Managing stress can sometimes be one of the most difficult things in our lives. Because stress is something we experience individually, it is sometimes hard for us to accurately communicate how we are feeling to others around us. In such times, it is important to have a system in place to help us with coping at work, at home and in our social lives.
Here are five great stress management techniques you can add to your tool belt that will help keep you grounded and focused no matter what life throws at you.
Make note of your signature character strengths
In their book, Character Strengths and Virtues, psychology researchers Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman created a list of 24 measurable character strengths that are widely valued across most cultures. Everyone possesses each character strength to varying degrees and this unique combination makes up the best elements of our personality.
- The six classes of virtues and their corresponding character strengths are as follows:
- Wisdom : creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning, perspective
- Courage : bravery, honesty, perseverance, zest
- Humanity : love, kindness, social intelligence
- Transcendence : appreciation of beauty & excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality
- Justice : fairness, leadership, teamwork
- Temperance : forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
Developing a keen awareness of our character strengths is like having a customized stress-management playbook in our back pocket when the going gets tough. In his digital article for Psychology Today, Ryan M. Niemiec suggests that using your strengths in new ways on a regular basis is a great way to boost happiness, decrease depression, and better prepare you for handling stressful situations. Practicing how to act from your strengths is an important skill that will make you more nimble and adaptive in periods of stress.
Niemiec also cautions against strength imbalance: “Reflect on whether you are using [your] strength[s] in an optimal, healthy way each day. Consider times when you overuse or underuse the strength[s] and how you might bring the strength[s] into greater balance,” he says.
Practice letting go
- Research suggests that those who are very forgiving of themselves and others have less chance of suffering from mental illness. “Without forgiveness, we experience stress in a more raw, unblocked way,” explains Niemiec.
- Forgiveness need not be a grand gesture of benevolence when you’ve been wronged by someone else, but rather an incremental practice of letting go particularly of the little things you encounter throughout the day. For example, when someone cuts you off in traffic or if you notice a typo in an email you just sent to a client, pause, take a deep breath or two and tell yourself, “it’s okay; I can move on.”
Tune the voice inside your head to be more positive
- Highly critical self-talk is damaging at the best of times but when dealing with stress, an inner dialogue that churns thoughts of doubt, criticism, and despair will only serve to worsen the situation.
- Practicing a kinder, more compassionate approach to self-talk will help cultivate a healthier outlook and help manage emotions so you’re better able to take positive action in the right direction.
Express gratitude every day
- The benefits of regularly recognizing everything you are thankful for are twofold: research shows that practicing gratitude on a daily basis helps us navigate stress-related emotions and negative thoughts, and secondly it reminds us of the resources we possess that help us cope with stressors.
- Practice writing down two or three things you are grateful for at the end of each day and why you are grateful for them. “Whether you're grateful for a sunny day or thankful you arrived at work safely, think about all the good things you have in life,” Niemiec advises. Research also suggests that grateful people benefit from better mental health, lower stress, and a better quality of life. Making gratitude a regular habit will empower you to manage stress more effectively.
Get organized and start planning ahead
Good organizational skills and planning are less about managing stress and more focused on preventing it in the first place.
- Preparing in advance for busy periods when the demands on your time and energy are set to spike is one of the best ways you can proactively prevent stress. Effective planning takes into consideration all of your expected activities and sets a reasonable action plan for accomplishing them all. Coordinate activities into daily, weekly, and monthly schedules and incorporate checklists and calendars to help keep you on track and organized.
- Don’t forget to prioritize self-care and healthy habits. When life gets busy, things like eating well, exercising, and socializing are often the first to fall by the wayside. Maintaining these activities is key to maintaining mental and physical health. So, when you’re planning your days and weeks, set aside time for important self-care activities that will help keep your mind and body healthy.
Stress may be an inevitable product of modern lives that seem to unfold at breakneck speed, but we can manage our response to stress and implement strategies to reduce it so that we’re better able to navigate demanding schedules and find joy on a daily basis.