If stress is running out of control, no matter what the situation, it can be tough to remain calm and in control.
People face stressful situations every day, and yet don’t display any outward signs of being out of control or fearful. Stress happens. It is a fact of life, but how can you control it and make it work for you?
#1 Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
The things we consume impact on our physical and emotional health. Common crutches in stressful situations are cigarettes, coffee and a glass (or two) of wine.
But they could be making your stress problem much worse. Alcohol is a depressant, nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, waking up your system more than it needs to be – and the effect is only short term. As soon as it wears off, you may reach for another coffee…
Try cutting out or reducing the amount of caffeinated drinks you consume – caffeine isn’t just in coffee, it is in tea, hot chocolate and energy drinks, so check the label – cut down or stop smoking, and consider giving up alcohol too.
#2 Increase physical activity
The last thing you feel like doing when stressed is physical activity. You may want to pull the curtains closed and curl up on the sofa and try to forget about it all. But, evidence shows that just half an hour of physical activity, especially in fresh air, can lift us out of the depths of stress and despair.
A stress management course will often talk about the benefits of physical activity, with a brisk walk in the fresh air sometimes being enough to offer a different perspective.
#3 Get more sleep
Stress interrupts our sleep. And a lack of sleep causes stress. You can see the vicious circle that it could become.
This doesn’t mean relying on medication, although for some people this can be the first step in dealing with lack of sleep. Simple things – avoiding caffeine after a certain time in the afternoon, making time for physical activity, warm baths, quiet time before bed and so on – can all have a big impact on falling asleep and having a restful nights sleep when we do.
#4 Try relaxation techniques
A stress management course will also talk about relaxation techniques, a proven way for some people to deal with the symptoms of stress.
There are all kinds available – just take a look online – or consider taking part in yoga or meditation sessions.
#5 Start talking
We become stressed for all kinds of reasons. What can exacerbate it is when we shut down, assuming that no one else is interested or that there is no way that you can be helped.
Talking with friends is one thing, but seeking professional help is sometimes needed. Consider finding a local counsellor or use a telephone listening service such as Anxiety UK. Men find it difficult to talk, thinking that by admitting they struggle to cope that they are somehow weak and not manly enough. CALM is specifically for young men aged 15 to 35 and there is the Men’s Health Forum too.
#6 Keep a ‘stress diary’
Understanding when and possibly why you become stressed or anxious in some situations is important. This is why some people keep a stress diary. It can be handy to note down a particularly stressful episode, and how you reacted physically and emotionally. Be wary however that sometimes, stress just leaps up when you least expect it, so there may not be a pattern. You may identify common triggers that can be useful to discuss with a health professional.
#7 Take control
Stress is at its worse when you feel out of control, either physically or mentally (or both). Learning to take back control is an important step and one that is covered in a stress management course.
In fact, by being a student on such a course itself, you are beginning to take back control, learning new skills on how to handle stress in many different kinds of situations.
Not always a bad thing
Remember, some stress is good. It is the thing that drives you forward and through difficult times, whether that is a sleepless night before a major job interview or presentation, or the thing that gets you through your driving test.
But, when it grips you and you cannot explain why, when it means you avoid certain situations or people, it has gone from being a positive form of stress to being a negative one. Grasp it and meet it head on – and get help, if you need to.