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How to manage stress

How to increase or reduce your stress levels.

How to manage stress

Stress is all around us and everybody has heard of it. Most people agree that it’s bad for you, but some people say that they thrive under stress. What they’re talking about though is pressure, not stress. A certain amount of pressure can motivate you and make you perform better, but when it’s going on for too long, or the amount of pressure is excessive, it will have many negative effects.

These effects include physical ones (high blood pressure, insomnia, fatigue, headaches etc) as well as mental ones (apathy, loss of confidence, loss of sense of humour etc). And most importantly, it will affect your ability to make decisions, which has huge ramifications in both your professional and personal life.

Remember, if you’re an employer, reducing the amount of stress your employees are under is compulsory under the Health & Safety Laws! So it’s even more important that you know how to manage stress, so that you can encourage your employees to do the same, and help them whenever you can.

Since loss of humour is one of the signs of stress, I thought I would first give you a humoristic look at how you can increase your stress levels*, followed by some ways to help you manage them**.

* with thanks to ArcaMax Publishing
** with thanks to Sureteam and Emotional Intelligence at Work

12 Ways to increase your stress levels

1. Never exercise
Exercise wastes a lot of time that could be spent worrying (see point 10). It also releases endorphins which make you feel happy and positive, so you definitely want to stay away from them!

2. Eat anything you want and gain weight
Hey, if cigarettes can’t cleanse your system, a balanced diet isn’t likely to. Work hard at staying at least 25 pounds over your recommended weight, as this will also help with the high blood pressure, the headaches and fatigue.

3. Take plenty of stimulants
No need for hard drugs; the old standards of caffeine, nicotine, sugar and cola will do the job just fine. Oh and don’t forget the alcohol!

4. Get rid of your social support system
Let the few friends who are willing to tolerate you know that you concern yourself with friendships only if you have time, and you never have time. If people persist in trying to be your friend, avoid them.

5. Personalise all criticism
Anyone who criticizes any aspect of your work, family, dog, house, or car is mounting a personal attack on you. Don’t take time to listen, be offended, and then return the attack!

6. Males and females alike: be macho!
Never ever ask for help, and if you want it done right, do it yourself!

7. Become a workaholic
Put work before everything else, and be sure to take work home evenings and weekends. Keep reminding yourself that holidays are for sissies and if you do take one, remember to bring your laptop and phone and ensure that you can be contacted at any time. But it’s best never to take any time out.

8. Discard good time management skill
Schedule in more activities every day than you can possibly get done and then worry about it all whenever you get a chance (see point 10). And certainly don’t read my Time Management Tips.

9. Procrastinate
Putting things off to the last second always produces a marvellous amount of stress.

10. Worry about things you can’t control
Worry about the stock market, banker’s bonuses, earthquakes and the approaching Ice Age; you know: all the big issues.

11. Be a perfectionist
In fact, become not only a perfectionist, but set impossibly high standards……and either beat yourself up, or feel guilty, depressed, discouraged, and/or inadequate when you don’t meet them.

12. Throw out your sense of humour
Staying stressed is no laughing matter, and it shouldn’t be treated as one. Don’t encourage other people either, as laughing is infectious and could spread all around you, and then where would you be? And don’t bother with a happiness toolkit either.

Should you decide that stress is something you want to have as little of as possible, you can first of all do the opposite of the above, as well as the following:

8 Ways to reduce your stress levels

1. Manage expectations
Expectations are really demands, whether they are your own, or other people’s. Start by managing your own expectations and then work on others. Learn to say “no” and become more of a commitment-phobe. And perfectionists: accept that good enough is often good enough (perfectionism is after all a form of self-importance).

2. Put things in perspective
Unless you are a doctor, generally things are NOT life and death. When everything gets on top of you, take a step back and look at it in the grand scheme of things. There are things that can wait until tomorrow; you can call your appointment to tell them you’re going to be late (instead of driving like a maniac) and yes, there really are children starving in Africa.

3. Choose your battles
Fight the important ones, but let the little ones go. Give someone else the satisfaction of “winning” now and again and your life can be a whole lot easier. Before you get on your high horse think: “Is this really going to make a big difference to my life?” and if it is, fight, but if it isn’t, let it go.

4. Trust people
You can’t prove a negative, so until someone has proven to be untrustworthy, it is a lot less stressful to assume that other people are perfectly capable of doing the job, are happy to help and have your best interests at heart. Don’t think you’re the only one who can do something or that everybody is out to get you – most of the time this is not true anyway.

5. Work on your emotional intelligence
Behaviour is driven by emotions and beliefs, which are based on experience. If you believe that you are not good at presenting (because you messed up a school presentation when you were 8), this will affect your emotions (you will feel nervous and lacking of confidence) which in turn will affect your behaviour (the presentation will probably not go well). If you change your belief, you can change your emotions and your behaviour. This requires emotional intelligence, which is something people can work on, preferably with professional help. However, if you remember that beliefs, emotions and behaviour are connected and that if you change one, the others will change too, you’re already half-way there.

6. Build relationships
Man is not solitary and we work best when we’re part of a structure of relationships, whether they are personal or professional. If you make “building relationships” central to your life, you will find that you will always have help and support when you most need it. So when you’re presented with a dilemma, always think “which relationship is served by doing this and which relationship will be damaged by this?” When you have prioritised your relationships, it will help you make a decision more easily.

7. Two important questions
Ask yourself regularly “How do I feel?” and “What do I need?” These two simple questions, when answered honestly, will make a big difference. Once you know what you need, try and get it (at least you’ll know what to ask for).

8. Remember the triple ‘A’
Accept what you can’t change
Alter what you can alter
Adapt to the situation

When you’re in a situation that is stressful, always ask yourself three questions:
1. Can I change this?
If the answer is YES, then go and change it.
If the answer is NO, then you ask yourself:
2. Can I accept this?
If the answer is YES, then stop complaining, adapt and get on with it (this is easier when you focus on the positives of the situation)
If the answer is NO, then ask yourself:
3. Can I get away from this?
If the answer is YES, then get away from it
If the answer is NO, focus on the importance of why you can’t get away from it (because we ALWAYS have a choice).

Now you have 20 ways to manage your stress levels. You will find some more useful than others, so just pick the things that resonate most with you.

If you find yourself with unacceptable stress levels, please consider suitable professional help. This could be counselling, health & safety training or coaching, depending on your needs. Just remember there is plenty of help out there, all you need to do is ask!

“If you’ve spent all your money, you can always go out and earn some more. If you’ve spent all your time, it’s gone forever.”

Make sure you spend your time enjoying yourself!

Download the guide: How to manage stress(PDF)
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