6 Tips for Dealing With Stressful Situations

You know how the old saying goes. There are only two certainties in life - death and taxes. You could safely add another certainty to the list. Stress. 
 
A completely stress free life is not possible. It’s not even desirable, since stress can be a source of motivation and inspiration. But we are not talking about the good kind of stress - the exciting kind (ex. rollercoaster or playing sports). We are talking about the kind of stress that reduces your quality of life. The kind that makes you say, "My life would be better if I could only get past this."
 
There are different types of stress. Do you know the differences? Let’s quickly review them, as described by the American Psychological Association,
 

What are the Types of Stress?

Acute Stress
“Acute stress is the most common form of stress. It comes from demands and pressures of the recent past and anticipated demands and pressures of the near future. Acute stress is thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting.
 
Because it is short term, acute stress doesn't have enough time to do the extensive damage associated with long-term stress.”
 
Episodic Stress
“There are those, however, who suffer acute stress frequently, whose lives are so disordered that they are studies in chaos and crisis. They're always in a rush, but always late. If something can go wrong, it does. They take on too much, have too many irons in the fire, and can't organize the slew of self-inflicted demands and pressures clamoring for their attention. 
 
The symptoms of episodic acute stress are the symptoms of extended over arousal: persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. 
 
Often, lifestyle and personality issues are so ingrained and habitual with these individuals that they see nothing wrong with the way they conduct their lives. They blame their woes on other people and external events. 
 
Treating episodic acute stress requires intervention on a number of levels, generally requiring professional help, which may take many months.”
 
Chronic Stress
"While acute stress can be thrilling and exciting, chronic stress is not. This is the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition. It's the stress of poverty, of dysfunctional families, of being trapped in an unhappy marriage or in a despised job or career. Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation."
 
Below are 6 tips that can help you manage stress. But please, if you are in a situation where you feel like there is no way out, we highly encourage you to consider some outside help. It is not a sign of weakness to seek out external support and guidance. Rather, it is a sign of personal awareness and strength to know our limits and find ways to get better. 
 

Tips for Stress Management

1 - Know what you can control
When things go wrong, repeat this mantra to yourself “I can’t control what happens, I can only control how I respond”.
 
Whether you’re dealing with a medical crisis, an impossibly hard-headed person or tragic circumstances that elevate your stress level, you must recognize what is within your control and what is not.  Bad things will happen that are out of your control. Your response to these circumstances is the only thing you can control. 
 
2 - Be Grateful
In an earlier blog article, 5 Ways to Stay Happy Supported by Science, we discussed gratitude and how it can improve your happiness.  But gratitude can also help reduce your stress level.  When we express gratitude, we are actually widening our point of view beyond the self and concentrating on our connection to everything and everyone else.  Seeing ourselves as part of a larger picture can help take our focus off of our own struggles.
 
Remind yourself in the morning of what you are grateful for to help put life in perspective.
 
3 - Sleep
Stress can cause reduced or poor sleep. Lack of sleep makes us less able to deal with stress. The result is that we get more stressed and we can’t sleep. 
 
Well, isn’t that just great. We now have a vicious cycle. 
 
Breaking the cycle by sleeping more can give us the energy, focus and outlook to deal with stressful circumstances. We can more easily see solutions and put them into place. Being rested gives us the resilience to take life’s punches and say “Is that all you got?”.
 
As per the Mayo Clinic, make a commitment to do the following to get better sleep.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule
Keeping to a schedule makes a big difference for most. The reason that travel and time zones negatively affect people’s sleep is that your body is off it’s regular schedule.
 
Have a wind down routine that signals your body to get ready for sleep.
  • Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don’t eat too much close to bed time. The stimulating effects of caffeine and nicotine can last for hours, so avoid those. Alcohol can help get you to sleep but the sleep quality will often be poor and you will wake up tired.
  • Create a bedtime ritual
The body responds well to consistency.
  • Get comfortable
This can include a good bed, dark room (use dark shades or a sleeping mask if necessary), the right pillow, the right temperature (cool), quiet (or use earplug or a white noise generator to mask the noise), 
  • Limit daytime naps
Makes sense. You need to be tired if you are going to have an easier time when it is time to sleep at night.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine
Getting enough exercise is not new advice, but it makes so much sense. You don't need to beat yourself up at the gym. Nothing wrong with that but don't be intimidated. Do something for twenty minutes a day that gets your heart rate up and breaks a bit of a sweat. Just don't exercise too close to bedtime, since the increase in adrenalin can be a problem.
 
  • Manage stress
Thanks, Mayo Clinic. That’s what we are trying to do here!
 
4 - Use these strategies to relax
When the pressure ramps up, there are things you can do to break the cycle and help yourself feel better. Or, at the very least, distract you so you don’t think about it too much. Taking a mental break can help you see solutions. It is tough to come up with ideas when stress is all you can think about.
 
  • Have a hot bath
  • Hit the gym
  • Go for a walk
  • Watch a favourite movie or TV show
  • Paint or draw
  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Go for a drive
  • Meditate
  • Clean your house (believe it or not, it can be relaxing!)
  • Talk to a friend
  • Play with a pet
  • Do some gardening
  • Play an instrument
  • Toss around a Frisbee
  • Go swimming
  • Knit
  • Play your favourite sports
  • Go to the movies
  • Do some free-writing
  • Make your favourite meal
  • Cuddle with a special someone
  • Play a board game
  • Go dancing
  • Drink some tea
  • Read a book
  • Write a letter to a friend
5 - Problem solve your way out of stress
This article on psychcentral.com describes several tips for managing stress.  One important area to consider is problem solving.  While there are some situations that can’t be changed, such as a family health emergency, there are often small steps that we can take to improve our situation. 
 
Make a list of what is stressing you out. Prioritize them.
 
Brainstorm possible solutions and ways to help. This may mean absolving yourself from certain commitments, planning relaxing activities, explaining your feelings to that bothersome person, etc.
 
Evaluate your results.  Did your solution work?  If not, try brainstorming again.
 
Remember – although you may not be able to eliminate your stressor this way, small acts can have a big impact and go a long way towards improving your overall mental health.
 
6 - Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak with a trusted friend, family doctor or counsellor. On a day to day level, you may find relief in simple things like asking your family to help out more around the house, having the grandparents take the kids for the weekend, etc. Remember, you can’t do everything alone, and the people in your life will be eager to help.
 
Wrap up
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, remember that there are things you can do to take control. Some strategies can offer some immediate relief while others are part of a more comprehensive strategy. Stress can make for a bad day, or grind you down and take the joy out of life. Don't let it win!