As we near the end of the year, the increasing number of demands placed on us may grow overwhelming. Many people, whilst looking forward to the holidays and being outwardly jovial, are under a terrible amount of stress as they struggle through their daily activities. This week's newsletter explores the sources of stress and shares some good ways to keep it in check.
At this time of year, more than ever, it is important to understand and actively manage stress on a daily basis. If you already realise this but don't know where to start, don't get stressed about trying to de-stress - read this article for some valuable information on the sources of this problem and strategies for dealing with it.
The sources of stress are myriad - exams, your career, parents, family, mounting costs of holidays and presents, travelling, the state of the world, getting everything ready for year-end - but the result is universal.
When you are stressed you suffer mentally, physically and emotionally. The strain of constant worry slowly wears you down. You struggle to sleep, develop poor eating habits, become highly irritable and snap at those around you, have difficulty concentrating, and so forth.
So, is there a one-size-fits-all formula for handling stress? Research shows that there isn't. No one method can be used by all people to deal with all stressors. Fortunately though, forming a few simple habits can help you to lower your general anxiety levels:
These insights are particularly useful to people studying for exams. Put your material in front of you and just don't stop until you know it. After a while, you will feel it all begin to fall into place as the connections between all this new knowledge become clear to you. The key to effective study is to remain curious and open to learning. By being negative about learning or a specific subject or area you are only encouraging your mind to resist and you are wasting precious mental energy on trying to control something that you can't.
If you want to understand stress, it is instructive to begin by looking at what causes it.
The theory goes that, in everybody's environment, there are stressors - things that make you anxious - and that the combination of stressors in your life may sometimes become more than you are able to cope with.
You can therefore only begin to deal with stress once you identify the different stressors confronting you. You can then begin eliminating unnecessary stressors so that you can focus on what really matters. For example, it may be worthwhile to organise your textbooks so you can study more effectively or to de-clutter your filing system so that you can pay your bills on time. Eliminating or reducing a stress factor frees up energy to focus on more important parts of your life.
The primary stressors that most of us face include:
If you feel overworked, isolate the source(s) of this feeling. Do you really have too much to do or are you taking on more than you can handle? It is important to manage your workload and to be realistic about how much you can do. Prioritise - maybe there are things that do not have to happen right now, maybe you are taking responsibility for someone else's work, or maybe you are putting too much effort into something that only requires a minor amount of attention. As you begin to assign only as much time and energy to a task as it deserves, you will feel your load start to lessen and your stress will dissipate. Shelve things that can be delayed, eliminate things that shouldn't be your problem, and focus on what is really important right now. Accept that there is only so much that you can achieve under your particular set of circumstances.
Time pressure and deadlines tend to mount when we procrastinate. We spend more time dreading deadlines than actually managing them. Force yourself to get going, even if it is only in a small way. Starting is a large part of the battle won. Enlisting the help of others and working in teams will also help to lessen the load (and the stress) considerably.
You have much more support than you think. When you are struggling to cope, reach out to people you can trust. Build strong relationships that you can lean on when times get tough. If, for example, you are a student, remember that other students are facing the same challenges as you are. A highly effective practice is to form a study group and share out the work to make it more manageable. The same applies to working parents supporting one another by taking turns to transport and look after each other's children.
If you really do not have support in your immediate circle - there are still organisations and professionals who are there to help. Life coaching, for example, is a great way to learn how to manage your stressors. Aftercare and shuttle services can also be extremely helpful - remember that you can't do it all on your own!
We are often unclear on what is expected of us. When we start looking at it holistically, it may be more or less than we expected. Once again, breaking it down into smaller steps may make it much easier to achieve. The most important thing is to make sure that you have a clear grasp of what is required of you. Are you expected to read each chapter and to be able to quote each writer or are you expected to understand the concept? Expectations and our lack of understanding of them is a great stressor.
Often people have an exaggerated sense of responsibility and this blinds them. While it is important to focus on every aspect of life, stress tends to highlight every little problem and we believe that we need to solve everything - and that we have an obligation to do so. This is counter-productive. Stay focussed and determined and remember that other people's problems are not yours to solve.
Disruptions are a great stressor. If you can, remove or minimise sources of disruption. Also, realise that an hour of focused work without disruption is much, much more productive than four hours of disrupted stop-start work. It may thus be worthwhile to go and have a picnic, have fun and then come back and finish your work in a two-hour power session (just remember that eating and drinking make you sluggish). Work when you work and play when you play.
The irony is that the less you stress, the more able you are to deal with everything around you; i.e. the less you stress the less you stress! So the secret to effectively handling life's challenges as they are thrown at you is to keep your stress levels low at all times:
The ultimate truth when it comes to dealing with stress is that all situations in life, whether good or bad, will eventually pass. Remembering this should help you to put your troubles into perspective and so not waste emotion on transient events. Don't let it get to you!
Supplied by Regenesys Business School
Phone: 011 669 5001