Stress has been shown to be a major health issue in virtually every developed country. According to a report published by the American Psychological Association, 53 per cent of Americans attributed their recurrent health problems to high levels of stress. In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that nearly 12 million people visit their doctor every year with stress-related complaints. It wouldn't be wise to underestimate the extent to which unhealthy stress levels can affect our physical and emotional well-being. Chronic or unmanaged stress has proven to be a risk factor in the development of serious health issues, such as heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, a weakened immune system, and certain neurological disorders.
Although some degree of stress is inevitable, many people find it hard to maintain healthy stress levels. One of the keys to achieving this involves knowing your "enemy" and how to deal with it in a healthy way. In this article we have put together some useful stress relief tips that can help you get the most of your life no matter what your circumstances might be.
External stressors are one of the biggest stress triggers. Unfortunately, we don't usually have much control over the appearance of these triggers, but it is still important to recognise which situations can create potential problems. Some of the major external sources of stress include life changes such as:
- Moving to a new house, city, or country
- Changing jobs
- Losing your job
- Problems in the workplace, such as an excessive or unmanageable workload, unreasonable demands from superiors, waiting for a promotion that never seems to arrive, changes to your working hours, under-staffing, not feeling involved in decision-making, bullying, poor or aggressive leadership, and job insecurity
- Getting married or divorced
- Becoming pregnant and having a baby
- The loss of a loved one
- Conflict within the family (like uncooperative teenagers or strained relationships with the extended family)
- Financial problems
- Environmental stressors, such as living in a dirty or noisy environment, having inconsiderate neighbours, and light and noise pollution
At some point or another we are all faced with external stressors, but the way we deal with them can be another important source of stress. Internal stressors include intrusive or negative thoughts, attitudes towards life and success, unreasonable expectations, lack of self-confidence, or not being able to fully control emotions like fear, anger, or worry.
All these factors influence your perception of what constitutes a stressful event and play a very important role when it comes to how you deal with external stressors. To sum up, keeping stress at bay involves being aware of which events are likely to trigger stress and knowing which patterns of thought and/or behaviour should be avoided.
Stress management techniques
As we have previously mentioned, it is simply not possible to avoid stress altogether. Instead, you should be aiming at finding stress relief techniques that work for you. Try to turn around potentially stressful situations into opportunities to fine-tune your stress management skills. For example, spending large amounts of time stuck in traffic or in public transport when commuting is a common stress trigger. Instead of getting irritated about it, how about turning commuting time into something productive by using that time to do something that you enjoy? This could involve listening to music or podcasts, reading a book, or watching your favourite videos. If driving to work stresses you out, consider joining a ride share scheme, cycling, or using public transport.
It is easy to lose perspective when under a stressful situation. To avoid ending up in a vicious circle of negative thoughts and increased stress, try to remember a situation when you were successful. Evoking and visualising positive feelings can help you transform your attitude and outlook towards common stress triggers.
Another useful tip is making sure that you set aside a few minutes every day to focus on your feelings and well-being. Things like taking a relaxing bath, doing yoga, meditating, or simply resting in a peaceful environment can work wonders -as long as you are consistent with this routine. Physical exercise can also help relief stress, so find the type of workout that suits your personality and turn exercise into a part of your daily routine.
Lastly, take some time to examine the way you speak. Words like 'must', 'can't', 'should', 'failure', or 'expect' can exacerbate your internal stressors. If your vocabulary is mostly peppered with negative words, chances are that you won't be very effective at fighting stress. Instead, try to replace these expressions with empowering alternatives. Take a look at the principles of Neuro Linguistic Programming to learn more about this, as this technique has been successfully used to treat unhealthy stress levels.