Stress is a force that catches us all off guard at some point. Life can be going well, but you will still experience eustress, the emotional, physical phenomenon that you begin feeling when great things happen. Stress has a downside too, known as distress. This is the knot in your stomach, the black cloud in your head and the weight on your back that doesn’t seem to go away. Here are seven stress management techniques you can try, perhaps the only seven you’ll ever need.
1. Acknowledge That Stress Has Benefits
Stress has its benefits. Social scientists discovered that stress, or cortisol, is what gets you out of bed and facing the day in the morning. Without natural stress, you would be lying in bed all day, getting nothing done.
Eustress is your best friend; it’s that feeling you get when you finish a huge project, get a fantastic review, transition to a new job or enter a new relationship. Harnessing and capitalizing on eustress is what takes your existing action to the next level of focus and efficiency.
2. Avoid Stress “Dumpers”
There may be people in your life who seem to spread stress wherever they go. Called “stress dumpers,” these individuals bring others down to their level simply because they have nothing better or more productive to say.
You must protect yourself from potential distress by recognizing manifest stress in others and limiting your interactions with them. You cannot control how stressed other people feel; you can only control how often you see and talk with them. Keeping a circumstantially appropriate distance from stressed people prevents their ability to “stress dump” on you.
3. Observe and Learn From the Best
On the flipside of stress dumpers are people who seem to keep their cool in the most challenging of situations. You can further manage and mitigate your own stress by learning from them.
The next time you’re in a group or conversation where one or more people are already starting to melt down, observe anyone who seems to be unusually collected. They may be avoiding eye contact with the stressed person, breathing normally, or even talking in a normal tone of voice. Any of these (and other factors) can contribute to keeping calm in otherwise messy scenarios.
4. Practice Socially Acceptable Deep Breathing
As ludicrous as this can sound, your body and mind can be tricked into relaxing just by using deep breathing. To try it out, breathe in slowly for a count of seven, and breathe out slowly for a count of 11. Take your time, enjoy the process, and repeat until you notice that your heartbeat has slowed down. Continue if desired, but use this tip as necessary when you don’t have other options and want to melt some stress away.
5. Give Stress-Oriented Thoughts the Red Light
The human mind is so powerful that we can create whole trains of negative thought just by entertaining one unsavory idea. We often think, “If X happens, then Y is sure to happen and consequently ruin my day.”
Fortunately, these thoughts need hold no influence over your emotions. All you have to do is remind yourself that most negative things never happen. Instead, plan for the best each day by starting your day with positive reinforcements from the day or week prior. There’s no need to give power to negative what-ifs as long as you replace them with something uplifting and constructive.
6. Know Your Stress Triggers and Hot Buttons
Whether you are introverted or extroverted, type A or type B, you have stress triggers. Oftentimes, we struggle with distress because we only experience the emotional or mental meltdown after something else has happened.
There are two ways to combat your personal hot-button moments. First, if you have a pen and paper handy, take notes after the next time you feel stressed. This will allow you to reflect on the notes later and examine what might have led to your experience.
Second, intentionally structure and prepare for your day against distress. Whether that’s having a water bottle handy, arriving early to a meeting, talking in person rather than over email or getting some extra sleep the night before, do whatever it takes to counteract stress. Preparing to live your day with a fortress against stress will minimize the possibility of getting stressed at all.
7. Place Limits on What You Are Able to Do
You may feel like staying late at the office today or working all the way through the weekend just to be productive, but being a workaholic has serious drawbacks. Doing too much in too short a period of time can cause you to burn out and get stressed unnecessarily.
Commit yourself to eating nutritious, whole foods, drinking plenty of water throughout the day and getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night. If you ignore these tenets, your health and social sanity will suffer. Not burning the candle at both ends allows you to enjoy your work that much more when you are getting work accomplished.
Stress, like eating and sleeping, is bound to happen as a normal part of life. Stress does not have to be your enemy, though, as long as you know how to interact with and manage it. Make healthy decisions with diet and sleep, observe people who you can learn from and avoid your unique stress triggers, and you will be on your way to perfect stress management in no time.