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Long-term stress management

Home > Stress  > TRICK YOUR STRESS > Long-term stress management

Even though the quick tricks are very useful, the best way to cope with stress is to develop long-term strategies. This will help develop some tool to be in a better position to cope with stress afterwards.

Here are the different steps… that can take more time, but really pays off!

Time Out

In order to identify and evaluate the situations that stress us, we need some time to figure out what it is about them that is activating our stress response system. So, you feel your heart and mind racing and you start to sweat and your breathing changes. Bingo, you are in a stressful situation!

Now is not necessarily the best time to ask yourself if the situation is N.U.T.S. you are in the thick of it! Do you think that our ancestors stopped when the mammoth was charging to say, “Hum, is this unpredictable, this must be why I am stressed!?! They did what they needed to survive and went back to the cave and then tried to figure out what went wrong on the hunt.

What does this mean today? We go home, get dinner, help with homework, give baths, read stories, clean up, maybe work a little, get laundry done and then watch a little TV. We then go to bed only to find that ah ha, our brain just does not turn off. The events of the day keep popping into our minds and we have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep! Sounds Familiar?

Walk the Dog

This next piece of advise is perhaps the most difficult to implement but you are worth it! What we propose is very simple, every day spend 1 hour alone, no TV, no books, no computer, in other words no outside source of stimulation.

Walking the dog is one way of spending one hour alone everyday, but they are many other ways to do this: Sewing, knitting, walking, swimming, meditating, running, etc.

When you go to bed at night, this is often the first moment of the day that your brain is not being bombarded with the thousands of thoughts and ideas swimming around all day. You literally shut down. But your brain does not like to be without stimulation, we dream most of the night in part because of this. This is why the events of the day start to pop into your mind, because it is the first time the brain has had a chance to stop thinking!

By taking an hour out of your day to be alone, this will give your brain and mind a moment to go through things well before you go to bed. In fact, it can be a great time to think of the day’s events and figure out what it is about them that stress you.

Right now you might be thinking…. One hour a day, are you nuts? I don’t have a minute to spare let alone an hour! Here lies the difference between having the time and taking the time. And taking the time….is taking control over your life and stress.

If this means going to bed earlier so you can walk the dog (cat, bird, turtle…) alone at 5:30am before the kids wake up for school, then try it. Watch one less TV show at night and take a walk, go lie down in the basement, or have a long bath. If you drop the kids off at soccer, then spend some time in the park nearby, don’t go run errands! If you have a partner, you take an hour in the morning and your partner can take an hour at night or vice-versa.

There are surely ways in which domestic tasks can be re-assigned to free up some time. Perhaps your partner can make lunches, and gives the kids breakfast while you spend your HOUR alone. Yes, you may have to sacrifice, but you and your family will benefit in the end. Short-term pain for long-term gain!

This is where principle number 1 comes into play. “There are no easy solutions”. You may be asking yourself, can I split the hour into four 15min breaks? Could the times I go to the bathroom or go to lunch count? NO! Such short periods do not give your brain enough time to get antsy from the lack of stimulation and start to bring out the events of the day/week/month. You need enough time so you can then identify the true source of your stress, which just happens to be the second step in long-term stress management.

Identifying the true source of stress

Taking an hour a day to be alone with your thoughts will enable you to truly figure out what is stressing you. During that hour, you may notice that your mind is blank and nothing happens. That is perfect! Use the time to relax! But give it some time. You will see soon enough that things will just start popping up in your mind.

i.e. : That Janet at work just gets on my last nerve. She always contradicts what I say in front of the boss and I simply cannot work with her!

Why is Janet stressing me?
QUESTION ANSWER
Is the situation Novel? No, Janet has been doing this for a long time now.
Is the situation Unpredictable? No, Janet does it like clockwork.
Is there a Threat? BINGO, by contradicting me in front of the boss she calls into question my competence as an employee.
Is my Sense of control lowered? Perhaps a little, the way things stand, I don’t feel I have much control over the situation at work.

You have already eliminated two potential factors that are triggering your stress response (novelty and unpredictability), leaving you with two explanations (threat to ego and low sense of control). Now, things are already less mixed up in your mind.

A well-defined problem is a problem almost solved

In this instance, seeking support from your spouse/friend can be very good because we can present a calmer and more accurate picture to them. Given that we are not so emotional about things our spouse/friend has a better chance of being objective and asking the right questions to help us further analyze the situation to come up with a solution.

Example

You- “I find it hard to work with Janet because her actions cause me to question my competence at work”.

Spouse- “How was your last performance review at work”??

You- “It was very good. Come to think of it, the areas I could improve on are not the things she contradicts me on”.?

Spouse-“Could she feel that her job is in jeopardy, does she need to prove herself”?

You- “You could be right… there have been major budget cuts and we have similar responsibilities”.

You have no control over how Janet feels and acts but you can control how you deal with her challenges. When she contradicts your view in front of the boss, you could ask her to explain the reasoning behind her point. You could also speak to her directly and ask her why she does this.

If your attempts to smooth things over with Janet don’t work or if being direct is not your cup of tea, then focus on the important facts. Although she challenges you, your employers seem to be more than happy with your work. Simply bringing this to mind can decrease your body’s response to the stressor. We mentioned in “On the Spot Stress Management” that being on the spot can be good to bring to the mind a positive image to blunt your stress response. Calling to mind the conclusions you come to in your hour alone are just as effective!

Resilience

For many, stress management translates to relaxation. But, the flip-side of stress is not relaxation but rather resilience. Simply put, resilience refers to a healthy ability to come up with a ‘Plan B’ in the face of a stressful situation.

To come up with a Plan B we must be able to identify, think about, and deconstruct the situation that resulted in stress. Coming up with Plan B can sometimes be anxiety-provoking, as many of us feel that Plan B must be put into motion. In reality, most Plan B’s never see the light of day, and this is perfectly fine because the simple act of putting it together can make a difference.

i.e.: “My work stresses me because we never know how long the company will stay afloat. This unpredictability is killing me. What’s my Plan B? Find another job, OK, I’m done, there is not much else I could do.” Wrong! Think again and take the time to truly explore all avenues. “Oh yes, at Easter last year, my brother-in-law mentioned that my experience with heavy metals would be a great asset in that government agency….”

Why?

The mere act of coming up with a Plan B will increase your sense of control over the situation and decrease the impact of the source of stress, in this case, unpredictability. So even if the stressor is still present, you have developed resilience.

Take home message
Find some time to be alone and regroup. Your stressors will make their way into your thoughts and you can then figure out what it is about the situation that is stressful (N.U.T.S.). You can then get some support from those around you and come up with a Plan B. Calling up that Plan B in times of stress (in addition to the tips we gave you in the “On the spot stress management ”) can help to reduce your body’s stress response. With time and practice, you may notice that only half of your hour alone is needed to deal with stress, the rest can turn into a stimulating time that is indeed quite pleasant. What might joy and laughter have to teach us?