How do I get started with stress management?
4 Easy Stress Management Strategies
STEP 1: IDENTIFY THE STRESSORS IN YOUR LIFE AND THE EMOTIONS THEY BRING OUTThese stresses maybe deadlines, overwork, financial pressures, family or marital difficulties, lack of support in daily activities, relationships with coworkers, child rearing, housework, etc. Once you identify the major issues in your daily life, you’ll be on the path to reducing the toll they take on you and your health. Then determine what emotions they trigger. Does the daily traffic jam make you tense or angry? Does being late make you feel inadequate? Does a disagreement with other people in your family make you feel hostile or unloved?
Here is the story of Maggie and how she successfully managed to decrease stresses in her complex life.
STEP 2: BREAK THE CHANGEABLE STRESSORS INTO SMALLER MANAGEABLE PIECESThis is the time to determine which stresses can be changed and which are unchangeable. Make a list of the stresses in your life over which you have some control. These are the stresses you can eliminate or modify, such as joining a car pool rather than experiencing the stress of traffic congestion on your way to work. (We will talk later about those things that can’t be changed.) Begin with one or two things over which you know you have control. Break up big things into smaller parts that will be easier to tackle.
Maggie begins to keep a record of the activities surrounding herjob and her feelings associated with itfor afew typical days. She learns that she always feels tired in the morning, and usually gets up with great difficulty when the alarm clock goes off. Often she oversleeps. This sets off a rush to get ready, triggering negative thoughts about the entire day. She makes a note of this on her stressors list.
The traffic on the way to work always seems too slow to her and she is angry with the other drivers on thefreeway. By the time she gets to work, she feels harried and rushed. She keeps her own calendar but has never considered adjusting her schedule to manage her time. She often skips lunch or a lunchtime break, becomingfatigued and irritable in the afternoon. Constant interruptions often lead to work not getting done. By the time she returns home, she is tired, but the sum of all her tensionsfrequently leads to insomnia lasting several hours every night. The result is that Maggie wakes up not rested enough andfeeling exhausted and depressed, and then starts the cycle all over again.
She decides that one of thefirst and easiest things to do would be to set up a plan for reducing the tension and anger she experiences in traffic each day. She realizes that she has complete control over her own environment in the car but cannot do anything about other people’s actions in traffic. She decides to play tapes of mystery novels one of her mental escapes in her car. They keep her mind occupied to the point where soon she does not mind the trafficjams and is so focused on the story that she almost hopes for more time to listen!
Maggie learned that by lessening her anger in traffic, she can reduce her feelings of stress. She begins to see things in a different light. The plantings along the road remind her of her garden at home she starts using the time to plan her seasonal planting. Then she discovers she can use the time in the car to evaluate her day at work, or to review presentations and reports for which she is responsible.
STEP 3: REVIEW YOUR PROGRESS DAILY AND REVISE YOUR PLAN AS NEEDEDFor at least the first few weeks, keep a daily record of your responses to your new plan. It takes time for a new behavior to become habit and often a few months before it really becomes routine. Ask yourself, “How stressed did I feel today after implementing my plan?” Give yourself a rating on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being not stressed at all. Your goal will be to have a low score most of the time. After you determine how you have been doing, be flexible and be willing to revise your goals or add new ones. Of great importance is being open to reidentifying the problems you may see them differently this time. It is often useful, as well as motivating, to identify unexpected benefits of your plan.
Maggie’s evaluationfor thefirst month was very positive andfruitful. And she noted other unexpected benefits: she arrived at work more refreshed and alert with more energy; which enabled her to work more efficiently during the day and to interact with coworkers more positively and successfully. She found that some tasks took less time as her mind was more relaxed and she had not wasted energy worrying about the traffic situation, which she could not change anyway.
On the other hand, after you have reviewed your initial attempts at stress management, you may find that you have set unrealistically high standards for yourself. This is the time to be open to returning to the first step and to be flexible about reassessing the stressors in your life. Some people may have to go through this process a few times before they find the proper routine. People who learn how to manage stress generally have a much easier time making and sticking to other changes, such as changing their diet, getting exercise, or quitting smoking, than those who ignore the insidious nature of stress. People who leam how to manage stress tend to find their lives more enjoyable. They generally feel better and are often able to accomplish more.
Maggie now decided to tackle herfinancial stress. With two children in college and a husband on afixed income, andfeeling there was no possibility of advancement in herjob, Maggie saw no way to increase her income. Close to retirement herself, she was unwilling to change her career. She was also unwilling to ask her children to drop out of school, even for a year. What could she do?
Recognizing that she had run out of ideas, Maggie decided to address her belief that she was in financial “danger.” Although skeptical, she decided to give affirmation and visualization a try. She wrote this message on an index card, which she read to herself every morning and evening and whenever else she remembered to: “I am safe and secure. Whatever happens is for my benefit. I have done my best for my family and myself, and 1 welcome whatever changes come into my life.” At the same time, she pictured herself and her husband strolling the streets of London, a city she had always wanted to visit butfelt was too expensive.
Did Maggie inherit a million dollars and visit Buckingham Palace ? We don’t know, but we do know that within several months she no longer considered herselffinancially deprived. Shefelt open to new adventure.
STEP 4: THE SELF REWARD STRATEGYAn optional step in this process, which for some people is highly effective, is to use a self reward. This is a very personal strategy. Some individuals find the satisfaction that comes with successfully fulfilling their own goals so rewarding that nothing more is necessary. Others find the simple measure of promising themselves something special adequately motivating.
The kind of self-reward someone chooses is highly personal. Selfrewards can be anything from the promise of seeing a new movie to an elaborately planned vacation. Think seriously about the potential of including self reward in your stress management plan.