Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances”. In the short term, stress may lead to sleepless nights and bitten fingernails, but when stress is recurrent and poorly managed it can have serious consequences. Long-term consequences of stress can include everything from fatigue and headaches to depression, heart disease and insomnia.
Fortunately, these long-term consequences can often be avoided when small steps are taken to manage stress levels. These six steps are a great place to start:
- Understand how you experience stress: Everyone experiences stress differently. Becoming self-aware about how stress affects you is essential, so first you must observe how you feel when you’re stressed. How do your thoughts and behaviors differ in times of stress versus times of calm?
- Identify your triggers: Once you can recognize how you experience stress, you can begin to identify what common situations or events lead to those stressful feelings. What common factors in your life leave you feeling stressed? Identifying these triggers can help you take proactive steps to managing stress levels the next time you are in the same situation.
- Recognize how you deal with stress: After you’ve identified your triggers and understand how you experience stress, you can observe your behaviors and determine how you cope with stress. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors (smoking, drinking, overeating) when you feel overwhelmed? Identifying which bad habits are associated with which triggers is key to changing those habits.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress: Keeping in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change, begin to add healthy, stress-reducing activities to your lifestyle. Focus on changing one unhealthy behavior at a time by replacing it with a healthy behavior.
- Take care of yourself: Eat right, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Easier said than done, right? Well no one can adhere to these suggestions all the time – don’t aim for perfection; focus on taking gradual steps to improve these areas over time. Also, don’t forget to make time for yourself no matter how hectic life gets. Even if it’s as simple as reading a book, listening to good music or taking a short walk.
- Reach out for support: Ask for help from supportive friends and family when life gets really tough. Having a strong support system can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, consider talking to a psychologist who can help you hone in on your biggest challenges and learn how to incorporate healthy behaviors into your lifestyle.