We are going to define stress, discuss some of the situations that create it and explore ways of managing it without making us overwhelmed and .. well… stressed out.
First, let’s talk about what stress is. There is no single definition of stress, as it is not a definable entity that can be measured and described. So, when we talk about stress, what are we talking about?
Stress is any internal or external demand placed on us. We can stress ourselves by pushing to get something done in a tight time frame, or we can get stressed if our boss overloads us with tasks that we see as excessive and disproportionate for our abilities. Stress can be positive, like when we set appropriate time frames to achieve something. This spurs us to work more efficiently and to maintain motivation and optimal performance. However, when we feel what is required of us well exceeds our abilities to do it, we become stressed. Our performance is affected and this, in turn, increases our stress. If we don’t find a way of interrupting this process, it will get worse and turn into chronic stress.
Holidays are times of multiple demands and activities. We are pushed and pulled in different directions at the same time, and we have a tough time keeping everything under control and organized. They are therefore a perfect time to apply our strategies for stress management.
Assess the situation. Our perception of stress is more important than the type of stress we are facing. This is why what may be stressful for a person may be felt to be quite manageable by another. It is our assessment of the level of stress that determines how we are going to respond to it. And this is where we can make changes to improve our stress response, so that stress, rather than being paralyzing, becomes a motivating force for us.
Organize your resources. Take a moment to determine, on a scale of 1 to 10, where your stress level is at. Because you know yourself, you can thus determine whether this stress level is still manageable for you, or if you need to let go of something to make the load more manageable. You know when you can perform at your best, and when it becomes more difficult to do so because of the many stressors you are trying to juggle.
Getting control over your situation is the best way to combat stress. When we are in control, we don’t feel stressed out, and we can perform at our best. Think about driving, for instance. Typically, the person who is at the driving wheel is not scared of performing this task. It is the person in the passenger seat that is often more scared. Fear causes anxiety, and anxiety leads to stress. This is so because the driver is in control; the passenger is not. There seems an inverse correlation between being in control and feeling stressed. The more in control, the less stressed we feel.
Prioritizing is part of taking control: of all the things that are currently pressing on you, which ones do you consider the most important? Can you organize them on a scale, from the most important and urgent to the least? Write down this list. This can help you get a global view of what you need to do, so you can CHOOSE what you will do first.
Take breaks. Physical exercise is a very good stress reliever. It allows your body to let go of the tension you carry in your muscles. It allows your mind to shift gears from pushing yourself beyond your limits to being more mindful of what you need to maintain health and wellbeing. Sit down with a cup of tea and a magazine, or you close your eyes and meditate, or lay down and rest your body, allowing the bed to “support” your weight, feeling you sink into it. These are all relaxing ways that give yourself the message that your emotional and physical health are a priority.
All these techniques allow you to shift from stress response to relaxation response. They allow the level of stress hormone cortisol to get lower and increase your abilities to manage what needs to be done and enjoy the process.