10 tips for managing stress
A 5 minute read • Simon Q
Part of our life hacks series. We’ve all been there. The overbearing pressure that makes us feel frustrated, angry or helpless. And then there are the physical effects: headache, digestive problems, aches and insomnia. These are just a few of the symptoms of stress.
“Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”
While we are used to labelling things and situations as stressful, it’s more helpful to recognise that stress is actually an internal state produced by an emotional response to an external stimulus. One clue to this is that what one person finds stressful, such as a demanding boss or a cancelled train, isn’t the slightest bit stressful to certain other people.
Once we acknowledge that stress is an internal experience we’re much closer to accepting that it’s something over which we have a degree of control. The key here is in managing our emotional response to those external stimuli, or ‘stressors’. If we can train ourselves to do that, the strain and tension we experience can be less unpleasant.
Yes, I know that makes it sound easy, but my goal in this article is to give you a few tools and techniques that will help you to handle stress more calmly and effectively.
What are the sources of stress?
Here are some common sources of stress. It’s a long – yet not exhaustive – list and shows the wide range of stressors we can experience.
- Bereavement – look out for our forthcoming feature on bereavement
- Work – this can be down to a high-pressure role, increased responsibility or having to adapt to change at work
- Moving home
- Divorce or the breakdown of a relationship
- Getting married – preparation for the “happiest day of your life” can be remarkably stressful
- Becoming a parent for the first time – read about how it feels to be a new dad
- Financial problems – read about how to manage a home budget and how to borrow money responsibly
- Long-term illness
- Emotional problems such as depression, guilt and low self esteem – check out our feature on how to worry less
10 tips for managing stress
The key to managing stress is first to accept that it is our emotional response to a stressor that produces the stress and that we have more control over our emotions that we realise.
This is not to underestimate the devastating impact of bereavement for example, possibly one of the most stressful life events we experience. But for other stressful situations, remembering that a stressor — and our response — are separate things helps us to better manage our response and bring things back under control.
Here are my 10 tips for managing stress, all of which you can build into your daily routine. A few of them need practice and a high level of self awareness but they are all effective once mastered.
10 tips for managing stress
- Keep things in context – many events and stressors do not harm us significantly, so respond accordingly and avoid becoming angry. Remember that overreacting to something (‘catastrophising’) can make it seem so much worse and make stress symptoms much more unpleasant. Above all, avoid losing your temper as this is potentially harmful
- Recognise the symptoms – there can be many other reasons for headaches, pains, insomnia and a racing heart, but these are also common symptoms of stress, so always consult your doctor when you have a few of these symptoms at once
- Focus on solutions – it’s easy to obsess on problems that you face instead of accepting a situation and/or seeking a solution that works. Stay focused on solutions and avoid re-running the problem in your head, something that psychologists call ‘rumination’
- Get organised – disorganised people can often be stressy. By being more organised and prioritising what’s important, you are more in control of your life and better equipped to face what it throws at you (see our piece on how to manage your time)
- Share the load – if you have too much to do (at work or at home) then ask for help. You’ll be both sharing and lightening the load
- Exercise regularly – there are so many reasons to take regular exercise but there’s a mountain of evidence that shows how exercise helps to reduce stress. You don’t need to join a gym or climb your closest mountain; just a couple of 10 minute-long brisk walks every day will help. Or perhaps a dog could help?
- Eat well – again, there are lots of reason to do this, but a healthy and balanced diet will help you to manage stress. Avoid comfort-eating sugary foods and drinks as they can cause swings in blood sugar that affect your mood and concentration
- Relax and meditate – meditation and mindfulness are in vogue at the moment and can help to moderate stress and improve mood. Sometimes, a few deep breaths or a few hours of time away from people, noise and commitments, can help enormously
- Check your sleep hygiene – if you are not sleeping well, check that you are setting yourself up for good sleep: avoid alcohol, caffeine and food late at night, keep a cool bedroom, use blackout blinds to reduce light and use earplugs if you are affected by noises around you (earplugs have saved my sanity on countless occasions)
- Talk to someone you trust – just getting your worries off your chest can put things into context and help you get organised, unwind and manage your stress
These are all things that most of us can do without professional help. But there may be times when you feel totally overwhelmed, out of control and find it hard to make decisions. You can ask for help through your doctor, who may recommend you take some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions, or some other form of counselling.
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