proper time management would effectively reduce sleep deprivation.

From the most natural way of stress reduction, exercise to adult colouring, the simplest stress reduction strategy, which transported back us to the stress free days of childhood, these stress management procedures (Exercise, Progressive muscle relaxation, Positive thinking, Time management, availability of Social support, Shaking and Colouring) are easy but effective and needs no professional guidance.

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    • matt_elmore profile image

      matt_elmore 3 years ago from San Diego

      Great tips. I'm going to start using some of them the next time I work.

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