Drug-Free Stress Management
Why is Stress Such a Problem?
In the past, stress was a vital part of survival. When we were in small tribes, an approaching predator meant potential death. Your body reacts to this stressor with a "fight or flight" response. In short, you either confront the predator or run away. In the modern world, we don't come across genuine threats to our survival, but our knee-jerk fight or flight reaction still works as if we do. Instead of a lion circling your encampment hungry for flesh, things like an overdue work deadline or being late to the office elicit the same reactions. These minor stressors are treated the same way by our bodies, and they are very unlikely to disappear entirely.
What Can You Do About it?
The first step to tackling your stress in a healthier way is to identify the causes of it. This can be difficult, because it's easy to feel like a whole multitude of problems are causing your stress. The best way to identify them is to keep a stress diary. Take it around with you and note down all of the times that you get stressed in your day-to-day life and what caused each one. You should also write down how you felt, how you acted and what you did to make yourself feel better. After keeping a diary for a while, you'll start to see patterns in both the things that make you stressed and the ways in which you currently deal with it.
After you've identified your main stressors, you can look to see if any of them are avoidable. If you have people in your life who cause you a lot of stress, think about reducing the amount of time you spend with them or cutting them out of your life altogether. If you have a tendency to take on more responsibilities than you can manage, learn your limits and when you need to start saying "no." If you let your household chores build up and get you stressed, create a schedule so you can get everything done over a week and still have time each day for yourself.
Of course, many stressors are unavoidable and you need to be able to deal with them. The simplest step you can take towards this is talking about your problems with a loved one. Having somebody listen to your problems has a couple of benefits. Firstly, the very act of divulging your problems to somebody can be cathartic, and may help you see them for what they really are: minor issues. Secondly, the person you're talking to might have a simple solution to your problem that you didn't think of, or even just show empathy and help you to lift your spirits.
Make any changes you can to your situation. Stressors that are unavoidable can often be managed if you are assertive and explain how you're feeling. For example, your boss may be demanding too much from you, and as a result you don't feel like you have enough time in the day. You should talk to your boss about it; explain your problem and work together to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. If you're still pushed for time, think about better ways to manage your time. Again, creating a schedule can help to make sure you aren't overworked.
If a situation can be neither avoided nor altered, you have to start looking inwards for ways to deal with your stress. Think about the particular thing that's causing you stress in terms of the bigger picture. If you're going to be late because you're stuck in a traffic jam, you can honk your horn and scream at other drivers as much as you want, but you won't get there any quicker. Instead, think about the thing that's worrying you properly. So, you're late for work. You'll walk in, explain that you were stuck in traffic, apologize, and then everything will be OK. If you're late for a deadline, think about whether it will matter next week, or next month. Try to put your stressors into perspective.
The most difficult but most effective thing to do is accept the situations you can't change. Imagine deep, dark clouds rumbling overhead, pregnant with rain. If you were outside screaming at the clouds trying to stop it from raining, you would look thoroughly insane. However, it's no different than the stress people allow to take control of them every day. You might wish your company didn't have a new contract to deal with, or that there wasn't a global financial crisis, but there is very little you can do about it. Instead of screaming at the clouds, accept that the rain is going to come, and do your best to find yourself an umbrella. At the very worst you'll get a little wet, but it will dry in time. Everything does.