How to Manage and Prevent Stress

Stress prevention and management is important not only to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, it can contribute to your overall wellness and mental health. As a former teacher of stress management courses, I cannot emphasize enough how much learning to manage and prevent stress can improve the quality of your life.

Definition of stress

One way to define stress is what happens when your demands exceed your resources. Both demands and resources can be internal and external. Internal demands include traits like perfectionism and impatience, plus limiting and rigid beliefs and attitudes. External demands include work and relationship obligations, threats of terrorism, and living with uncertainty.

Internal resources include characteristics like resilience, forgiveness, confidence, flexibility, a positive attitude, and open-mindedness. External resources include good self-care, such as taking up yoga or meditation, which can help with learning to control anxiety and anger, and having good, supportive friends.

Types of stress

While some types of stress (or demands) are obvious, others are subtle. When you think of stressors, you usually think about psychological ones. But keep in mind that any stress that impacts your physical body also affects your mind. So, in addition to emotional and psychological stressors, such as relationship breakups and moving, physical stressors include pollutants and chemicals, chronic pain, drugs/alcohol/cigarettes, inadequate sleep, allergies, germs, and viruses.

Signs of stress

Some level of stress is to be expected. And generally speaking, people have ample resource reserves to help them cope with the stresses and anxiety of everyday life. Sometimes, however, demands pile up to the point where our resources aren’t sufficient to handle these stresses and anxiety. When this happens, some of the signs of too much stress include:

Physical – muscle tension, head aches, stomach ailments, skin problems, nervous tics, and fatigue
Emotional – feeling blue, anxious, hypervigilant, over-concerned, and guilt
Psychological – trouble concentrating, memory lapses, confusion, irritability
Behavioral – anger outbursts, escape into drugs/alcohol, avoiding others, being easily irritated

How to manage and prevent stress

Even though it may seem that stress management and prevention are two distinct activities, there's a lot of similarities. So, the following suggestions apply to both management and prevention:

To prevent stress, find ways to plan ahead. If you're going on a business trip, be prepared for delays and other mis-fires, such as trouble with the rental car (which means having contact information for every business contact in your cell phone) Another form of stress prevention is avoiding drama. Examples include keeping people’s confidences and declining your best friend's roommates' sexual advances (!)

Exercise is not only a great way to alleviate anxiety and depression, it's one of the primary building blocks of stress prevention. Just remember that with weight training, you build up lactic acid and you need to do cardio afterward to bring the level back down. Stretching afterward also helps to regain muscle flexibility. One of my favorite things to do is to take walks. Sometimes it takes the help of your dog -and BTW your blood pressure goes down when you pet it -nudging you every morning for a walk.

In addition to exercise, two other building blocks for managing and preventing stress are sleep and nutrition. So much has been said about these two subjects, the only thing I’d like to add is for nutrition, the 80/20 rule, along with portion control, can keep you healthy and trim: 80% nutritious foods, 20% fun foods. The only other thing worth remembering is: diets don’t work, especially the fad du jour. They only make you fatter in the long-run. The only way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat sensibly and exercise.

Another important, overlooked form of stress management is to make sure you have fun and that you laugh. Laughter, like crying, releases chemicals that reduce stress in your body, provide feelings of calmness and well-being, and are known to help reduce anxiety and depression.

Having a good social network is another buffer to stress. Getting support and talking out your emotions act as stress reducers. If you’re prone to getting into arguments, learn how to get along with others. There's something to be said for having harmony in your life.

Even though doing drugs and getting drunk can be fun and a way to forget about your problems, I have a rule-of-thumb. If you haven’t gotten beyond getting drunk and high by the time you’re 30, you might have a problem worth looking into. Drugs and alcohol create stress on the kidneys, liver, and other organs – as I said earlier, there is no separation between mind and body when it comes to stress.

To conclude, stress can be managed by having a sound balance of exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Add planning ahead, flexibility, reducing drama, fun and laughter, good friends, and moderating drugs/alcohol to help you reduce stress to manageable levels.