"Stress Is Normal"—A Doctor's No-Nonsense Guide to Managing It

Updated 05/22/18
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Stress is a normal part of life. But how it affects us on a physical, psychological and emotional level and how we deal with it varies from person to person. Some people thrive on stress and perform at their best, whereas other people can be overwhelmed and function at a less optimal level.

I think the first step in effectively managing stress is accepting that stress happens to us all and is a normal part of our lives as a human. The next step is to reflect on how you have dealt with stressful situations in the past. Have you thrived or fallen? What was the end result? Positive or negative? How do you feel looking back?

I personally believe you can have a positive or negative outlook on anything in life. Whichever way you choose, the outcome tends to follow. If you embrace the mantra that sometimes stress isn’t optional, but how you deal with it is, you will start to feel more in control of the situation and your life in general.

We all need to develop a strategy to manage stress. There are many options available to us, including:

1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It’s a form of psychological therapy that is used to treat a variety of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD and anger management. The principle of CBT involves understanding how thought processes lead to behaviour. The aim of treatment is to help the patient develop a strategy to initially recognise the trigger to their symptoms and then take action to control them.

2. Exercise.

3. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness.

A combination of all of the above tends to work best. Reflect on the type of stress you are experiencing, and then work on developing your personal coping strategy. For example, if you’re stressed and exhausted, exercise is best avoided and mindfulness and yoga are much kinder options. On the other hand, if anxiety-related stress is affecting you, exercise may help you let off some steam and then get a better at night’s sleep as a result. Stress can vary depending on where it stems from, let’s explore work versus home stress.

Work Stress

Stress at work happens to us all from time to time. The level of stress you experience depends on the type of job you are in, but if your stress levels are negatively affecting your performance at work and result in you taking the stress home with you, then it’s time to take action.

These simple steps can help you manage stress at work more effectively:

1. Talk to your seniors. Remember, recognising you’re under stress and seeking help is not a sign of failure, it is actually a sign of self-care.

2. Take time out. Simple things like having your lunch away from your desk, doing a gym class in your lunch hour, or a change of scenery for half an hour can help relieve your mind of the pressure and help you reset for the rest of the day.

3. Talk to your colleagues. Make time to share your experiences and challenges with the people you work with. This not only helps to share the load but is also a good learning experience in itself.

4. Learn to delegate.

5. Divide your tasks at work into manageable chunks with (realistic) time-related goals.

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Ed note: Try drinking a cup of stress-relieving tea away from your desk.

Stress At Home

Stress at home, whether it be related to your family or your partner, is always challenging and distressing.

My GP experience has taught me that if you want to help your loved ones and tackle stress at home, you need to make time to care for your own health and well-being as much as theirs.

Get the foundations right: Sleep well, eat right, exercise and make time for you. Talk to each other, and, in times of conflict, try to see things from the other person’s perceptive and then try to reach a compromise.

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In Summary

Stress is normal, it’s how you manage it that makes the difference. Self-care is a key part of coping with stress.

Reflect on the type of stress you are experiencing, then work on developing your personal coping strategy. Talk to others, share the load. Take action.

Chronic stress can sometimes develop into mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Please don’t suffer in silence. See your GP sooner rather than later. There are so many more options available than you think.

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