Life happens, which means that you will inevitably always encounter challenges, problems and unexpected events. Stressors are all around us, too, even on days when the stars have aligned and things go smoothly. Stressors and stress are often used interchangeably, but there is a fundamental difference between the two. Stressors, sometimes referred to as “triggers,” are demanding events, situations or even people. Stress is the response you have to your stressors. The tricky thing about both is recognizing what is harmful and what is not.
This is how stress works: when you encounter a perceived threat or stressor, your brain sets off an alarm in the body. The body goes into a defensive action, known as the fight or flight response, and triggers the release of hormones, mainly adrenaline and cortisol. This response keeps you focused and alert. It also enables you to perform under pressure or react if you sense danger. When the perceived threat is gone, the body returns to normal.
Not all stressors are bad. Starting a new job or getting a promotion can be exciting, however the body cannot distinguish between different types of stressors. Stress becomes harmful when the fight or flight response stays activated, even at a low level. Prolonged and constant stress can affect the body’s entire system and lead to serious health issues. The most dangerous thing is how easily it can creep up. You can get used to it and it can even feel normal.
Healthy Ways To Manage Stress
Managing stress is critical. In March 2020, our lives quickly became unpredictable and overwhelming. The American Psychological Association (APA) warned we were facing a national mental health crisis due to persistent stress caused by the pandemic and other factors. Two years later, the APA revealed many Americans have been relying on unhealthy habits to get them through and it is affecting their mental and physical health.
Even before the health crisis, my approach to stress management has been to manage the stressors and manage my response to the stressors. Let me explain how this is done.
- First, identify all the stressors in your life (e.g., those demanding events, situations, or people).
- Then, determine which ones can be changed or eliminated. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed with your daily schedule, look for ways to create some room. What can you delegate or remove? Whenever I begin to feel constant stress from an overly packed schedule, I ask for help or scale back. Sometimes it requires taking an honest assessment to determine those things that are draining or unproductive (e.g., social media time).
- Next, look at the stressors you cannot change, such as irate customers or traffic jams. Your ability to cope with these stressors in healthy ways is vitally important since they are unavoidable.
Instant relievers are quick fixes to relieve stress, such as deep breathing and laughter. The next time you are feeling anxious, try to redirect your thoughts to something pleasant or funny. Humor is a great coping mechanism in times of crisis. Task-oriented strategies can help you to be more organized and prepared. They include prioritizing and chunking tasks. If I feel stressed when tackling a large assignment, breaking it into smaller parts helps it feel more manageable. Holistic strategies are natural stress relievers. They include exercise, healthy eating, relaxation and sleep.
Managing stress is a significant factor to maintaining your mental and overall health. Begin by identifying your stressors or the top things that simply overwhelm you. Write them down. Make changes to the stressors you can control and for those you cannot, determine ways to manage or cope in a healthy manner.
Our upcoming SmartSessions webinar will provide valuable insight and strategies to help you manage stress and maintain balance. Join us on July 26 at 11:00 am CST for The Balancing Act of Work and Home.