Deep Breaths: Ten Tips for Stress Management

Stress is bad.  Well, bad stress is bad, anyway. So, how do you decide what’s bad stress?  Research shows that the human body can’t tell the difference between good and bad stress, but what differentiates the two is how much stress the body endures.  Therefore, prolonged stress is not good for us.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize we are totally stressed out until we are at the end of our rope.  That goes for employees and business owners alike.  Getting to that point is the wrong place to be, so we should make every effort to alleviate our stress before we get there. 

So, how can we identify stress?  After it’s identified, what can we do to reduce our stress levels?  And what happens if we don’t deal with it?  Take a deep breath.  Here is some information about stress and stress management that can provide answers, so you don’t have to stress… about stress.

What is stress?

Stress is a very natural thing.  Stress occurs when the body or mind is challenged, and, consequently, the body responds in physical and/or chemical ways. 

While stress can be a good thing—after all, it can help us focus, make us stronger, improve our memory, and increase our motivation—too much stress can inhibit our abilities, preventing us from efficiently achieving our goals.  Worse than interfering with our productivity at work, too much stress can have adverse effects on our overall health and well-being. When stress reaches a certain point, utilizing some type of stress management techniques becomes a necessity.

So, how do we know if we are under too much stress?  Here are a few signs that can be indicators of excess stress in your life:

Physical:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Stomachache or nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Restlessness or insomnia

Mental:

  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Confusion during ordinary tasks
  • Anxiety or panic attacks

Emotional:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Unreasonable bouts of anger
  • Lashing out

If you experience any of these things on a frequent or regular basis, you might be under too much stress. With that in mind, now would be an excellent time to consider the things in your life that could be causing the excess pressure.

Stress at Work

Many of us are all too familiar with the stressors at home.  Financial burdens, home maintenance, health issues, and the responsibility of caring for dependents can increase stress levels, depending on the situation.

While at work, however, sometimes we don’t recognize the stressors because we expect to feel some level of discomfort while at work.  Some of us don’t feel like we aren’t working if we don’t feel overwhelmed.  Understandably, people would feel that way, but expecting to be miserable at work is the absolute wrong mentality.  Contrary to popular belief, studies show that people are actually more productive when they are happy at work.

So what are some stressful things that can creep in and sabotage your productive day?

  • Unreasonable deadlines
  • Conflict with a boss
  • Conflict with peers
  • Quotas
  • Ergonomically incorrect chairs and/or keyboards

Obviously, many of these are reasonable in the workplace, but it’s important to recognize when the unpleasantness begins to leak outside the normal range.  If any of these things (or others not mentioned) start to result in the physical, mental, or emotional reactions listed above, it’s time to do something. 

Outside Factors Contributing to Stress

While you might think that the only thing affecting your stress levels are your experiences at work, inevitably, external factors can also sneak in and sabotage your productive workday. This can happen, despite your best efforts.

Some things that can increase your stress levels at work are the same factors listed above.  The financial burdens you carry (mortgage, childcare, debt) can make you worry about retaining your job. In other words, avoiding becoming part of a layoff or getting fired can add to that stress, especially if you’re the family breadwinner. 

Unexpected home maintenance and repairs costs; such as a new roof, furnace, or water heater, can also place an increased financial burden on someone. And of course, all of this can infiltrate thoughts at work.  The same thing goes for health issues for oneself, a dependent, or a loved one.  Although we may feel like we have pushed those thoughts out of our mind while at work, they can easily creep in and cause stress.

Why is Stress Management so important?

In short, keeping stress levels in check is necessary for all areas of life.  Not only is it essential to manage stress for work purposes, but it’s also important for mental well-being and health purposes.  After all, no one wants to be around a stressed-out Oscar the Grouch.  Furthermore, having a heart attack due to stress will do no good in getting you that pay raise or promotion.  All joking aside, this is a real possibility. 

So, do yourself a favor and accept that if you don’t appropriately handle your stress, your stress will likely inappropriately handle you.

Ten Tips for Handling Stress Better

Since there are so many different stressors, and people respond to stress uniquely, it’s crucial to have a variety of methods for proper stress management.

Here are 10 ideas for ways to help you better handle your stress, including both physical and mental exercises.

Physical Tips:

Exercise – Everyone’s least favorite, but doctor’s ideal remedy is, of course, exercise. This doesn’t have to mean running a marathon; merely getting up and moving can have a huge impact in lowering stress levels.  Consider stretching or going for a brisk 5-minute walk whenever you begin feeling tense.  Yoga is also an easy way to manage stress, and you really can strike a pose anywhere!

Journal – Not everyone is comfortable writing down their thoughts and feelings.  Nevertheless, journaling about what’s bothering you can help identify what’s stressing you out the most.  While writing about the negatives, be sure to have a counterbalance! Consider keeping a gratitude journal as well, so the good things help offset the stress.

Read – If you start your day reading inspirational words, it sets the tone for your mind.  After all, your mind is where it all starts, so starting your day in a positive light can have a profound impact on stress.

Budget – Many people don’t realize how much stress finance adds to their lives.  If you can anticipate the majority of your upcoming expenses and create a sound budget, you’ll likely feel some of that stress begin to dissipate.

Music – There’s a reason why music is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Studies show that listening to certain types of music is absolutely a tried-and-true way to help reduce stress. So, throw on some relaxing music while you work for easy stress management!

Lighting – Just like music, lighting can also aid in reducing stress levels. Your environment impacts your mood, which contributes to stress.  Studies show that a lack of sufficient light can be detrimental to both your health and spirit.  If your desk or office is located somewhere other than by a window, you might want to consider investing in a mood lamp. 

Mental Tips:

Breathe – This may seem obvious, but the difference is breathing with intention.  There are many breathing techniques you can utilize. For example, the 4/7/8 method – inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8. This helps to get some oxygen flowing and help reduce your stress.

Envision – Some people find this hokey, but other people really find peace in creating vision boards.  Consider doing this to create a better work-life balance.  Think about what life looks like with less stress, and pin those things.  Putting positive imagery in front of you can help you instantly feel uplifted.

Set Goals – Similar to envisioning a positive outcome, setting goals is the way to set the things you envisioned into action.  Putting action behind your dreams can make them become a reality and makes you feel like you’re making accomplishments. In other words, even one small step at a time generates a feeling of accomplishment – great for stress management.

Talk – Sometimes, simply venting thoughts can help release some of the stress that builds up, especially when we try to hold everything in.  Your spouse/significant other, boss, and friends could help provide clarity or insight.  You could also talk with a certified life coach, who would be happy to help guide you through the stress, and achieve balance in your life.

Remember that you don’t have to buy into each of these tips, but there should be a couple in here that can help.  Before thinking it’s all nonsense, try a few of the methods, and track the changes you experience. Testing for yourself is an easy way to determine if you need additional help for your stress, or can at least further pinpoint the cause.

Handle Your Stress, or Seek Help

While it’s easy to tell you to light up a cigarette or pour something hard on the rocks to take the edge off, that would be counterproductive.  Putting a Band-Aid on the problem, drowning out the issue, or denying the problem will not solve it.  In fact, it will only exacerbate the problem, and you’ll be forced to take extreme stress management measures. 

If your stress is causing too many of the physical, mental, or emotional side effects, you should talk to your doctor.  If your stress is causing you to have thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please seek a psychiatrist immediately, or ask your doctor to refer you to someone.  Help is just a phone call away.

Treat your stress like anything else—everything in moderation.  Some stress is good, but too much stress will take you down the wrong path entirely.  Find a way to handle your stress while it is still manageable. 

A hand holding an illustration that says "I am Peace" in front of an ocean.  A quote over the image that says, "I promise you nothing is as chaoatic as it seems.  Nothing is worth diminishing your health.  Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, an fear."

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This is not meant to provide legal counsel or advice. Every situation is different. Please contact an HR professional or employment attorney before taking any action.

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