By Brian Robinson.
Stress management can mean at least two things. Firstly, it can look at the possibilities of how we can unwind. How do we teach an already stressed system to become relaxed. And secondly, stress management can look at the strategies and techniques employed in order to prevent stress from building up in the first place. That is what we will be looking at here.
There is a fundamental mistake that it’s easy to make when it comes to how we view stressful situations. We often say things like: “If only I had a more understanding boss everything would be fine.” “If my friend could see my point of view we would get along much better.” “If I didn’t have this bad run of luck things would have worked out differently.” All this is perfectly logical and in many cases perfectly true. However, there are some things we cannot change. Sometimes, even though the problem lies in the external world, the solution may lie within us.
As suggested above, the answer to stress can often be found inside; through changing our view of the world; through changing the way we see and react to others; and through changing our expectations of what life should have on offer. The stark reality is, we can hardly ever bend the world to our will. So, ‘if Mohammed will not come to the mountain: the mountain will have to come to Mohammed’.
That’s easier said than done you might say and you would be right. Change is always difficult, and it is especially difficult when the change involves our long-standing beliefs and perspectives. However, it is always possible to achieve slow and progressive change. And it is always worth making that effort. So, how do you move a mountain? Answer: a shovelful at a time.
Before we look at that we ought to make the point that stress and tension are not necessarily bad for us. We need a certain amount of stress in our lives to motivate us and to keep us alert. We also need some muscular tension. Our muscles wouldn’t work without it. It’s only bad when we expose ourselves to too much of the wrong sort of stress. So, how do we know when stress is good or bad? Generally speaking, good stress usually has a payoff. For example, we put ourselves under pressure to do our best for our children, and in return we gain their love and respect. We try to do our best at work, and in return we get job satisfaction and become valued by our employer. We try and find outlets for our creativity, then we can stand back and get satisfaction from the things we create. All that involves stress to some degree, but it’s healthy at the same time.
Fortunately, there is already some good advice as to how to manage stressful situations, people and circumstances. When it comes to strategies and techniques, some of the best advice is known as the ‘Four A’s‘. This is as roughly as follows:
Avoid saying yes all the time and try to learn how to say no. When you are reaching your limit of work responsibilities make your boss aware. Learn how to delegate. When your friends make demands upon you in a way that begins to spoil your enjoyment, make sure you tell them and draw a line at what you’re prepared to do.
Try and avoid people who bring stress into your life. If you can’t do that, then re-establish the relationship on a new healthier footing. Or perhaps cut down the time you spend with those people. And if you can’t cut down the time, then learn how to switch off.
Avoid upsetting or stressful subjects when talking to people. Avoid arguments. If other people want to argue, let them know that is not the way you operate. You are prepared to discuss matters: you are not prepared to have a row.
Avoid long lists of things you have to do. If you have too many items marked urgent on your list then you have probably labelled them wrongly.
Alter the situation where you can. When stressful situations develop express your feelings and make them known.
Be willing to compromise. If you’re asking someone to change their behaviour, then be prepared to meet them on some middle ground.
Be more assertive. If you have things to do and people are always interrupting, let them know you only have a certain amount of time for them.
Alter how you manage your time. Allow plenty of time to meet appointments. Take time to prepare well for the things you have to do. Being late or badly prepared only causes stress.
Adapt to the source of the stress. If you can’t change things then change the way you see them.
Reassess problems from a more positive perspective. A traffic jam can be a pain; or it can be a time to pause and reflect.
When dealing with problems try and adapt to the big picture. How important is this in the grand scheme of things? How important will it be in a month or two?
Make sure your standards are not set too high. Perfectionism can be a major source of stress, so, set reasonable standards for yourself and others.
Always focus on the positive. You’ll be surprised how many things have a positive side.
Accept the things you can’t change and make the necessary adjustments. Don’t try and control the uncontrollable. It is not always up to us to control the way others behave.
The bad things that happen are often things we can learn and grow from.
Learn to forgive and accept we live in an imperfect world.
Resentment, frustration and anger are all unhealthy negative emotions. Accept that sometimes these have to be re-assessed and cranked back.
That is a long list but it contains some good advice. Acting in the way that’s been suggested means seeing yourself as just as important as others so self esteem comes into this too. We all deserve to be treated with respect and as equals.
This approach lends itself to a model used in CBT known as ‘Positive Selfishness’. A positively selfish person puts themselves first without wanting to cause any deliberate ill effects on others. A negatively selfish person puts themselves first in all things, irrespective of the effect it has on others. They do this because they may think they are better or more deserving, and this justifies the way they behave.