“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” ― Hans Selye
If you want to learn how to manage stress, then this post is for you! Last week we delved into what is stress and why you might be experiencing it more than others. Now it’s time to get into some seriously epic strategies for helping you manage stress.
As this is such a big topic and affects every single one of us, this has become one epic post that outlines a number of strategies that actually work. In fact, it’s ended up being a huge 3,500 words! But don’t let this turn you off… this is the post on stress that needs to be read by everyone. Some of these strategies you might already know and others will hopefully shift your perspective on managing stress.
I want to open this up with a comment that was received on last week’s post. Trevor of A Call to Action mentioned that ‘stress is not something to be avoided… just something to be managed’.
This is exactly right. Trevor, you absolutely nailed it. Every single person on this planet experiences a degree of stress in their life. As we explored last week, a key factor in the levels of stress that you experience is related to the level of experience you have given a particular situation.
Knowing this, I bet you can imagine what one of the best ways of managing stress is… let me firm that up for you in a little bit.
But first, why should you manage your stress levels?
Why should you be managing your stress levels?
I quickly want to touch base on the need for managing stress. A couple of weeks ago I posted how there is scientific proof showing that ‘worry’ can actually be a healthy thing. Worrying can actually help us become more productive and most importantly it can help us to problem-solve. If you don’t worry, you wouldn’t have any problems to solve! And complacency is not as great as it may seem.
However, what I alluded to was the level of worry. Obviously, once worrying takes on a bigger emotional state it becomes stress and this does need to be managed.
You need to manage your stress levels to ensure you remain healthy – both emotionally and physically. Stress can lead to symptoms such as:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Negative thoughts
- Short temper
- Weight gain or loss
- Sleeping more or less
- Aches and pains
- Loss of sex drive
- Increased usage of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or other stimulus to help you relax
- Increased sense of isolation and feelings of loneliness
- Depression and general unhappiness
- … and more.
All of these symptoms can lead to higher blood pressure and strains on your body, reduced performance at work, worsened relationships and more. What does this all mean?
It’s quite simple.
Stress needs to be managed.
The thing is, a lot of people don’t know how to actually manage stress. The fact that you’re here now, reading this post already gives you an advantage.
You’re building your emotional intelligence – your ability to be able to understand yourself, your emotions and its impact on others. You’re also learning how to then recognise these emotions such as stress and put measures in place to reduce this feeling… well you haven’t got to this yet… but let’s get into it now!
How to Manage Stress in 17 Effective Ways
1. Identify the Source(s) of Stress in Your Life
The first thing you need to understand is ‘what are the sources of your stress?’ Is it your work? Is it a relationship? Is it that you drank too much? Is it a looming deadline? Is it uncertainty around the future?
Gaining clarity on the source of stress will then help you work out how to manage it. This is where you can pick any of the below strategies to eliminate the stress in your life.
2. Remove the Stress From Your Life
Are you able to remove the stress from your life or at least move away from it? Sometimes this can be difficult depending on the need of a given situation, however if you can remove the source of the stress then this is an obvious choice.
An example may be that a particular person stresses you out. If possible, avoid seeing them for a while until the dust settles or until you feel reasonable.
Another example may be working a side job while also working full-time. If you feel overwhelmed and that you are getting stressed due to the workload, it might be time to pull the plug, say no or at least have a break for a while from one of your areas of responsibility.
You often hear about how when someone stops doing a particular task that they have been doing for a while that it is a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. It just might be the best thing that you can do for yourself.
3. Know Yourself
This is simple when said but perhaps more difficult to put in to reality. But knowing yourself is fundamental for being able to understand your stressors and being able to manage them.
When I say know yourself, this is about understanding what makes you happy and what your values are. Your values should be dictating your priorities and if they’re not then this will most likely be a huge cause of stress for you.
Stop and reflect and make sure that the things that you are doing in your life are the things that you actually want to be doing in your life. If they’re not, then you need to ask yourself the question ‘why?’.
Knowing yourself and how you operate also helps you to understand what situations require what methods for reducing stress.
For example, I sometimes get stressed when I am public speaking however I have learned that deep breathing is an effective technique that works in this situation. Yet, on the other hand, if I’m stressed because of huge workload then I may need to use a combination of different stress management techniques, such as saying ‘no’ to people, exercising more or taking a holiday.
If you have taken the Change Your Life course then you’ll know some of the best strategies for finding what makes you happy and what you can do to focus on achieving success in your pursuits in life.
4. Just Do It!
This has got to be one of the most effective stress management techniques I do and it’s probably the most straight-forward.
Depending on what your stressor is, just face it head on!
For example, if I’m stressed about doing a particular task (eg presenting to the CEO) then the best way to manage is it to just get up there and do it! 99% of the time it is never as stressful as I expect it to be.
Similarly, again with high workloads you might find that you start to have memory problems or the inability to concentrate. One of the most effective strategies is to simply just knuckle down and go step-by-step through the process. It’s a matter of losing yourself in the moment and forgetting about the other thousand things you need to do.
Prioritise, get one thing done and then move to the next thing. Before you know it, you’ll be ticking off huge amounts of your ‘to-do’ list.
5. Accept the Things You Can’t Change
It’s time to get a little deep. Stress is often caused by outside influences such as the economy, society, a death in a family, business restructures and so forth.
Again, this strategy is easier said than done but it’s about accepting the things that you can’t change.
If the economy is broke, jobs are being lost and the financial markets are down there is no need to put blame on anyone or to even try change the situation. The best thing is to be able to accept the things you can’t change and work with what is in your locus of control.
Accepting the things that you can’t change is the first step in then being able to move forward with actions that are in your area of control.
6. Talk With Someone
An old, tried and tested method of managing stress is to simply talk with someone. We are all human beings and we all have emotional needs. We also all have the desire to help one another and when you need it most, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help.
Having another perspective on a given situation might completely change the way that you look at it. This could potentially be the best thing you can do for managing stress.
For example, when I was in the process of buying my first property I was quite stressed. It’s a huge amount of money and a huge commitment. However, simple talking to others about the situation was one of the best things I did. I was able to learn from those that have gone through the same process before.
We learn a lot through others. The more you learn about a given situation the more comfortable you become with it. You also have the benefit of testing out hypotheses and options for problem-solving or moving forward.
7. Ask Yourself ‘Will This Matter in 5 Years Time?’
I ask myself this question all the time when I’m stressed and I swear it is one of the most effective techniques for reducing your stress levels.
99% of the time what I’m stressed about will NOT matter in 5 years time. Upon realising this, it completely flips my perception of the given situation in a way that I can turn it around and actually have some fun with it.
For example, it might be meeting a deadline at work and to be able to provide the work at its highest quality will take me over the deadline. If I start to think ‘how on Earth am I going to get this done on time’ I simply ask myself the question ‘will this matter in 5 years time?’ If the answer is no, then I simply move forward and get it done to the highest quality possible given the timeframe.
This example also alludes to setting your own expectations. Setting your own high expectations can be great as it shows you want to be the best at what you do, but when the recipient does not need it at such a high level you’re potentially putting stress on yourself that you do not need to have.
8. Learn How to Say ‘No’
A huge cause of stress is for people not doing what they really want to do. On top of this, another huge cause of stress is simply doing too much!
Learning how to say no can combat this significantly and reduce your stress levels.
When you say no, you’re taking control of your life and your environment.
Intuitively we all have the desire to please others and hence it becomes difficult to say no. We also have our self-pride and if we are seen to be ‘not capable’ of taking more on then how will others perceive me?
Unfortunately this is not a healthy thing as it can lead to much greater stress.
In terms of techniques for this one, I recommend just giving it a go and seeing what the word ‘no’ can do for you.
9. Take Control of Your Environment
Your environment plays a crucial role in your overall wellbeing. Be it your home, your bedroom, your office or your community.
How do you feel when you’re in a crowded room with people rushing everywhere and lots of noise compared to when you’re lying in a park by yourself listening to the breeze go by?
When you take control of our environment you can start t take control of your stress levels. This can be done through better planning of your time, turning off the TV when you’re not watching it at night to create some ‘quiet’ time and even just closing your eyes for 30 seconds and enjoying the serenity.
There are loads of strategies available for taking control of your environment. The main thing is, ensure you make the choices.
10. Reward Yourself When You Get Something Done
Often when you get stressed its because you have too much to do or because you are fearful of the potential consequences of your actions.
Because of this, a great way of managing stress is to reward yourself after you finish something that was stressful.
For example, remember back in the uni/college days how everyone was stressed during exam periods? What did you do after you completed your final exam? Well, assuming you didn’t have massive hangover I’m sure you felt a lot less stressed! Not only that, but I’m sure you would have rewarded yourself in some way, being it letting your hair down with a big night out or doing something that you have been putting off for a while due to exams. It shouldn’t be any different in other areas of your life.
But how can this manage stress while you’re going through the actual stressful period? It’s the anticipation of the reward that can help reduce your stress, keep you motivated and actually build excitement.
Another example of this is when someone books a holiday. They may have a busy few months ahead before the holiday but it’s the anticipation of it that can help manage stress during this time.
Start rewarding yourself for the things you do. It might be as small as getting yourself a coffee when you have completed a small task. You’re worth it!
11. Take a Micro Holiday
Leading on from the last point, taking a micro holiday can do a world of wonders for managing stress.
How to manage stress with a micro holiday and what does this actually mean? Its quite simple. A micro holiday is one where you are simply getting away or removing yourself from a stressor. It might be a day trip to the beach. It might be going for a bushwalk. Perhaps its even as simple as doing some gardening. The key thing is that you’re moving away from the stressor and allowing yourself to relax and regather your thoughts and feelings.
When you take your micro holidays, be sure that you’re not simply procrastinating. A micro holiday is purely for managing stress.
12. Spend Time With Those Closest to You
When you are stressed you might also have feelings of isolation and loneliness. One of the most effective strategies for reducing stress is to simply spend time with your friends and family.
When you’re spending time with those closest to you, you would normally be a pretty relaxed, calm and comfortable state. The other added benefit is that you can talk through your problem or situation with someone you trust and who can provide another perspective. Your friends and family are there to be able to support you through stressful periods. Don’t be afraid to lean on them when you need them. I’m sure you would return the favour. Working with others is much better than working alone.
13. Ensure You Have a Healthy Diet
Nutritional plays a role in stress (remember that our bodies can’t tell difference between different types of stress). This makes your diet crucial to your overall wellbeing, however it is so often overlooked by many.
As the saying goes – ‘you are what you eat’.
When you are stressed you might have a tendency to ‘not care’ about the good you eat. Perhaps you’re too busy and short on time and all you can find is that McDonalds burger. Don’t give in! 🙂 This is not the time to be letting your diet go… it will only add to your stress and emotional state.
Continue to ensure you are eating your healthy variety of fruits and vegetables and minimise your fats, salts and sugars. It might just make the difference.
I previously wrote a piece on the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Eating which I highly recommend you check out.
14. Ensure You Continue to Exercise Regularly
Similar to dieting, exercise plays a huge part in your overall wellbeing. Along with boosting your immune system, getting fit and looking great, exercising is scientifically proven to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and release endorphins that make you feel happier.
Even just one run, walk or swim can make a world of difference to your stress levels. Thinking about when you last did some exercise, how did you feel afterwards? Pretty good I bet! Make sure you get out there and continue to do it when you’re going through stressful periods.
I have been very busy myself recently and actually put off going to the gym for a few months. I started to feel ‘yucky’ about myself and I also noticed my stress levels were increasing due to increased workload and lack of exercise. I found it hard, but I ‘forced’ myself to make time for exercise in my busy schedule and boy did it make a huge difference! Not only did it help in managing my stress but it also helped in my overall confidence levels and personal wellbeing.
Exercise is proven to be one of the most effective means of managing stress. If you’re going to start somewhere, perhaps spending 20-40minutes now getting out there and doing some exercise might just be the right place.
15. Get Enough Sleep
Do you often have restless nights, tossing and turning in bed with a 1000 thoughts running through your head? You’re not alone and this may be due to stress.
The catch-22 with this is that stress can lead to sleepless nights which can then lead to tiredness, lower performance and greater stress the following day.
This is why it’s so important that you not only get a good amount of sleep each night but also good quality sleep.
Some quick tips for helping you get good quality sleep during stress periods are:
- Write down your thoughts before going to sleep (but not just before)
- Write down your plan for the following day before going to sleep (but not just before)
- Don’t eat or drink any stimulating substances within 3hrs prior to sleep such as coffee, energy drinks or sugar
- Remove technology from your bedroom. Phones and laptops are key distractors and can cause restless nights if you’re tempted to continuously ‘check’ on them
- Make sure you have a good sleeping environment. I.e away from noise, comfortable bedding and ensure that you are warm enough.
Getting a great nights sleep can take away a lot of your stress and help you wake up fresh and reenergised.
16. Experience, Experience, Experience
In my previous article demonstrating how worrying is a good thing I mention how your experiences share your beliefs and therefore how you react both behaviourally and emotionally to certain situations. When it comes to stress, this is the same thing. Your past experiences will largely predict how stressed you will get in your future experiences. However, the good thing is is that you can manage your future stress by getting more experience currently (which in itself may be stressful).
For example, if you get highly stressed from public speaking you can manage your future stress of public speaking by actually doing more of it now. This works on the principle that the more you do of something the more you learn about it and the more comfortable you become with it. It is about expanding your comfort zone.
This may sound like you’re heightening your current stress levels to reduce your future stress levels, and this may be the case. However, if something needs to be done and you’re simply delaying the stressful situation then you might want to rethink. Again, the anticipation of the stressful situation will only create more stress in your life.
17. Take Control of Your Mind
When it comes down to it stress is a result of our experiences, values and beliefs. If you can take control of your thoughts then you can take control of your stress.
This is obviously easier said than done. However, by taking the time now and reading through this article you have already heightened your awareness of your own stress levels and you also now have some strategies front of mind that you can implement when needed. This is the first part of being able to control your thoughts and manage your stress.
What is Stress and Why You Might Experience it More than Others
Don’t Worry, Be Happy! The Scientific Proof that Worrying is a Good Thing
The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Eating
How to Expand Your Comfort Zone
This article can help change the lives of many of those around you. If the world was a less stressful place then the world would be a much happier place. I’d greatly appreciate it if you can do just one thing and that is to share this article with your friends by using one of the sharing buttons below. You might just give someone exactly what they need.
Here’s to an amazing life!
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This was a nice read. I plan to do a few of these things. My stress is so hard though. I gave it to Jesus, because it was way too much for me.
Prior to doing that, I had a major panic attack on my way to work. Had to call an ambulance, because I couldn’t breathe, and I was shaking so hard. I thought it was a heart attack….but it wasn’t. Just a panic attack.
I never knew how stress like that could do such extreme stuff to my body. Wow.
*I had this situation where my daughter took my 4 grandchildren and moved 1000 miles away….*
So yep it is good to find ways to help yourself deal with situations as they come up.
Good luck, to us all…xo
Changing the way you perceive things really help.
I have observed that when I change the way I see things, I could easily turn that stressor into motivation.
This is a great read though. Anyone who’s constantly under stress should read this!
Many people stress themselves out because they take themselves and their decisions far too seriously. Life for them has become about being cautious, safe and secure rather than being an adventure. Adults need to act more like kids.
I’ve given up stressing about the things that I have no control over. When stuck in traffic I just put on relaxing music or a motivational CD, rather than cursing the cars around me.
Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Thanks for the shout out Brendan!
And thanks for the incredibly in depth article on stress management. You went all out on this one. Very thorough.
Most people view stress as a negative thing. But most stress, in and of itself, is neutral. It’s how we perceive the stressor that counts.
And so like most things in life, how we handle stress is directly related to our mindset. If we fear stress and agonize over every stressful situation, we only amplify its effects. But if we accept it as a part of life, and as an integral part of growth, then we’re one massive step closer to managing it well.
Thanks for sharing a great piece like this. We live in a fast paced world where we want everything and want it now.It’s a little wonder why stress becomes a number one cause of most sickness .
Exactly right, Emmanuel…
Becoming overworked and getting stressed is one of the fastest ways of getting sick… not a good thing! It ends up being a stressly cycle as you then fall further behind!
Excellent post. You would think there’d be nothing to add to a comprehensive 17 point list but I think another tip for dealing with stress is preparation. This isn’t always possible because sometimes unexpected events happen. But being prepared when you can does help in dealing with stress. So for example if you have a job interview, you’re likely to feel less stressed and more relaxed if you’ve done your homework.
Great point! I’ll have to write a follow-up with a few extras 🙂
Even being prepared with a plan for if you get sidetracked can help dramatically. For example, you might have a plan to complete a task by X date… but if something unexpected happens and you have a contingency plan in place, then you’re right… you will definitely experience less stress
Thanks for taking the time to write this Brendan.
On Point 9- I find that many work environments seem to have been designed to actually increase stress. I always remember my Director at Dell telling us that if we were ever feeling really stressed to just go away for the day and do whatever it was that relaxed us and come back the next day refreshed. Such a refreshing and mature attitude to take.
Sleep is so important- I have stopped myself from reading my emails before going to bed- a terrible habit that I know many people are engaged in…I just need to stop myself from reading them first thing in the morning when I wake up. One step at a time 🙂
Interesting… I’m not sure work environments would have intentionally been designed to be stressful.. that seems a little counter-intuitive? But you never know?!
Having a day out of the office can be AMAZING… even having a lunch break out in the sun and sitting in the park for an hour can do WONDERS for the mind.
On Sleep.. the things that you read/watch just before going to sleep and first thing when you wake up in the morning are things that will stay with you throughout the day and throughout the night. It’s ok if you’re reading over your goals, but anything else might not be so good 🙂
May I add something a bit more brutal but absolutely necessary?
Cut out the toxic friendships from your life. Seriously. The people who drain you need to go because you really should be surrounding yourself with people of high quality instead. It is entirely in your control and you can make the change. You’re going to be able to grow much more without toxic relationships.
I do love the rest of the list though, but I just had to add that. Thanks, Brendan! 🙂
SO very important… thanks for throwing it in!
As they say, ‘you’re the average of the 6 closest people to you’. This is very true. If the closest people around you are stressed and anxious, there’s a high chance you’ll be feeling this too. On the other hand, if those surrounding you are supportive and positive, there’s a greater chance you’ll be thinking positive too.
Great article, Brendan. I specially like the tip about taking control. Even if you can’t take total control, there’s usually something, maybe quite small, that you can do to help you get back a sense of control.
Agreed! At times of extreme stress we can feel completely ‘out of control’. It can sometimes be as simple as making a ‘conscious’ effort to take control of something, see the benefit and then keep the momentum flowing.
As the old serenity prayer goes:
“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
Hi Scott, awesome quote 🙂
Thanks for sharing!