Manage stress for success!
With the increasing public awareness of the adverse effects of stress, we already acknowledge it as something negative. No news here. However, try to ask yourself: what brings you the most stress? How does it affect your performance? What can you do to reduce it? How can you turn it into something positive? These are some questions that, once answered, can bring you more clarity upon the entire concept and help you turn this long term enemy into an ally.
Step 1. Understand stress
According to Dr. B Hiriyappa, the term “stress” is used to express negative experiences in our lives, which are always associated with different movements of life, both happy and dangerous. The author considers stress is difficult to cope with due to our lifestyles and attitude.
Professor Jonathan Smith defines stress as the set of skills that “enable one to anticipate, prevent, manage and recover from the wear and tear brought on by perceived threats and coping deficiencies”.
There are numerous psychological and sociological theories related to stress, fundamental for understanding its mechanisms. Professor Angele McGrady summarizes some of the most important theories:
- Seyle’s general adaptation syndrome (GAS): the concept of stereotypical responses to stress, such as alarm, adaptation, exhaustion. Seyle emphasizes the connection between stress and physical disease. He also differentiates between eustress (positive and constructive) and distress (negative and destructive);
- Lazarus’s model based on the differential perception of stress: Lazarus considers that stress appears when there is a discrepancy between the expected events and reality;
- McEwen and Lasley’s theory, which summarizes several responses to stress, which are modified by different lifestyle elements, such as sleep quality and quantity, diet, smoking or alcohol.
Step 2. Discover your stressors
According to Susan Gregson, the things that cause stress are named stressors, and they can be both internal (a feeling or emotion that causes stress) and external (something outside the person, which causes stress). They can also vary from minor stressors, like misplacing your keys, to major ones, such as the loss of a loved one or a job.
Dr. B. Hiriyappa also identified different factors, both internal and external:
- Internal factors: emotions and the mental ability to handle them;
- External: jobs, relationships with others, home, challenges, difficulties, expectations.
The researchers Smith and Thoits, quoted by Professor Jonathan Smith, have identified five “danger signs” that worn of possible problems, namely:
- Unpredictability: an unexpected hassle;
- Uncontrollability: an event over which one has little control;
- Undesirability: something one did not want;
- Magnitude: an important or large hassle;
- Clustering: several events or hassles happening in the same time.
Step 3. Discover how stress affects you
As shown above, stressors can come from all areas of our lives. They can be internal or external, mild or intense. Studying ourselves and identifying the impact that these factors have upon us is a must if we want to learn how to manage stress.
Dr. B. Hiriyappa considers that stress appears in one’s life in all areas, namely physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional. Some of the symptoms, or characteristics, for each of these areas, as retrieved from Dr. Hiriyappa’s book “Stress management: leading to success” are:
- Physical characteristics
- Increased heartbeat
- Nervousness, being tense and depressed
- Cold skin
- Dry mouth
- Muscle spams
- Mental characteristics
- Worried, anxious
- Out of control, overwhelmed
- Irrational fears
- Social characteristics
- Bad family relations
- Avoided by friends and family members
- Poor work relations
- Spiritual characteristics
- Inner emptiness
- Doubts upon the ability to succeed
- Emotional characteristics
- Bad temper
- Lack of concentration
- Negative attitude
Once the impact is identified, one can take measures to reduce the intensity of these reactions to stress.
Step 4. Regain control!
Just like in all the other personal improvement areas, identifying your goal and establishing your action plan represent the key to success.
Becoming aware of our stressors is the first milestone in coping with stress. These factors should not be ignored, but completely understood. Now ask yourself the following questions: which factors can be eliminated from this list? How can I decrease my exposure to a certain factor?
You have now identified your “enemies” and understood their impact on your performance. However, if neither stepping away from the factors nor reducing them could possibly work, you need to devote time and energy in making important lifestyle changes.
According to the University of Illinois’s Counseling Center, you can moderate your reactions to stress by eating well-balanced meals, avoiding nicotine and excessive caffeine, mixing work with leisure, using time management techniques, doing physical activities and getting enough sleep. Also. as psychologist Kelly McGonigal states, reaching out to others is a technique that can help you turn stress into a positive resource.
Include all of these in a long-term plan and stick with it even after surpassing the most stressful periods! In order to avoid serious problems related to stress and faulty personal management, you should establish your personal and professional strategy, set your goals, measure their attainment and monitor your personal performance all the way! Stress can be coped with only by understanding its roots and regaining control of your life – on the long term!
- Counseling Center at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (2007), Stress Management
- Gregson, S. R. (2000), Stress Management (Perspectives on mental health)
- Hiriyappa, B. (2012), Stress management: leading to success
- Lehrer, P. M., Woolfolk R. L., Sime W. E. (2008), Principles and practice of stress management, Third edition
- McGonigal, K. (2013), How to make stress your friend, TED
- Smith J. C. (2002), Stress Management: A comprehensive handbook of techniques and strategies
Tags: Personal performance