Regardless of your age, race, sex, occupation, or career, stress effects everyone. And according to the APA’s newly-released study on Stress in America, it’s is more prevalent than ever. Among career and professional stress. the study listed mass shootings, violence, sexual harassment/assault, and poor mental health as reasons for these higher levels. And unfortunately, the list is only growing. But how do we cope with stress ? How do we get a handle on our emotions, or find peace with circumstances that are largely out of our control?
Sometimes there’s not a clear answer. And sometimes, regardless of the steps we take to prevent stress in our lives—both personally and professionally—we will still face unforeseen circumstances. However, learning how to cope with stress is not necessarily about preventing it as it managing it. No, you won’t ever be completely stress-free (despite what the top self-help articles promise you!) but it is possible to get a handle on your anxieties, your schedule, and your mental state.
Regardless of your occupation, status, sex, age, race, or any other factor—with a little persistence and some constructive management strategies, you can learn to face your stress with confidence and strength.
1. Identify the root cause and start there.
When you start to feel stressed, try to recognize what brings this on. Is it an accumulation of quite a few small things? One larger project? A mix? Determine if your stress is brought about at different times in the day, or because of certain people or activities. Though you can’t always (or easily) eliminate things that bring stress, identifying the source can help you take the necessary steps towards managing it.
2. Use the 4-A system to help you eliminate unnecessary inhibitors
The 4-A system is self-help techniques for dealing with stress that you can easily apply to both your personal and professional life. This system is about controlling what you can, accepting what you can’t, and finding a happy medium in adapting to what life throws your way.
The 4 A’s are: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept.
Avoid: Remove yourself from people, situations, and circumstances that create stress (within reason). Of course there will be things you can’t avoid, but preparing for these things will give you a more confident approach in facing them.
Alter: Rather than letting your negative emotions build, feel empowered to express them. This ‘A’ is also about being flexible. If the stress is unavoidable, find a way to work around it through a compromise or by taking things slow. Also work on creating balance for yourself between a stressful and relaxing activity.
Adapt: The mantra of this ‘A’ is about changing what you can—and if you can’t change what’s stressing you, then change yourself. Take things into consideration: Will this affect you three years down the road? Are you overreacting? Can you choose to focus on something else?
Accept: Understand that sometimes things happen, no matter how much you prepare for them (and especially when you don’t see them coming). This is all about learning to embrace forgiveness and letting go of what you can’t fix, mend, or make sense.
3. Practice intentional breathing, waiting, and slowing down.
Learning how to cope with stress is largely about learning how to control your breathing, heart rate, and natural rhythm. The next time you feel your anxieties build, trying counting slowly to ten, closing your eyes, taking in a deep breath and then exhaling slowly. This will create intentional space within your mind and chest, and lower tension.
4. Try to set up a sleep schedule.
Let’s face it—getting eight hours of sleep per night might not be feasible for you. Of course strive to have as much sleep as possible, but when this doesn’t work, focus on a schedule rather than a specific amount of hours. If you can try to give yourself a set bedtime, this will help your body feel more in rhythm, well-rested, and less stressed.
5. Create parameters for work-life balance.
Designate times that you will be clocked out/signed off so that you don’t use personal time to answer emails, field questions, etc. These boundaries are essential in managing and monitoring your balance and reducing unneeded worrying (especially nights/weekends or other designated personal time).
6. Don’t let the to-do list rule your life.
Having a to-do list is great and will definitely keep you productive, but don’t let it rule over you. Make sure that you create manageable goals (daily, weekly, etc.) so that you aren’t biting off more than you can chew, and thus causing yourself stress.
7. Find time for exercise or intentional movement.
Exercise does wonders for your brain. In fact, it’s a natural stress-reliever and the benefits are endless. Next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a walk, go for a run, and get your body moving!
8. Connect with people who support and constructively criticize you.
A great way to cope with stress is to surround yourself with a network of people who can support you in your journey. Friends, family, even coworkers can play an instrumental role in building you up when you feel defeated. However, make sure these people are not only boosting you, but making you better, too.
9. Pursue professional help if needed.
Seeking help for stress or anxiety is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be essential if you feel that your stress has led you down a destructive path. Though there’s still a negative stigma around getting help, feel empowered to seek it. Reaching out when you’re overwhelmed is a strength, not a weakness.
Featured Image Credit: Ayo Ogunseinde