If you’re alive, you’re stressed. That should be a quote somewhere because today, stress is such a significant part of our lives, sometimes it’s hard to tell where stress ends and where it begins. It seems to be weaved tightly into our lives, and most of the time, it appears impossible to overcome. But there’s a light at the end of the stress tunnel. By looking at what stress is and what it does to you and applying a set of proven, healthy stress management techniques, you can learn how to manage stress and regain control in your life.
We Are All Freaking Stressed
Let’s face it: you, me, and everyone else you met today are stressed. It has become such a norm in our society that we don’t even call it stress anymore. We just call it being alive.
That’s a problem. You see, accepting something for what it is is not a bad thing in itself. But there’s a fine line between deliberate acceptance and a lack of awareness. Just because something happens so often that you are no longer able to notice it doesn’t mean you have accepted or dealt with it.
It means you have lost control, and that is not a healthy place to be. Left unchecked, stress will create deep, long-term scars that will be difficult to reverse.
A superior alternative is to take a step back today and regain that control by learning how to manage stress and, most importantly, how to relieve stress from your life, at least partially.
What Is Stress?
So what is stress, exactly, and why do we need to manage stress? I bet that for most of your life, much like myself, you never wondered what it really means. You feel it every day, but there’s an elusiveness to it.
If your knee hurts every time you take a step, that’s an easy thing to point. But stress is everywhere. It’s all over your body, inside your brain, in your thoughts. It reflects in the way you talk, the way you move. It’s in everything, like an autumn flu that takes over your body, and every bit of your skin hurts like hell.
So, there’s no wonder that stress is hard to define. So let’s go from science down toward a more down-to-earth approach to begin our journey of understanding.
Psychology defines stress as,
So, you see, psychology calls it a “state” of “mental or emotional” strain. That means that an external or internally-manufactured event or situation puts so much pressure on your mind or feelings that your entire being begins to crumble.
It’s no different than hanging a heavy enough weight on a brittle tree branch. The branch will snap and break off, and the entire tree will suffer from that.
That is what stress is in our lives. It generates from a place, situation, or people, and it affects us in ways that are sometimes difficult to predict but easy to observe. Challenges and problems that demand too much from us will generate stress, and our bodies and mind will have to figure out a way to work through it.
Is Stress Ever Helpful?
Many types of stress are not only helpful in life but life-saving. A short burst of pressure can make a difference between life and death. Similarly, deliberately induced stress can separate a high-performing athlete from a mediocre one.
You see, when you face a sudden and challenging situation, it’s the stress that puts you on high alert. In those cases, usually, you don’t have a chance to analyze your feelings and reactions, but they’ll be the same.
So, if you are walking through the woods and encounter a bear, you better be stressed at that moment. Stress will take over once fear kicks in, and it will be what pushes you to drop everything and run away or climb a tree, or whatever else you can do to save yourself.
You need stress to survive, and our ancestors depended on it with their lives. It’s probably no longer a daily occurrence, but the mechanism is still the same.
Also, since stress means putting additional pressure on something, and since we know that to make progress, you need to push the boundaries of your comfort zone, self-imposed stress is the basis of self-improvement.
If you want to grow muscles, you need to stress those muscles. If you’re going to learn something new, you need to stress your mind. But all of those are deliberate types of stress. They’re the kind of stress we want in our lives, introduced in a controlled manner.
Other stress types are even enjoyable, such as the adrenaline-induced fear you get when you take a roller coaster ride. The stress mechanisms are the same, but the way that stress was induced is different.
Difference Between Stress and Burnout
Now, it’s critical to understand the difference between stress and burnout. Yes, if you want to run a marathon, you need to run a lot and often. But if you try to run ten miles every day, you will burn out after about a week.
From that point on, your performance will slide, and the marginal improvement will be negative. As a result, you will begin to feel demotivated and lose hope.
We all need bursts of intensity in all aspects of our lives. But those moments of intensity need to be just that—temporary bursts. Then, we need rest and recovery, followed by consistent and disciplined practice. Then, we take another bout of intensity. That cycle of accelerate-break is what helps you thrive.
But intensity after intensity after intensity is a sure way of burning yourself out. Stress wins, and you lose. So, you need to identify places in your life where you regard everything as always mission-critical, and, therefore, you have no time to recover, be thoughtful, and organize yourself.
You need to find those places where life runs you instead of the other way around. So, let’s see how we can identify these places.
How Do You Recognize Stress?
The first step in dealing with anything in life is first to become aware of it. Awareness requires the ability to disconnect yourself from yourself and look at your life as if you were an external observer.
I know it sounds crazy, but I’m not precisely suggesting an out-of-body experience. Don’t get any psychedelic mushrooms, at least not for this exercise.
Recognizing stress and what it does to you requires you to observe stress as it happens. That means that you must begin to question your life day by day, maybe even hour by hour. If you don’t know what stress is for you and how it affects you, it won’t be possible for you to manage stress effectively.
The first thing to take stock of is the set of stress symptoms that you experience. You do that through observation and self-reflection. During your daily journaling session, write those down, and analyze them. Take the time to understand them and connect them to experiences from the past.
Symptoms of Stress
As I mentioned above, stress has this devilish way of sneaking into your life in tiny little bits. Much like you seep on a drink at a bar for hours, and it seems like all is going well until you try to get up from the chair, stress creeps in and takes over.
Here are some signs you might recognize once you begin to analyze your life:
Physical symptoms of stress
- pain and aches
- restless stomach, diarrhea
- dizziness, fog
- increasing heart rate
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- loss of libido
Emotional symptoms of stress
- a feeling of lack of happiness
- irritability and bursts of anger
- becoming isolated from friends and family
Mental symptoms of stress
- loss of focus and concentration
- memory loss
- making bad decisions
- negative thoughts
- barrage of thoughts
Behavioral symptoms of stress
- over- or under-eating
- sleeping too much or too little
- nervous tics
- smoking, drinking, alcohol, and drugs
Why Is It Important to Manage Stress?
Have you experienced any or a few of the symptoms above? If the answer is yes, you might ask yourself, “So what?” It is what it is, right?
Not really. Although some of these symptoms could be okay if experienced in short bursts once in a while, they compound when left unchecked. Each layer adds on top of the previous one, growing exponentially, and the longer it continues, the deeper it grips your body and mind. Eventually, some of these symptoms turn into long-term damage that is difficult, if not, in some cases, impossible to reverse.
That is why it’s critical not only to understand the stress in your life but to actively and deliberately put systems in place to help reduce it over time.
What Stress Does to Your Body Long-Term
As I said above, some stress types are right for you, while others are quite essential. Then there are altogether other types of stress that are inevitable. But living with constant pressure will slowly morph any stress from a seldom occurrence into chronic stress.
That is a situation when stress occurred so often for so long that it has now started to leave scars on your body and mind that might take years to fix.
You can think of stress as being electrocuted. A shock from a low-voltage device once a year won’t kill you. But if you were to get shocked every single day for an entire hour, you’ll be in serious trouble.
Unmanaged stress that turns into chronic stress will significantly increase the development of long-lasting health issues such as:
- heart disease and elevated risks of stroke or heart attack
- high blood pressure
- type 2 diabetes
- erectile dysfunction
- damage to the immune system
If this list is not enough to scare the crap out of you, I don’t know what is. I know when I read this, I shudder. So, then, let’s move on to see some practical ways to start managing stress in your life and, over time, reduce or eliminate some of it.
How to Manage Stress?
There are three high-level steps in healthily managing stress:
- Learn and understand the stress
- Figure out ways to prevent and relieve stress
- Practice healthy methods for coping with stress
We’ve addressed the first step in the sections above. Next, we will focus on the last two, which are the bread and butter of your action. Remember, just learning and understanding something doesn’t make it go away.
You must act deliberately and with intent. So, let’s see how.
7 Steps to Prevent and Relieve Stress
Understand what stress does to you
As I mentioned above, stress is a sneaky, sneaky little monster that silently creeps under your skin. It’s a stealthy enemy, and you need to improve your self-awareness to observe it. That is a critical step because one of the first things you need to identify and understand is what stress does to you.
We’re all different, and we respond and react differently to stress. You need to look at the stress symptoms above and see which ones you get, what intensity, and in which combination.
Identify stress sources
Once you know what stress does to you, the next step is to connect the effect to the cause. You need to realize the situations, environments, or people that elicit different stress responses from you.
A straightforward way to do this is to keep a stress journal. That could be a separate journal or a part of a more generic one. In this journal, you must document daily how stress affected you and add a few bullet points detailing where you were, with whom, what you were doing, and how you were feeling.
Little by little, you will see different patterns emerging. You want to observe those patterns and understand them. Is it time pressure? Is it fear of rejection? What are those sources of stress in your life, and when do they appear?
Recognize stress signals
Now that you know what stress does to you and the patterns in which it appears, you need to begin a deliberate practice of recognizing the stress signals early. I say early because, to cope with stress, you need to define a set of stress relief strategies, on the one hand, but on the other hand, you want to recognize when stress is about to affect you.
By catching stress early, you will be able to apply some of the stress management techniques presented below with a much higher success rate. Besides, you will know that you are deliberately working toward crushing the stress at that moment, which, in itself, will be another mental wall you build to prevent stress.
Identify stress relief strategies
Although you might not be yet able to recognize stress, what it does to you, and when and how it comes, you probably already have several subconscious strategies to cope with it. They might be very much instinctual or learned behaviors over time.
What is critical here is to ask the question, “What do I do when I feel stressed?” With advanced self-awareness after the first three steps, you’ll be able to identify them. The ones to focus on are the unhealthy ones, which you’ll have to abolish from your life quickly.
Things such as smoking, drinking, overeating, watching too much TV, taking pills, or other drugs are more common than you might think. What do you do when you are stressed?
Implement healthy stress management techniques
With the knowledge of what you do when you hit a stress wall, you’ll have to work on the one hand on eliminating those unhealthy coping mechanisms you’ve identified in step four. On the other hand, you need to start implementing a variety of healthy stress management techniques.
We’ll get to that in the next section, ten healthy stress management techniques.
Remember that you can never eliminate stress from your life completely. As we discussed above, some stress types are vital to your growth, development, and self-improvement. Other types of stress, such as work-related issues, are also inevitable due to how life works.
Besides the techniques described below, one critical aspect of coping with stress is self-care. You see, taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is like adding more weight to the lighter side of a balance. The symbolic weight generated by stress brings down one side of your life, and you need to counterbalance it.
By taking care of yourself, you add weight on the other side, trying to re-establish the balance. It will never be perfect, and it will never be fully balanced. Instead, it will still be prone to the unexpected, and that’s okay.
Self-care is always under your control, and it’s a significant way to fight stress in life.
Last but not least, remember to surround yourself with people who care for you and for whom you care as well. Having a healthy family, a great circle of friends or friendly relationships with co-workers is another tool in your stress management arsenal.
Talk to people when you feel overwhelmed by stress and anxiety; merely having someone to talk to will do magic in pulling you out of stress at the moment.
10 Healthy Stress Management Techniques
After you have done the self-introspection exercise through the steps above, you better understand what stress is, what it does to you, and how to recognize it. With that new knowledge, it’s time you implement a few time-tested, powerful stress management techniques.
Learn and Practice the 4 A’s of Stress Management
A lot of times, we put ourselves in unnecessary stressful situations without even realizing it. Once you do the proper self-reflection, you will be able to observe and identify several cases in which you could shield yourself from stress by merely avoiding those situations, people, or places. Of course, this does not mean avoiding things you must do or the practice of getting outside of your comfort zone. Instead, it’s about avoiding purely unnecessary stress—stress that we can and should avoid.
The stress in your life is partly a stressor and partly a response. It’s a combination of those things that generate stress and the way you react to it. For the type of pressure you cannot avoid, such as being a parent, working at a job, or going through a divorce, you can control your response. That implies altering your behavior and attitude in and toward those situations.
- Be assertive but not aggressive.
- Express your feelings authentically.
- Always strive for a win-win mindset.
- Search for the silver lining and focus on that.
If avoidance is impossible and altering your response is not enough, you may need to adapt to stressful situations. That doesn’t mean caving in to the stress or allowing stress to rule your life. Instead, it means putting your life in order and learning how to cope with the specific stressors.
- Learn and practice reframing situations and identifying opportunities.
- Assess the magnitude and importance of every situation to prevent overreacting.
- Work on reducing your perfectionism, which is a significant stress factor.
Finally, there will be things and situations that you cannot avoid, alter, or adapt to. I’m talking about things such as the death of a loved one, a terrible accident or illness, or even a worldwide pandemic. In those situations, you need to practice acceptance. You must accept what you cannot change and move on rather than let those feelings fester and keep you paralyzed.
- Realize that no matter how hard you try, you cannot control everything.
- You must look for opportunities for learning and growth in those cases.
- You have to practice forgiveness.
Most stressful situations give birth to negative thoughts. Those negative thoughts will spin inside your head and grow, feeding each other in a never-ending paranoid spiral. By focusing on a positive mindset and practicing gratitude, you counteract those negative thoughts with positive ones.
Meditation, Yoga, Tai-Chi
Researchers reviewed 18 studies on meditation, yoga, and tai chi effectiveness involving more than 800 people. They concluded that those activities could reverse molecular reactions in DNA that cause poor health, anxiety, and depression.
While meditation is rest, recovery, and workout for the mind, yoga and tai chi target both the mind and the body. However, all three techniques positively affect your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.
By practicing them weekly, you will become better at coping with stress and managing its effects on your life.
As you can see from the list of symptoms above, stress shows up in many places in our physical body. These psychosomatic reactions come from internal conflict, stress, and anxiety and manifest in our body in the form of pain, illness, weakness, discomfort, and more.
By having a rigorous, weekly exercise routine, you strengthen and learn about your body. Over time, your body will become stronger and provide you with a better platform to defend against stress.
Besides, exercise is a huge confidence booster that acts as another mechanism against stress.
We are biological and chemical creatures. Everything that we are resides on our bodies, including our thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Therefore, it is critical to feed our body with the right nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, fiber, healthy fats, protein, etc.
An unhealthy diet damages the body, and a damaged body is vulnerable to stress. Combining balanced, healthy nutrition with exercise and mind-calming techniques such as meditation and yoga is what will give you a strong base to fight stress in your life.
A lot of stress comes from trying to do too much in a short time. The pressure of time is one of the most significant stressors in our world today. By learning how to manage your time effectively, you can create the space to work on what is genuinely critical.
By learning how to prioritize the things in your life, you will figure out ways to eliminate the unimportant and focus on the essential.
Hobbies and playtime
All work and no play—sound familiar? Unfortunately, it’s a reality for many people. Life, kids, jobs, parents, bills, and mortgages—they pile up day after day. Eventually, it feels like you merely exist instead of living. You are doing things, but there’s no joy.
That is where hobbies and playtime for adults come into play. Learning how to disconnect deliberately and immerse yourself in a soul-feeding activity is an integral part of managing stress. These activities are a colossal weight added to that positive side of the balance discussed above.
Rest & sleep
Burnout is a significant cause of stress, anxiety, depression, and many other ailments that affect our society today. A lot of it has to do with overextending, over-filling our plate with tasks, and trying to do everything at once. You need to learn how to stop, take a step back, and build rest and recovery in all aspects of your life—physical, mental, and emotional. Sleep also plays a massive role in this area.
In the US, 40% of people get less sleep than they should, averaging about 6.8 hours of sleep at night, down more than one hour when compared to the 1940s. That’s a long way to the eight to nine hours that experts recommend. Getting more sleep will make you better at handling stress, and it will even help eliminate stress in several areas of your life.
Remove drugs, alcohol, and smoking
Although I mentioned the unhealthy coping mechanisms in the self-reflection steps above, it bears repeating. In today’s society, those harmful techniques such as drugs, smoking, and alcohol are at an all-time high. Because many of these unhealthy, destructive habits result from many years of habit-building, it’s difficult for most of us to shake them off. Learning how to get rid of these bad habits for good and replace them with good habits is a critical step in managing stress.
Finally, there are types of stress in one’s life that truly require an elevated form of help. That means reaching out to a professional, such as a shrink or a psychiatrist, to address the root causes of your stress. A professional can provide you with specialized coping mechanisms to manage the particular stress you are experiencing.
Stress Management Conclusion
So, here we are. Stress. It’s everywhere, and, as of lately, it seems to be hovering over us all the time. Some types of stress are avoidable; others are not. What is in our power, though, is the ability to fight back. We do so by first learning about stress, identifying how it affects us, and then implementing proper ways to cope with it and reduce it.
These techniques, used over time, will slowly chip away at the effects that stress has on your body, mind, heart, and soul. They will not make the stress go away entirely—they can’t. Instead, they will teach you how to navigate a stressful life and push through successfully.
Other Stress Management Resources
- Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress
- 62 Stress Management Techniques, Strategies & Activities
- 3 Tips to Manage Stress
- Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- How would you classify your overall level of stress?
- How has stress in your life evolved over the past five to ten years?
- What are some of the best stress management techniques you employ in your life currently?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!