We are all faced with many stressors, day after day, year after year. The holidays typically bring about an additional set of stressors that can be time related, financially related or having to do with those to whom you are related.
Stressors tend to hang around and are usually eating away at you as you go through your days, often even keeping you up at night. You may be so “stressed out” that your health is suffering or you have developed anxiety, depression stemming from overwhelm or are constantly irritable.
Your stressors or how you deal with your stressors may be by now an ingrained pattern that you aren’t sure how to alter. You may have been brought up in a dysfunctional background that caused stress or contained numerous stressors. You may never have learned how to manage stress in healthy ways. You may have been overwhelmed with so much emotional pain or chaos that stress management was way down on the list of things to address.
There are 3 Main Ways to Categorize and Manage Stress
I don’t want to oversimplify, but when faced with a stressor or major problem, the first step is going to be to break it down into its component parts. It becomes more manageable this way and allows you to address it rationally. This will allow you to see if the parts or at least one part is under your control, if none of it is under your control or if something can be gotten under control. When pulled apart and examined this way the stressor should then fall into one of 3 categories.
A stressor that needs to be altered: These stressors can be controlled, you need to put on your problem solving hat and get creative. It is up to you to alter these such that they are not eating away at you. It may mean requesting a behavior change in someone, drawing a boundary, making a plan to solve a problem (such as financial stressors) or actually changing your environment if necessary. Getting a new job can fall into this category if your existing one is impacting your well being. The key to overcoming these stressors is to become active in eradicating them. You will not feel better as long as you feel a victim to them.
The second type is a stressor that needs to be accepted: These are stressors that you cannot control or have very little control over with the exception of how you react to them. Examples may be health problems or accidents that involve you or loved ones, environmental stressors like living conditions you can’t escape right now or economical circumstances that are going to hang around for a while.
Managing your stress surrounding these types of stressors may mean changing how you perceive the stressor, strengthening your social, spiritual or physical resources and actively telling yourself you are accepting the stressor for now, not actively fighting it. Sometimes in an effort to fix a stressor we make things worse by fighting. This keeps you in a state of anger or unrest that makes creative problem solving difficult. It also makes it difficult to enjoy the other things in your life that are not stressful.
The third type is a stressor to be avoided: These are situations or scenarios that you must find a way to work around or remove yourself entirely. If crowds are not your thing you can choose to shop during off hours. If you are already taxed for time you will need to say no to taking on more responsibility or committee involvement. If you are financially stressed you may need to say no to going out with friends as often. Choose not to be involved with these situations that exacerbate your stress levels and current problems.
All three types involve you making a choice for yourself based on your decision of what type of stressor you are facing. This puts you in control and makes you feel better. When we feel like we are somewhat in control of our destiny it already alleviates some of the stress. Every thought that we have results in a physical response so being mindful of your thoughts in these situations helps you to calm your already frayed nervous systems.
There is actually an equation we use in psychology to teach this phenomenon and I describe it in more detail in a previous post:
T=PR, or Thought=Physiological Response
Managing stress is a life skill, not a skill that some are born with and some are not. Your temperament may make a difference in how you approach things but overall this is a skill base that can be learned and incorporated into your life. There will always be the next stressor and getting a handle on them early on is in your emotional best interest. It may involve changing some of your existing thinking patterns, especially if they are dysfunctional and don’t allow you to perform at your optimal level. These dysfunctional patterns are often learned in dysfunctional backgrounds or families and can be unlearned. Effective stress management belongs in your toolbox for emotional success.
If you feel you may suffer from dysfunctional thought patterns that are keeping you depressed, anxious, or unable to break free from problematic behaviors, please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resources How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People and/or How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns.