Identifying unrelieved stress and being intellectually aware of its effect on our lives, is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management.
However, all require dedicated and disciplined attention: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
With all the stress management information and resources available, it can be hard to know where to start to create your personal stress management plan. We've all heard lots of good stress management advice: exercise, eat right, get organised, improve your time management skills, spend more time with your family, spend more time on yourself.
The list of dos and don’ts are endless. It can begin to sound inconsistent, confusing and even overwhelming. You may give up, deciding that trying to manage stress is only increasing your feelings of fear, worry and anxiety.
A practical start
If you decide to start taking control of the stress in your life, the following suggestions for creating your personal stress management plan should be considered:
Identify the major stressors or triggers in your life. Think about when, and why, you feel stressed. Do the stress assessment if you’re unsure in which dimension or aspect your stress lies. It’s important when identifying your stressors to become aware of the fact that no-one and nothing can cause stress in you unless you allow it. This can lead to realising the control you have over your stressors or triggers.
Start small. Make one or two conscious positive choices each day, such as substituting a junk food for a healthy snack or making time for a short walk every day, or listening to relaxation music on your way to work. You'll be surprised at how these tiny improvements help you to realise that you do have control over stressors and whether you allow things and people to cause you stress.
Concentrate on only one or two main areas at a time. Trying to revamp all areas of your life at once is likely to lead to failure. It isn't necessary to tackle the greatest or most difficult stressors first. It's more important that you choose a point of focus. For example, if your work is the major stressor in your life, first try improvements in other areas such as health, nutrition, using food supplements or family life. This might give you the energy and motivation you need to take on the bigger problems later.
Be specific. Eliminating stress entirely is not only impossible, but not even advisable. Decide what changes you'd like to make in the coming three months, six months and year. Set small attainable goals (short, medium and long term) and reward yourself. Be flexible and adapt your programme to your individual needs. After all, that’s what stress management is all about.
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(Ilse Pauw, Health24, updated March 2010)