Have you ever gone through a day when everything seems to be going great until one tiny detail goes wrong and you go ballistic? Have you sometimes felt like going from smart and cheerful to dumb and stupid in a matter of minutes? Do you sometimes feel like there’s some sort of conspiracy being plotted against you? Do simple tasks and errands suddenly seem complicated?
If you nodded your head in assent to any of the questions above, chances are you don’t even know why you’re feeling edgy or irritable during those scenarios. If ever these feelings of discontent does cross your mind, stop what you’re doing and take full stock of the situation. You may be going through a stressful period.
A stressed state is usually the body’s physical response to an emotional reaction toward an undesirable effect. Stress is actually a coping mechanism – the brain’s way of telling us that pressure has built up and needs to be relieved. Unfortunately, most people who are going through a difficult time don’t know they’re stressed out until the damage is done. Sometimes, it’s not even what’s happening right in front of them that may be the cause, but it may be the trigger – the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. This can happen anytime, anywhere and, unfortunately, during the worst possible time, like while driving for instance. Stress may cause muscles to tense up – not a good idea with your foot on the gas pedal. Or, an opposite reaction would be to freeze up or blank out while waiting for the traffic lights to change, or worse, while on the freeway.
Recognizing when you’re feeling stressed out is the first step to finding ways to reduce stress. Firstly, take note of your emotional state. Are there feelings of anxiety or confusion? Check your breathing. Does it feel shallow and irregular? And physically, does it feel like your stomach muscles are tightening up? Are your hands balled into fists?
Once you are aware that you are actually right in the thick of a stressful situation, dealing with it right then and there is the best way to cope.
Here are the simplest of steps to manage stress:
1. Stop. Hold your horses. Slow down. Bring down the volume level of your voice. Put down that expensive vase. Ease your foot off the gas. Take a deep breath.
2. Look. Assess what’s happening around you. Make a mental note of any other tempers flaring in the room. Imagine that’s how you looked a second ago.
3. Listen, smell, taste, touch. Consciously bring up your sensory faculties. Slowly take in what’s around you, where you are, who you’re with, what time it is, if the coffee is still hot.
4. Go. By this time, the first three steps would have calmed you down considerably. You can then go back to what you were doing. Notice that you will be better organized and be more productive.
If you catch yourself just in time during a minor stress attack, the entire process should take just about a minute or so. Learn to recognize and internalize what’s really going on when you’re in the heat of a stressful moment. Stop, look and listen. Then go out and play.
For more help, we recommend these stress management books.