10 tips for managing stress

Even though a positive attitude can go a long way towards making us feel calmer and more balanced, stress will inevitably affect us all at some point.

Stress is a feeling that arises when we feel overwhelmed and burdened by how much we have on our plate, or a particular situation we can’t control. When we feel stressed, our body reacts in a very primal way – going into ‘flight or fight’ mode as a way of protecting us from a physical threat.

While this stress response can sometimes be beneficial in the short term (helping us meet an urgent deadline or react quickly in an emergency situation), long-term stress can have a whole range of physical and emotional side-effects – such as memory problems, insomnia, anxiety, depression, constant worry, aches and pains, chest pain, loss of appetite, and more.

Plus, according to a Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey, conducted last year by the Australian Psychological Society, stress in Australia is on the rise. The report says that in 2013, Australians reported significantly higher levels of stress and distress compared with findings in 2012 and 2011.

In today’s busy world, people often forget to de-stress. So to help, we’ve put together these 10 tips for managing and overcoming stress – to help you live a happier, healthier and more positive life.

1. Write a to-do list

Having too much to do – either at home, work, or even socially – can be a key cause of stress and anxiety. It’s easy to feel like you’re drowning in responsibilities and tasks, especially if you’re relying on a scattergun approach when it comes to tackling them.

To help manage and alleviate stress, it can help to write yourself a to-do list and identify the items that are causing you the most worry. Categorise your to-do list into items of “low”, “medium” and “high” importance. Think carefully about when each item actually needs to be completed, and write a timeline. See if there’s anything you can move or remove entirely.

2. Get on top of your personal admin

Taking the time to get some order into your life can be vitally important – and can significantly help reduce your ongoing stress. If possible, try to set aside some time in your diary when you’ll be free to tackle your personal admin. Write yourself a list of people to contact, and items to achieve. This could include, for instance, setting up a new bank account, filling in school application forms for your kids, organising your will, or even arranging your life insurance.

3. Eat well

A diet rich in nutrients can help us feel healthier and give us the energy we need to tackle a mounting workload. Yet when we’re stressed, our healthy diet is often one of the first things to go out the window.

Rather than relying on takeaway meals or high calorie snacks, or rushing to the shops every few days (often another consequence of being stressed), try to set aside a little time to plan your meals, and ensure your fridge and pantry are well stocked with quick and nutritious meals and snacks.

Also, try to always make time for breakfast. This will give you the energy you need to tackle the day. You could also try to cook larger meals in the evening so you’ve got leftovers on hand for lunches. And where possible, minimise your caffeine, alcohol and sugar intake – which can all put extra stress on the body.

4. Get enough sleep

Sleep is an extremely important way of alleviating and managing stress. If you’re overworked and have plenty to do, it can of course be difficult to get the sleep you need – but actually getting enough sleep, and ensuring you’re well rested, can help you tackle your workload more effectively. The hours before midnight can often be the most valuable, so if possible, try to get to bed at a reasonable hour rather than sleeping in the next day.

5. Ask for help

Sometimes, we all need a little help – whether it’s asking a friend to look after your kids for a few hours while you clean the house or do some chores, or even delegating some of your workload in the office. If you can afford it, hiring a cleaner or using a laundry service can also help you regain a sense of control at home, if you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed.

6. Exercise/relax

While it’s sometimes hard to take a step back, some exercise, deep breathing and relaxation techniques can make a world of difference in terms of your productivity and sense of calm. Sometimes, it can be as simple as taking a quick walk around the block at lunch, or setting aside some time to exercise before work in the morning. Activities like yoga and meditation can also be great for focusing the mind, and eliminating stress.

7. Think positively

When we’re stressed, it’s sometimes hard to be positive and focused. However, to manage stress on an ongoing basis, it’s important to maintain a positive, optimistic perspective. As part of this, try to focus on the individual tasks in your to-do list, rather than worrying about ‘what if’ scenarios. Think about how you’ll feel when each item is done. Then every time you tick something significant off your list, take a few minutes to congratulate and reward yourself in some way.

8. Recognise and communicate your stress

Sometimes, a key factor to dealing with stress is to recognise it in the first place. Stress has a habit of creeping up on us, and before we realise it, stress can almost feel like a normal part of life. For this reason, it’s important to acknowledge your stress, take a deep breath, and think about how you’re going to tackle it – rather than letting it continue unchecked. Plus, by making the effort to let your partner or family members know that you’re feeling particularly stressed, they can help provide the support you need to manage and overcome your stress effectively.

9. Give yourself some ‘me’ time

Often, stress can simply be caused when we have too much work, and too little play! While a little time out can certainly help recharge the batteries, it’s often hard to find the time – or to follow through with it. To avoid this, make sure you pre-book some “me time” in your diary, and be sure to stick to it as you would any other appointment. You could treat yourself to a massage, a haircut, a run, swim, or anything else that’s completely all about you, and guaranteed to make you feel a little more in control, and a little less frazzled.

10. Breathe!

Your breathing can make a big difference when it comes to dealing with stress. When we’re stressed, we tend to take short, shallow breaths – which reduces the amount of oxygen that flows in and out of our body. When you start to feel stressed or panicked, sit up straight and take a few deep breaths in and out. If you can, close your eyes. Try to relax your entire body, starting with your fingers, down your spine, and into your feet and toes. You may also like to take a few minutes to imagine yourself in a “happy place” – a setting where you are guaranteed to feel truly relaxed and content.

Of course, like many things in our lives, stress is very habit-forming. By becoming aware of your stress, and taking active steps to manage it, you may soon find that it seems to disappear altogether.

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