How to Relieve, Manage, and Overcome Stress
Stress is everywhere these days. So how to you overcome it? Try these key steps and strategies for understanding and reduce stress in your life.
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You know the feeling. That tightness that keeps building in your body and mind that you can't find the release switch for. It's stress you're feeling! As stress hormones begin seeping into, then flooding your body, they prepare you for fight or flight, increasing your pulse and breathing rate, and pulling your body's attention away from everything else.
Chronic stress gets you stuck—neural pathways in your brain can become stronger, you can become super-sensitized to stress-inducing situations, and your body can get chock-full of stress hormones that it can't get rid of fast enough. What was intended by the body to serve as an occasional fight-or-flight mechanism has evolved into a daily fare of stress hormones which flood the bloodstream, causing tension and stress. Of course, this chronic stress is awful for our health, but to beat stress, we have to know what to do. (Take this stress quiz to learn more about your stress load.)
Where does stress come from?
Is your stress coming from some physical stressor—like digestive discomfort or pain? Or is there an emotional component—such as depression, disappointment, or fear? Possibly your stress comes more from something mental—like overthinking, unrealistic expectations, or rumination.
You could also experience social stress—like being exiled from the "group," feeling a sense of inadequacy or abandonment, shame because of poor performance, or not being liked or loved enough. There can be external stress—like experiencing prejudice or poverty. And there is environmental stress—like mold or in the air or toxins in your food. All of this adds up to your total stress load.
Finding the roots of your stress
Sometimes finding the source of your stress is easy—it's the job, the romantic partner, the kids, or the financial issues. But usually, the roots of your stress are more complicated, hidden, and, therefore, difficult to resolve. So start to investigate what’s causing your stress until you get a clearer picture of the complexities of your own unique stress-profile.
Once you can see where, why, and how you get stressed, and you can acknowledge the patterns your stress follows, then you can concoct methods for avoiding stressful episodes, practice ways of dealing with them better and clear your body of leftover stress hormones.
To start, explore some possible ways to decrease stress:
1. Explore stress-reduction at work
You might want to consider changing jobs or changing some aspect of the job that is causing stress. Perhaps a committee or workgroup you are part of is sapping your energy and amping up stress. Ask to be moved to a different group, restructure the time constraints required to fulfill those responsibilities, or work for a different manager/boss. Perhaps you can negotiate more work-from-home flex-time.
If you are the boss and are feeling overwhelmed at work, you could consider delegating more of your less-preferred tasks or responsibilities to promising employees. Or you might consider taking a sabbatical, a vacation, or scheduling a long-weekend break. Attempt to design your “perfect job” and then gradually find a way to delegate the rest, or let those tasks go altogether and restructure the work.
Such an approach may not always be possible, but take a look at options to see if there is a creative way within that job to rearrange your tasks, lessen your responsibilities, or share them with others in order to lighten your stress load at work.
3. Explore mental stress-reduction
If taking a thorough look at what’s causing your anxiety and its resulting stress doesn’t come up with any answers, what should you do? One approach is to take an honest look at your beliefs, values, and perspectives on life. Try to be more cooperative, compassionate, considerate of others, friendly, good-natured, and positive. We are less stressed when we are relatively open and flexible, rather than uptight. And we are definitely less stressed when we are happy or having fun!
4. Explore healthy approaches to stress reduction
People tend to handle stress better when they are healthy, so follow these rules for healthy living:
5. Explore relaxation techniques for stress reduction
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.