stressed woman

Do you have bills coming in every other day? Do you have new challenges in front of you at work? Is your home life hectic? Often it seems that we are overwhelmed by all the different requirements put in front of us. But the key to our mental sanity is in our hands. Getting to know stress and how to handle stressful situations it is the first step to a happier life.
I have listed eight steps it takes to begin conquering your fears and reduce stress in your life.

What is stress ?

Stress is our body’s response to a perceived or real threat or danger. This response is supposed to get the body ready for an immediate reaction to get us out of danger. This is more commonly known as the “fight or flight response”. Basically the body gets prepared for a big fight with something or to get away as fast as possible. The nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol that get our body ready for emergency action. Our focus gets sharper, our heart starts beating faster, blood pressure rises, breathing gets faster, muscles get tighter. We are in a heightened state of alertness and non essential body functions like the digestive system slow down. All of this increases our speed of reaction, our strength and our stamina for a while. Now this is all good and great if you find your self in the wild surrounded by the great outdoors where the threat of being eaten by something is real. A long time ago we used to find our selves in these situations quite often. Thus the need for such a mechanism in our body. It is basically a survival mechanism and all animals have it.  Nowadays the perceived or real threats come more in form of work related situations, being overwhelmed by our daily responsibilities like paying the bills, parenting, relationships and care giving. Nowadays these threats are usually problems or issues we have to work through.

Stress is not the same for all of us

We have to keep in mind that stress is a reaction to a situation. It is not the situation itself.

Stress usually occurs when we perceive that the thing that is being asked of us is greater than what we can handle.

Unfortunately, in our fast paced modern lives these situations are more frequent by the day. It has to be said that people react to stress in different ways. Some people thrive on it while others don’t cope so well. Also there is no list of things that can cause stress. Again here people react differently, as an example, for some people public speaking is very stressful while others love the spotlight. As much as stress can help us focus and be good for us in some cases, beyond a certain point it starts to effect our quality of life and health negatively. Our bodies are simply not equipped to deal with prolonged exposures to stress.  Our bodies need to return to the equilibrium state where rest and recuperation are possible.

As we have mentioned above stress is a reaction to a situation and not the situation it self. This basically means that even situations that could be described as positive situations can be perceived as very stressful by a person. An example of this would be having a baby or getting a promotion. These are all beautiful and joyful events in a persons life and yet they can often generate a lot of stress if the person is feeling that he can not  cope or deal with them effectively. Very rarely does a person get overwhelmed by just one situation in modern life today. More often the situation is that there are several on going factors that contribute to the overwhelming feeling that we can not cope with it all. Most common causes of stress are:

  • job issues
  • health problems
  • family problems
  • financial issues
  • school
  • relationships
  • lack of time
  • moving house

What can be done about it?

Luckily there are several things that we can do about reducing stress in our lives.

  1. Awareness
    The first thing to do would be to identify what is causing stress in your life. Once you are aware of what the problems are you can begin to take action to solve them.
  2. Solving problems as they pop up
    There is nothing worse then not doing anything about a problem. Once a stress inducing problem shows up, try to solve it. Anything that you do to solve it is much better then ignoring the problem. If you ignore problems, they accumulate and start to stress you out much more than if you would have only one problem. The solution does not have to be perfect. Nothing in life is perfect. The solution just needs to be good enough.
  3. Simplify everything. Learn to say no.
    Usually there are way too many things happening around us and it is very hard to differentiate between what is important and what is not. Being overwhelmed by too many things can cause a lot of stress. That is why it is crucial to simplify. Know what is important to you and  to pay attention to those things while ignoring as much as possible all the rest. A part of this is learning to say no. Sometimes especially in the workplace we feel pressured to say yes to all kinds of requests. Even if the requests feel small and easily manageable they tend to accumulate. Learning to say no respectfully is an important part of managing our to do lists, managing our time and in the end our sanity.
  4. Rest and relaxation
    This is not a luxury this is a necessity. Our bodies need the time to relax and recover. Try to make time for yourself every day, even if it’s just a cup of tea you drink in peace
  5. Exercise regularly.
    Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. You don’t need to be a member of a fancy gym to achieve this. Simple 30 minute walks will do the trick also.
  6. Eat a healthy diet.
    Your body will be better prepared to deal with the daily stresses if it is well nourished. Try and reduce you daily caffeine and sugar intake. A healthy breakfast should be a part of your every day life and not  just a treat from time to time. Think of your body as your car. You don’t put oil in the car when it breaks down. You put it in the car so it doesn’t break down. In the same way it is important that your body gets all the necessary nutrients so it does not break down. Eating healthy is important.
  7. Sleep
    Getting enough sleep is very important. Not getting enough sleep can cause us to  slow down and to start thinking irrationally. We become more clumsy and easily agitated. All of this can lead to an increase in stress. This is why it is important to get enough sleep.
  8. Talk. Have a social life face to face
    Talking with your family, friends, colleagues or your boss can be very helpful.  Making them aware of your thoughts and worries can help in many different ways. They might know of solutions to things that are troubling you. They might take some burden off you knowing that you might be overwhelmed. They might join in on working out the solution. If nothing else, it can be very therapeutic just talking about the issues you are having.

Stress is an everyday part of life. There are very few situations where there is no stress. Learning to manage stress can help a lot. Nothing that we have described above is a one time thing. All of this has to be done continuously if we are to stay on top of things. That is why learning about things that can help our everyday lives is important. There are books, articles and web pages dedicated to this topic.  A good resource could be the 4A method (avoid, alter, adapt, or accept) and the Helpguide website.