In small amounts, stress is good for us. The hormone cortisol invokes the fight-or-flight response, keeping us alert to what we perceive as danger. This is acute stress, which simply means relatively minor stress on a sporadic basis.
This type of stress kicks in when you’re about to give a speech or make toast in public. The thought of embarrassment makes you all the more determined to stay sharp and clear-minded.
However, chronic stress (prolonged periods of worry) often over nothing major can have very harmful effects on your health. Besides being a known gateway into depression, chronic stress raises your blood pressure and can cause you to have a stroke or a heart attack.
Chronic stress is habitual, so it will take some time to get rid of. Identifying what sets you off is one of the first steps you can take towards a lighter heart and a happier mind.
Keep a diary
Yes, this old chestnut again. Jot down everything that stresses you out in the day: traffic, your boss’s voice, the painfully slow barista, the lady who cuts queue when you’re already running late. It doesn’t have to be rational – you just have to note it down. You may also want to score each situation on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most stressful.
The idea is to get a look at the amount of stress you handle on any given day. Once you do, it’s likely that you will realize just how much and how soon you need some management techniques.
Look for patterns
After you’ve diligently noted everything for two weeks, look for patterns. What has stressed you out the most? Was it the ‘snail’s-pace’ barista? If so, why? Is it because you were running late? Or was it his general laidback attitude that annoyed you intensely?
If you were running late for an appointment, just start out 10 minutes earlier. Try it a few times and see if you feel better getting your coffee. If this doesn’t work, simply switch coffee places.
The idea is to look at what sets you off on a daily basis. Start your day stressed and there’s virtually zero chance of it getting better.
Thoughts become feelings very fast, and what follows negative feelings is usually stress and anger. For example: a colleague may have made a remark that sounded nasty and hurtful to you. You didn’t deal with it in the moment but now it’s in your mind festering.
You’re angry, you feel let down, you can’t believe that you have to work with such a person every single day. You’re probably at home losing sleep over this and unable to do anything because it’s the middle of the night.
This is as familiar a scenario as it gets.
So, when the thought of “vicious colleague” comes to mind, cut it off immediately. It will try and come back, so you need to be alert and cut it off again. Choose one of two ways to deal with it. Ask yourself if this colleague is the sort of person who’s in the habit of making such remarks.
If it’s a definitive “no”, then the remark was probably worded badly and not aimed at diminishing you.
If you can’t say for sure, tell yourself that you’ll approach this colleague as soon as you can. Prepare a script before you go. The last thing you need is for the situation to blow up and cause you more stress.
Say something like “Hey, you said something about my assignment this morning. It sounded like you were taking a dig at me. Did I get this wrong?”
This way, you’ll find out if you did indeed get it wrong. If you didn’t, you can tell this person that you won’t take any snarky attitude lying down. If they know they’ll be confronted after a certain type of behavior, chances are high that they won’t repeat it.
Let’s assume that you have a boss who speaks to you in a certain tone of voice. Others seem to be able to deal with it easily but try as you may, you just can’t tolerate it and it aggravates you on a daily basis… and you don’t know why.
In instances such as these, it may be useful to go through some of your stress issues with a counsellor. Another option is to do guided meditation with a certified practitioner who can help you figure out why you are particularly sensitive to that tone.
It may be that you were bullied as a kid and something about your boss’s voice reminds you of that. It could be that the tone brings back an incident that made you feel small and unworthy.
Your boss may not actually be trying to do any of those things, but that sound brings back emotions that puzzle and hurt you. Once you’ve identified the trigger, you can separate your boss from incidents of your past, and you will be able to listen to that voice without feeling fearful or upset.
It’s important that you work through these issues with a qualified practitioner. An app is no substitute and in this instance, could end up doing more harm. Stress is a fact of life. There’s no way to avoid it so the only thing you can do is prevent it from hurting you. You gotten through life this far and you will continue. Better days lie ahead.