Managing stress Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Stress is regarded as one of the major new-age diseases. While there is positive stress that functions as motivation to achieve, there is also the detrimental negative stress that can lead to immense personal and professional loss. And if one is heading down that path, then one surely needs guidance to manage stress and reduce it to a healthy level.

First, some good news: while everyday hassles, such as traffic, lousy weather, lost keys or computer crashes when a deadline is near, are exasperating, they do not pose a threat to health. But other stressful experiences or situations do increase the risk of illness when they severely disrupt a person’s life, when they are uncontrollable or when they are chronic (lasting at least six months). Some of these stressors can be work-related problems, noise, bereavement and loss, poverty, feelings of powerlessness, divorce, retirement, change in job, major family celebrations, and even minor violations of the law.

“Basically, stress is the wear and tear our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment,” says Crystal Manning, an account executive for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. “It has physical and emotional effects.”

Smart Business spoke with Manning about stress management.

What is stress management?

Stress management encompasses techniques intended to equip a person with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with psychological stress response. Stress management is effective when a person utilizes strategies to cope with or alter stressful situations. To effectively manage stress, you may need to make emotional and physical changes. The degree of the stress and the desire to make the changes will determine the level of change that will take place.

What factors into stress management?

There are three main factors — attitude, physical well-being and time management.

  • Attitude. The attitude of an individual can influence whether a situation or emotion is stressful. Having a negative attitude can predict stress in a person, because this type of person will often report more stress than would someone with a positive attitude. Most people think that stress is something that just happened to them. But another way of looking at stress would be as something in you, something that depends on your thoughts and emotions. For example, do you see your work as an endless set of assignments you will never complete or as a challenging task to master? The answer will affect how stressed you are.

  • Physical well-being. A poor diet places the body in a state of physical stress with a weakened immune system. As a result, one may be more susceptible to infections. A poor diet can be related to unhealthy food choices, not eating enough or an unpredictable eating schedule. Some people exposed to major stressors are sick for months; others don’t even get the sniffles. So take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat well, exercise, don’t smoke and limit alcohol use. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress. Take a walk (with someone or alone) to clear your mind. You will find you have more energy to accomplish the next stressful task.

  • Time management. Understanding how to manage your time is another way to help control stress. This involves learning to set limits, saying no to some demands that others make and clearly organizing and prioritizing your day. Learn better ways to manage your time. You may get more done with less stress if you make a schedule. Keep in mind that this is to help with stress; if the schedule is stressful, find a solution that works for you.

So how can one cope with overwhelming stress?

Look at how you deal with stress. Be honest about what works. Try new ways of thinking. When you find yourself starting to worry, try to stop the thoughts. Work on letting go of things you cannot change. Ask for help. People who have a strong network of family and friends manage stress better. They can offer concern and affection. They can help you evaluate problems and plan a course of action. Let your feelings out. Talk, laugh, cry and express anger when you need to; even writing helps you express your feelings. Find that special person that you can hug. One of the greatest benefits of social support is the physical affection and comfort it provides.

Do something you enjoy. Hobbies are a great way to relax. Volunteer work or work that helps others is a great stress reliever. It’s a perfect way to give support to others, rather than always being on the receiving end.

Another stress reliever is learning how to relax your body. Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, massages, chiropractic visits, yoga, aromatherapy or relaxing exercises such as tai chi and gi gong are ways to relax and reduce stress. Focus on the present. Listen to relaxing music. Meditate, pray or try imagery exercises or self-hypnosis — whatever works for you.

Successful coping does not mean eliminating all stress. It does not mean constant happiness or a life without pain. Optimistic people live longer and are more likely to stay healthy. The healthy person faces problems, deals with them and gets beyond them. How we handle our stress is a test of our humanity. Be optimistic, laugh and keep smiling.

CRYSTAL MANNING is an account executive for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach her at (412) 456-7254 or crystal.manning@jrgadvisors.net.