How to Cope with Stress

May 7, 2009

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How people deal with stress greatly affects their well-being. Here are some strategies to help you deal with stress in a healthy manner, whether at home or on the job.

People are bombarded by anxieties everyday — from their workplace to their household and even themselves. The dismal state of the nation's economy has many people stressing about their jobs, finances and future, so much so that one-third of Americans are even losing sleep over it.

While many people consider stress to be a negative, some stress can be good for you. It can "spur you into action, motivate and energize you," the Mayo Clinic says.

It's often the build-up of the little things (acute stress) that can really "stress you out." Chronic stress, or long-term exposure to acute stress, is the "nagging, day-to-day life situations that often seem unrelenting," the Mayo Clinic adds. This type of stress can cause all sorts of problems that manifest physically (headache, fatigue), mentally (poor concentration), emotionally (irritability, depression) and socially (isolation, resentment).

Job stress alone has severe and very costly consequences, costing U.S. businesses more than $300 billion annually due to increased absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, medical, legal and insurance expenses and Workers' Compensation payments, according to the American Institute of Stress (AIS).

How people react to stressful situations of such anxiety, especially those that are always present, can add even more anxiety to the already stressful circumstance. Do you tense up? Do you binge on food? Are you reduced to tears?

While some people take everything in stride and don't let stress get the best of them, others fall apart. Most people fall somewhere in between.

"Understanding how you currently respond to stress — for better or worse — is the foundation for successful future stress management," the Mayo Clinic notes. "Once you identify how you cope with stressful situations, you can begin to think about alternative strategies."

The Mayo Clinic offers a stress assessment tool to help people better understand their stress. Dr. Paul Rosch, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and president of the AIS, suggests keeping a stress journal for keeping track of the things that stress you out (via BNET).

"You'll see certain patterns and themes," Rosch says. "If you have to accept certain things in your personal or work life, then maybe you can learn to change your reaction. Other problems can likely be avoided."

So what are some healthy coping techniques for dealing with stress?

The Mayo Clinic suggests exercise, relaxation techniques, fostering healthy friendships, getting plenty of sleep and professional counseling or psychotherapy. However, these do not work for everyone.

Sandra Naiman, author of a recently released book The High Achiever's Secret Codebook and an executive coach and organizational consultant, recommends that people must realize there are going to be moments of stress and learn to manage it on the spot (via Baltimore Sun). Naiman suggests that if you feel like stress is about to spill out, remove yourself from the situation and give yourself time to cool down.

Naiman also tells Computerworld that the best way to reduce stress is by attending to your physical and emotional well being. "Develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. Get plenty of exercise. Practice relaxation techniques on and off the job."

"Getting enough sleep, a proper diet, avoiding excess caffeine and other stimulants and taking time out to relax may be helpful" in reducing stress by preventing it, according to the AIS.

In this regard, not letting things build up is a key to reducing stress.

"Communicate to colleagues about what bothers you sooner rather than later," Naiman suggests. "Maintain your perspective and sense of humor."

Rosch says that people need to learn to say "no" in their workplace and elsewhere. "If the evening television newscast will only add to your tension, don't tune in," BNET adds. "If you're often stressed about time, force yourself to occasionally slow down. Not everything in life has a deadline."

Having a support network that allows you to vent is another healthy stress reliever. "It's important for you to be able to share your feelings with people you can trust," Rosch says. "Expressing what you're going through can be incredibly cathartic."

Earlier

On-the-Job Stress Tips

Top 10 Workplace Stresses and Irritations

Reduce the Stress of Your Commute

Resources

Five Ways to Deal with Stress by Andrew Tilin BNET

Dealing with Stress Tied to More Work and Less Help by Trif Alatzas Baltimore Sun, Feb. 24, 2009

Career Watch: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace by Jamie Eckle Computerworld, April 6, 2009

Stress: Win Control Over the Stress in Your Life by Mayo Clinic Staff Mayo Clinic, Sept. 12, 2008

The American Institute of Stress

Mayo Clinic: Stress Management

CDC and NIOSH: Stress at Work

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