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Managing Stress in Everyday Life

by Nancy Maneely

Institute for Vibrant LivingManaging your day-to-day stress can be the key to well-being.  It may even be the key to survival. The American Psychological Association estimates that 75-90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems.

Do you have lots of stress in your everyday life? Not all of it is harmful. In fact, some kinds of stress are what makes life interesting and lends the occasional feeling of euphoria to our experiences.

  • Eustress is the type of stress that is fun and exciting, and keeps us vital (e.g. skiing down a slope or racing to meet a deadline).
  • Acute Stress is a very short-term type of stress that can either be positive (eustress) or more distressing (what we normally think of when we think of “stress”); this is the type of stress we most often encounter in day-to-day life (e.g. dealing with road rage).
  • Episodic Acute Stress is where acute stress seems to run rampant and be a way of life, creating a life of relative chaos (e.g. the type of stress that coined the terms “drama queen” and “absent-minded professor”’).
  • Chronic Stress is the type of stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, like the stress of a bad marriage or an extremely taxing job (this type of stress can lead to burn-out).

It’s when stress is frequent, prolonged, or chronic, that it can harm the body, mind and spirit. The result can sometimes be physical or mental illness, or spiritual malaise.

Here’s what the American Psychological Association recommends to help you manage the stress in your life: 

  • Understand the sources of your stress. Learn to recognize what triggers stress for you. Everyone’s experience of stress is different. On the other hand, what makes you feel calm? Sorting out these thoughts will help you gain a sense of control over stress in your life.
  • Learn your own stress signals. People experience stress in different ways. Do you have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control, or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy? Gauge your stress signals.
  • Recognize how you deal with stress. Are you are using unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking, drinking alcohol and over/under eating) to cope? Is this a routine behavior, or is it specific to certain events or situations? Do you make unhealthy choices as a result of feeling rushed and overwhelmed?
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as meditation, exercising or talking things out with friends or family. Remember that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Don't take on too much at once. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, taking a short walk, going to the gym or playing sports that will enhance both your physical and mental health. Take regular vacations or other breaks from work. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself — even if it's just simple things like reading a good book or listening to your favorite music.
  • Reach out for support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you may want to talk to a counselor or therapist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors.

What is your favorite strategy for beating everyday stress?

Read more:
American Psychological Association's "Stress in America" report, 2010

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