How to Manage Your Stress

stress ballI see so many people whose lives are not the way they want – time too short, life too busy or out of balance, lack of down-time, not seeing friends and family.  We are busy and many of us are stressed.

Over my next couple or so articles I’ll be introducing you to some practical ways you can manage your stress.

If you have any of the following signs and symptoms you’re probably feeling stressed:

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Sleeplessness
  • Breathlessness
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle tension or discomfort
  • Frequent headaches or illness
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Change in appetite
  • Increased smoking or drinking
  • Feelings of being unable to cope
  • Being irritated by small things
  • Difficulty in concentrating or remembering
  • Constant tiredness
  • Inability to finish tasks
  • Frequent accidents
  • Doing too many things at once
  • Awareness of heart beating

If you’d like to know more about how high your current stress levels are, take this quick stress quiz.

Managing your stress is important, because otherwise this can lead to major health problems and the knock-on effect on you, your family and your work/business can be very damaging. Stress can lead to a lowered sense of wellbeing, breakdown of relationships, and illness. Stress is now the biggest single cause of sickness in Europe. The Health & Safety Executive reports over 10 million working days lost to stress each year at a cost of at least £3.6 billion (2010/11). If you manage people, you have a legal obligation to ensure their health and safety at work, including minimising any stress issues.

So what can you do about your stress?

Let’s think first about how you influence your stress levels through your thoughts, beliefs and actions.

How we respond to any situation depends on what we think and believe, which impacts how we feel about the situation, which in turn impacts how we (and our bodies) behave.

For instance, one person preparing to give a public speech may believe they can do the task confidently and well, so their thoughts are along the lines “I can do it; this is going to be a good talk”.  Consequently they feel relatively calm with just enough adrenalin to deliver a good performance.

Another person in the same situation may believe they will be unable to give the talk, so they think “I can’t do this; I’m far too nervous, I’ll just dry up”.  As a result they feel completely debilitated with nerves and either fail to even give the talk or become tongue-tied and their speech is poorly received.

The person in the first scenario feels low stress levels whereas the person in the second scenario will feel extremely high stress levels. Every cell in their body is shouting “Run!”.

One of the first steps to managing stress is to become aware of how your own thoughts, beliefs and behaviours are impacting your stress levels. With that awareness, you can choose to challenge your self-defeating thoughts and beliefs to enable you to cope significantly better in otherwise stressful situations.

For example the person in the second scenario could ask herself what evidence she has for believing that she will be unable to give the talk. It may be that she is basing all her thoughts and beliefs on just one occasion.  Through sweeping generalisation, she’s convinced herself she always will give bad talks.  She then unconsciously sets that outcome up for herself by ‘talking herself’ into a poor speech – “I can’t do it.  I’m not good at giving talks” and then imagining that is just what will happen.

She can ask what thoughts might be more conducive to a better outcome.  For instance, “I might not have given a talk I was really proud of before, but this is now my chance to give a good talk”.  She may also find it worth asking herself how her thoughts and beliefs are helping her, and what she could think instead in order to empower herself.

From that more positive place, she can choose what actions she will take to help her achieve her best outcome.  For example, repeatedly telling herself she can give a good talk, preparing thoroughly, imagining it going well and feeling in control.

There is much about your stress levels that is within your control.  Hold on to that power base and don’t give it away.

Do let me have your thoughts on this.

Next time I’ll be sharing how you can lower your stress through reducing the demands on you.

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