The television is blaring…the phone is ringing…and someone has just arrived at the door. You are under stress—big-time. As a result, you may feel a loss of control. If it’s a particularly bad day, you might even feel as if there is no way out. You feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the stress you’re under.
What you may not realize is that it is entirely within your power to manage stress in a healthier way. You may not have control over what happens in your life—but you can control your reaction to various stressors. All it takes is a little advanced planning on your part.
Of course, a knee-jerk reaction to stress is to try to remove the stress entirely from your life. But this is not always possible and, in some cases, it may not be the best approach. Instead, you might consider limiting your contact with a certain stressor. In other words, if you’re really feeling overwhelmed, can you take a break from the action? Just a few minutes outside can help clear your head, enabling you to better handle stress in the long run.
Another effective strategy is to consider delayed gratification. For instance, say you enjoy a frappuccino in the morning, but you hate the commute to get to the coffee shop. Perhaps you can make the frappuccino a one-day-a-week treat instead of an everyday affair.
Another habit that can make stress more difficult than it needs to be is all-or-nothing thinking. For instance, if you’re having trouble studying for a test, do you assume that you are going to fail? If you have a disagreement with your spouse, do you think that he or she will eventually leave you? If your mother is ill, do you begin worrying that she will die soon? Such disaster-oriented thinking can make a difficult situation even more trying, even more stressful. By adopting a more realistic approach to problems, you can limit your emotional reaction to stress.
Perfectionism may also be at the root of your stress. If you think that you have to be perfect in the office and at home, you can never really relax. In other words, you are putting yourself under unnecessary stress. If you begin to focus on performing tasks well rather than perfectly, you can establish more realistic expectations for your life. This new-and-improved thinking can enable you to face challenges with more confidence.
Another mode of thinking that can lead to greater stress is a winner-take-all philosophy. If you feel as if you always have to win, you set yourself up for cut-throat competition. This can be extremely destructive, especially to your interpersonal relationships. It is much better to adopt an “everybody wins” philosophy. According to this viewpoint, the critical thing is to perform those tasks that will do the most good. Following this philosophy, you are far more likely to be able to take stress in stride.
Losing your temper can also cause you unnecessary stress. If you are feeling as if you are about to explode, think of something calming, such as an ocean or a tree. Don’t give into the temptation to self-destruct. Getting angry will not solve your problem and could, in fact, create additional problems. If you feel as if your blood is about to boil, stay cool, take a step back, and re-assess your options. With a clear head, you may be able to find the solution to your problem relatively quickly. Your stress level should also drop.
It should be said that it is not easy to control your reactions to stress. It takes a great deal of time, patience, and emotional effort. If you tend to react quickly to stress, you might have to teach yourself to slow your reactions. You will have to learn to make controlling your reactions to stress a habit. It is well worth the work involved.
Otherwise, you could find yourself battling a stress-related illness. When all else fails, remember this slogan: Take a breath and take a break. While you might lose some time in the short run, you could benefit a great deal over the long haul. And your friends and family might notice a distinct change in your emotional reaction to stress.