Managing stress, creating balance
Stress affects all areas of life, including our physical, emotional and mental well-being. People experiencing stress may find themselves acting in less than helpful or productive ways in response to the stress. View a stress flow chart, which summarizes this process.
It is important to note that individuals under chronic stress who also are predisposed to depression or who have had a previous depressive episode, are more likely to have an episode of depression. Also, some people under stress exhibit signs of anxiety. Irritability and anger outbursts are also common responses to stress. All of this underscores the importance of developing a comprehensive stress management plan.
To manage the many effects of stress, especially chronic stress, we must intervene at all levels through positive stress coping. By doing so, we will also have the opportunity to create balance in our lives. In other words, managing stress in positive life-affirming ways can actually make us healthier and happier.
Maintaining balance in one's life is an ongoing daily process. And, like making any positive life change, it requires the liberal use of the "Three P's"... practice, patience and persistence.
Working through the material contained in this toolkit offers you the opportunity to develop a personal stress management plan. You will be asked to print out several documents & complete a worksheet. So, let's get started.
Identifying challenges & stressors
The first step to learning about stress & its effects is to identify the challenges & stressors of your life. Stressors can be either internal or external.
- Internal stressors include physical well-being & negative thinking and self-talk. To learn more about the role negative thinking plays in stress management, view the Thought-Feeling-Action Connection document.
Managing negative thinking is an essential component of stress management because as our thinking about a stressor becomes more negative our negative stress response intensifies. Negative thinking can also trigger the fight or flight response (see the stress flow chart).
- External stressors are the "people, places & things" of life. These are the things we normally associate with stress.
Click here to print the creating balance worksheet, so that you can begin to create your personal stress management plan.
Identify the challenges and stressors you are experiencing in your life, filling in the first box on the creating balance worksheet.
Identify your stress warning signs
Now that you know your stress triggers, you can identify your unique stress warning signs. Click here to view stress warning signs.
As you can see, there are four main categories of stress warning signs, including physical, emotional, mental and behavioral. Identifying these is extremely important, because they will help you be more aware when you are experiencing stress. This is an essential step in beginning to do something different in response to stress.
Next, choose which stress warning signs apply to you and write them on the creating balance worksheet in the second set of boxes. You may want to rate each of your warning signs according to how soon they occur.
- For the earliest warning signs (ex: sweaty palms, short breaths, racing heart)
- For the warning signs that come on in the middle of the process (ex: irritability, muscle twitches, inattentiveness)
- For the latest warning signs (ex: stomach problems, headaches, apathy)
Thus far, you've identified the stressors in your life, as well as the warning signs that you are becoming stressed. Now we can move on to identifying what to do to manage stress. Remember that in the process of developing a comprehensive stress management plan, you will naturally be creating more life balance. Click here to print the creating balance document.
As you review this page, take a moment and think of a table with four legs. Each leg serves an important role in creating balance for the table and anything sitting atop it. Likewise, each of the four different columns of positive coping skills on the Creating Balance document will play an important role in creating more balance in your life.
Next, identify which coping skills you'd like to try and what you are willing to begin doing within the next month. Choose from the items on the Creating Balance document. Remember to choose from each of the four columns. Include things that you may already be doing that help you. Write these in the final boxes on your Creating Balance Worksheet.
Increasing physical activity is an excellent way to manage stress and improve your overall health. If you have any medical issues or health problems please consult with a physician before beginning an exercise program. Once you are ready to start, click here to access numerous resources on exercise.
Here are a few more resources to help you learn about specific coping skills you may choose.
- Deep breathing
- Rapid stress management
- Stress management plan worksheet
- Stress management – five points to remember
Whenever attempting to make a change in one's life, it is important to utilize the "Three P's"... practice, patience and persistence.
- Practice – Adding a new behavior or changing an attitude requires repetition. So, practice, practice, practice.
- Patience – Be patient with yourself. Making change is not easy and it takes time. Go at whatever rate of change is best for you. The most important thing is that you stick with it at a pace that works for you.
- Persistence – Sticking with it, refusing to give up, committing to your well being are all ways of being persistent in change. Even if you get knocked off track by life events, you can get back with your program of positive change. Be persistent!