Stress and anxiety are challenges that nearly every one of us face at some point in our lives. After all, modern life is filled with things that can pull us in a million different directions, until we feel like we’re constantly playing catch up.
In fact, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, 48% feel their stress has increased over the past five years, and a whopping 1/3 of us feel we’re living with “extreme stress.” Clearly, stress is a big problem that needs to be handled in order to maximize our physical and mental wellbeing. But how?
Dealing with Stress
Whenever we experience stress, the key to healthy management is based squarely on our perception. In other words, when stress occurs, we’re basically left with only 2 decisions:
- We take responsibility for our stress by honestly asking ourselves how we got into this situation, and what we can learn from it, or
- We become a victim and place the blame on whatever makes us feel better, such as other people, the government, etc.
If we choose the first option, we allow ourselves to proactively find a solution and to learn from the experience. On the other hand, choosing the second option doesn’t give us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, which means our stress-based challenges will become a recurring theme, and we’ll continue to repeat our mistakes again and again.
The Link Between Stress Management & Self Efficacy
According to Dr. Albert Bandura, how we perceive our ability to handle stress (as well as other life events) is something known as self-efficacy:
“Your self-efficacy is your belief in your own effectiveness as a person, both generally in terms of managing your life, and specifically with regard to competently dealing with individual tasks. In the context of stress, self-efficacy describes your beliefs about your ability to handle stressful situations. A large amount of research has demonstrated quite convincingly that possessing high levels of self-efficacy acts to decrease people’s potential for experiencing negative stress feelings by increasing their sense of being in control of the situations they encounter.”
However, the self-efficacy / stress connection can often seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario. In other words, how can you cope with your stress without first becoming self-efficacious? Or, how can you become self-efficacious without experiencing stress?
Let’s take a look.
Coping Mechanisms for Handling Stress
To help make the situation as simple as possible, here are four tried-and-true stress management techniques you can use to reduce your stress levels, while uncovering your inherent power to deal with future stress.
Stress Management Technique #1
First and foremost (although this can be the hardest thing to do), you need to take care of yourself. Stress can make you feel like lounging on the couch all day while eating an entire box of Oreos. And while this might provide some short-term comfort, the reality is that it can actually make your stress worse.
Instead, if you’re feeling some intense stress, eat healthy, well-balances meals, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs, and “go inside” using some type of reflection or meditation exercise.
Stress Management Technique #2
Next, don’t keep your stress bottled up inside. Instead, reach out to someone with a listening ear, such as a close friend, family member, professional counselor, or a representative of your religion.
However, as we discussed above, this step shouldn’t be about “woe is me” (remember, you’re taking responsibility for your situation), but it’s perfectly healthy to get things off your chest and vent for a moment or two.
Stress Management Technique #3
Once you’ve taken care of your physical wellbeing and gotten things off your chest, focus on the little things you can change to reduce your stress. In other words, set small, realistic goals that can give you a sense of accomplishment.
This could be as simple as cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, or washing the car. The point is to help give you a sense of control, however small. And although it might not seem like it, these small accomplishments can go a long way toward reducing your stress.
Stress Management Technique #4
Finally, although you’re taking responsibility for your stress, there are many times you’ll simply need to accept the things you can’t change, keep your head high, and make it through it.
For example, if you just received a promotion at work and also have a newborn at home, there’s very little you can do other than to change your mindset, enjoy your time with your little one (they grow up so fast!), pat yourself on the back for a job well done at work, and realize that these times will eventually pass. And although you probably won’t be able to see it now, 10 years from now, you might just look back on these times and watch a smile creep across your face.
Remember, it’s all about perspective!
Do You Need Help Managing Your Stress?
If you’ve taken the above steps but still aren’t getting the stress relief you need, be sure to call Advanced Family Medicine at (425) 453-6838 to schedule an appointment. We’ll be happy to help and provide you with real-world, actionable methods you can use to reduce your stress and lead a happier, healthier life.