Stress is a natural emotional and physical response to the pressure of any situation where you feel you need to either cope or respond more than usual. It's there to enable us to respond successfully to whatever life throws at us and without it weʼd live passive, un-reactive lives.
In the immediate term, our stress response enables us to respond more effectively to the immediate physical, mental or emotional challenge that we're faced with. Heart rate and blood pressure increase, your blood becomes thicker, you become more alert and hormones course into your bloodstream to prime you for action.
That's great in the short term but if you allow yourself to feel overly stressed too often or for too long, your physical and psychological health can suffer, especially your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
In fact, high, ongoing stress levels can not only increase your future risk of cardiovascular disease, the short-term changes in blood pressure and thickness can eventually even initiate a heart attack or stroke. Stress can start this process, and then can finish the job.
Positively managing your stress levels
Although it may not feel like it at the time, positively managing the pressures in your life is almost always possible to some degree, no matter how overwhelmed you may feel.
Managing stress comes in three stages:
1. Identifying and understanding the sources of stressful pressure in your life
2. Identifying ways to either reduce or avoid these pressures
3. Positively managing how you respond to the pressures that remain, including putting them into perspective, building your resilience, sharing your problems and seeking help and support.
If you feel that you need to get on top of the stresses in your life then take a look through the following suggestions and see which work for you;
1. Work out where the stress is coming from
Sometimes we feel we're under pressure from every angle, swamped at work, rushed off our feet at home and no time to do anything that needs to be done. This can lead to us feeling agitated and snappy and generally in a bad mood. Take a step back, decide what is actually causing the biggest problem and then deal with it. You'll feel much better as soon as you've tackled even one issue.
2. Understand that there are some things you cannot control, so don ' t waste time worrying about them
We can't always control the sources of our stresses - they may be people around us such as work colleagues or family members - or situations we cannot influence. In these circumstances, worry is just wasted energy and your emotional state can quickly deteriorate. Focus instead on anticipating and dealing with the outcomes of the situation as well as any aspects of it that you can influence.
3. Fill your time with things you love doing
Stress is far easier to manage when the rest of your time is spent doing things you genuinely enjoy. Your job might be hectic but making space in your life for a hobby or activity that fulfils you and makes you happy can do wonders for your stress levels.
4. Manage your time effectively
We've all been there, at times of stress you don't feel you have time to do anything yet your list of tasks continues to grow. Consciously prioritise and focus on the most important things.
5. Develop your resilience to stress
There is no one-size-fits-all type solution to resolving stressful situations, so you need to have some general tools available. These can range from deep breathing while stuck in traffic, to getting regular exercise to simply taking time in your day to just relax. Avoiding too much caffeine, keeping your alcohol intake within healthy limits and getting a good night's sleep will also help.
6. Learn how to say 'no '
Inside most of us is a desire to please the people around us, so much so that we can feel like we're letting someone down if we say no to them. Saying no constructively is a vital skill to learn - the few seconds of discomfort turning them down can relieve you of much greater stresses later on.
7. Understand that worrying and caring are different
We all worry about something from time to time but very often that worry stops us from taking action. For example, you might be worried about your bank balance and how you get through next month but if you care about it you will sit down and write out a budget to ensure you can manage. Don't waste time worrying - take action.
8. Mistakes are inevitable so don't expect perfection
A sure way to add to your stress levels is expecting everything you do to be perfect. The reality is that's simply not possible, so stop putting pressure on yourself. You're just human after all (no, really, you are!) and we need to make mistakes to help us to learn, improve and grow - so do just that and don't beat yourself up.