Stress is pervasive. Next to regular fitness and good nutrition, handling stress can have a huge impact on how healthy you feel day-to-day.
From headaches to fatigue to irritability, stress makes itself known. Figuring out what to do about that stress isn’t as simple as shoveling your driveway after a snow – after all, stress is mysterious, intangible, and unpredictable.
Stress is a constant. Its part of being human. We can’t avoid it.
Some people seek out pills or other escapist magic wands, but managing stress is an active process; not something you want to delegate to a pill.
In my 20+ years helping clients become sustainably healthy, I’ve found certain strategies and tools that work together to optimize your stress management.
So, what’s a human to do?
Step 1: Identify Triggers and Limit Exposure
Minimize your exposure to: a) extreme stress and b) frequent stress. This is easier said than done, and often it’s hard to identify the specific cause of stress when faced with complex situations.
Keeping a “stress journal” can help you identify triggers. Once you see certain items come up repeatedly on your journal, you can start making some decisions. Reducing or removing items from your list takes a good deal of commitment, and can often be incredibly difficult or costly.
Let’s be clear: work, kids, in-laws – all are stressful in their own ways. You won’t ever have a stress-free day at work or a tantrum-free visit from your in-laws, but you can ask for new or different responsibilities, or limit your one-on-one time with in-laws. You just don’t want to get stuck accepting that stressful situations 24/7 are par for the course. Even ER docs have to sleep and play golf.
You probably won’t be able to get rid of your in-laws or quit your job but you can learn to identify stressors, and then handle or mitigate the highly stressful situations in your life.
Step 2: Identified Stressors Can Be Planned and Handled
We won’t always be able to avoid all stressful triggers in our life, so how we absorb these moments is critical. Anxiety and anger are normal and natural, but that doesn’t mean you want your emotional dam to overflow and leak all over your family or friends, or flood your work throughout the day.
It’s just about cushioning the blow, softening the emotional storm, and minimizing the time that stress takes hold. Plan to catch the weight of a stressful moment with focus and control. Instead of reasoning why you should be upset, understand the freedom you gain by extinguishing the harmful fire of the stress. Slow your breath, and shift your focus from the trigger to your wiser and more composed self. It takes practice, but in time you’ll be able to take on a tough moment and recover within a minute or two, no worse the wear.
Figuring out the most effective buffers can take time and experimentation. Knowing if you’re actually improving is pretty easy, though. Whenever you feel stressed out, upset, or drained write down the time and day in your stress journal. Then, when you feel back to normal write that down too. What’s the length of time between those two points?
The goal is for you to return to normal healthy thoughts and feelings faster after getting upset. If your buffer shortens your recovery time by even an hour you will be on your way to kicking your stress to the curb and loving your day-to-day life again!