Can You Get Better at Handling Stress?

Words: Vanessa Salvia

Words: Vanessa Salvia
Photo: junce

Stress is a necessary part of our lives. Most people consider stress to be something to be avoided. But not all stress is bad. After all, without a little stress and worry about work, for instance, we would have a hard time being motivated to finish everything we needed to get done by the end of the day. If there wasn't at least a little stress or pressure to finish a job or make progress by the end of the day, there would be little reason to work quickly or efficiently. 

A 2013 study by the University of California at Berkeley revealed that intermittent stressful events are probably working toward keeping the brain more alert, which means you perform better. This study was performed on rats, as many brain studies are, and it showed that brief but significant stressful events caused stem cells in their brains to reproduce and grow into new nerve cells. When these new nerve cells matured two weeks later, they improved the rats’ mental performance. It's not far-fetched to think that a similar thing happens in humans. 

And besides the possible improvement in mental function, stress is something that is pretty impossible to avoid, so our best method of dealing with it is to learn to cope in the most effective ways.

Problems Caused By Stress

An unhealthy, overabundance of the "stressful" stress can lead to many physical and emotional problems. The Mayo Clinic lists headaches, muscle tension and pain, chest pain, fatigue, loss of interest in sex, and stomach and sleep problems as physical problems that can result from too much stress. Mood problems also can ensue, such as anxiety, restlessness, anger or irritability, lack of focus, and depression. Stress can also lead you to do things you wouldn't normally do, such as overeating or undereating, turning to drugs or alcohol, withdrawing from your friends, or not feeling motivated to do the things you enjoy such as exercise. 

Finding ways to manage your stress is the key . . .  although it sounds trite, self-care is really what it's all about. Keep activities in your routine that you enjoy, such as hobbies. Especially important is exercise, as that provides your body with all kinds of healthy hormones that help keep stress at bay. Discover the things that relax you and make those a regular part of your life. That could be listening to music (or playing it!), hitting the gym after a hard day, working in the yard or garden, or playing poker with your buddies on the weekends. 

Tips and Tricks For Handling Stress

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is kind of a buzzword lately, but that's because it is one of the most effective ways to manage stress and redirect negative or intrusive thoughts that stress can cause. At its most basic, mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on our thoughts and feelings without judging them. Basically, it allows us to say to ourselves, "I'm feeling that negative stress again. Yep, there it is," and then let it go rather than allow it to control us. 

Mindfulness is commonly marketed to women as a spiritual practice, and it can definitely be that. But many men also understand well what mindfulness is, they just might not call it that. For instance, when men are learning to shoot guns at a target, as in the military or hunting with their families, they learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before pulling the trigger. Sports, too, are a way to stay mindful, because it's all about being in the moment but also going through a familiar routine. Many people play music and say they get "in the zone." This is, essentially, mindfulness. It means the thoughts that enter your mind are there, then they get swept away without you being caught up in them. Mindfulness also means simply paying attention to the way you feel, accept it, and then trying to do something to change negatives into positives. 

Know Your Limits

Mindfulness can help in a few ways. It can help you realize when you have overcommitted, or when you are in a stressful situation. In that case, you may notice that your stomach starts to churn, your muscles clench up, or you start to develop a headache. When you can recognize your limits and your triggers, you are better prepared to avoid overly stressful situations in the first place. 

Talk To A Friend

Hang out with a friend. You might not necessarily even have to talk about what is stressing you out; sometimes just being around someone you like is enough. It's great, however, if you can confide in someone who understands what you're stressed about and will listen. 

Get More Organized

Sometimes stress can pile up when there is too much going on inside our heads. Organize your worries and get them out of your head by writing them down. Make a long to-do list. Once everything is on the list, organize it by day based on your priorities. Pare it down to the things you must do now, things that can wait, things you can get help with, and things that you can delegate to someone else. 

Write down all of the situations that are worrying you. What are the similarities? Are they all relationship-based? Are they all work-based? Brainstorm how you can handle them and write that down too. Refer to this list when things start to feel out of control.

Focus On What You Can Control

If you did the above suggestion of writing things down, you likely have a list of things that you can control and things that are out of your control. Things that stress you out that might be out of your immediate control could be things like how other people will react to something you do, what the weather will do, your teenager driving their friends around, or your neighbor's dog barking. 

There's no point in worrying about the weather or hoping that your neighbor will get rid of their dog, so vow to take that off your worry list and focus less on uncontrollable situations. Worry less about how your relatives will take your announcement of your holiday plans, and put your energy into figuring out how you will react to their reaction. You can't control them, but you can control yourself.

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