While it’s true that we are excellent at juggling our responsibilities and being productive, it doesn’t happen effortlessly. Stress is a reality most Americans face, and according to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association, it’s on the rise due to the Covid-19 pandemic and bitter political divisions, among other issues.
Stress is often accompanied by feelings such as anxiety, sadness, and anger, but we can take steps to cope with stress in healthy ways. Before addressing the ways to cope with stress, it may be helpful to understand some of the things that can cause stress.
Causes of Stress
Stress is a physiological response to a situation that either is or seems threatening. It can help your body to respond appropriately to a situation. The stress that you feel before an important job interview can help you to prepare more and be alert during the interview itself. The problem emerges when the stressors are unrelenting, or we can’t find ways to deal with them that promote our overall health.
Common causes of stress include:
A huge workload and few support structures to help you cope.
You can feel stressed when you have too much to do and not much help or support to help you do it. A mom can feel stressed because of everything that needs to be done over the course of a day – cooking, cleaning, work, meeting her children’s needs, and so on. Her to-do list can be overwhelming, and if that list refreshes itself every day and she doesn’t have the support to tackle it, it can lead to stress.
Apart from the sheer volume of work that needs doing, having deadlines that are looming can also cause stress. The deadline may be when the rent must be paid, when a school assignment is due, or an exam or job interview. As the deadline looms closer, the levels of stress may increase because you feel the pressure to meet it.
Not having breaks.
When we work or commit ourselves to tasks, we need to have breaks. We are not machines, we cannot keep working without having space to decompress, reset, and regain perspective. When we don’t take that time to rest, the pressure on us mounts while our capacity to handle that pressure diminishes. It’s no surprise that an overworked person reaches their breaking point and snaps over something small.
Being pushed out of your comfort zone.
When we do the things we are comfortable with and proficient in, it’s easier for us to take it in stride. We know what to expect, we know our abilities, and we know how to handle ourselves in the situation.
However, when we’re pushed out of our comfort zone, it can feel threatening, and stressful, because you may fail, embarrass yourself, or get completely overwhelmed. Fear of the unknown is powerful enough to overwhelm our self-confidence. An example of this is being asked to do an impromptu speech when you’re an introvert.
High stake situations.
When there are important things in the balance, the fear that it may not end well or result in success can be a powerful stressor. The things that matter to us occupy that position for a reason, and so the thought of losing them brings an understandable fear in their wake. Such situations can be related to work or apply to our relationships.
A first date can be a high-stake situation because we are invested in the success of the encounter. Having a health scare is another frequent stressor for many people, not just because of the fear of not being able to work and provide, but also reckoning with our mortality or worrying about covering the health insurance bills.
Lastly, human beings are deeply relational creatures, and our cherished relationships matter to us. When those relationships are in jeopardy, or when we encounter relational conflict, that can be deeply stressful. The conflict can be between siblings, parents, and their children, friends, or spouses. The conflict itself can be stressful, as is the thought that the relationship may be on the rocks.
These and other situations can produce stress. If these stressors don’t find some form of relief, or if we attempt to cope with them in unhealthy ways such as consuming alcohol or turning to food to soothe our feelings, we may find ourselves dealing with other problems.
How can you cope with stress?
The things that cause stress differ from person to person, but much of it is common to the human experience. Each person may experience things that work well for stress relief, and others that may be difficult or impossible to implement.
However, if you’re finding yourself feeling stressed, try some of the following and see if it doesn’t help you. Sometimes to address stress you must be take the initiative, but sometimes you also need tools to deal with the stress in the moment. Here are some preventive and immediate steps you can take to cope with stress.
Take care of yourself – sleep and eat well.
As we pointed out before, we aren’t automatons who can continue working day and night. There are natural ways God has given us to help us cope with the pressures of life, and these include getting good sleep and eating nutritious food.
Healthy food helps your body feel good and get what it needs for energy and immunity from illnesses. Eat nuts, fresh fruit, and vegetables, get some dairy such as cheese and yogurt in your diet, and avoid fast food.
Try to be consistent about when you go to bed and wake up, giving your body time to go through REM sleep and the deep stages of sleep so your body can rest and recover from whatever it went through. Good sleep gives you the energy to start your day well, allowing your brain to cope better with problems and problem-solving.
In addition to sleeping, taking breaks during your workday, or vacations during the year can help you decompress from the various pressures you face. We may think that taking a Sabbath is something antiquated, but God put it in place for a reason. It was for us to give worship to God, and for us to experience rest because we are not slaves.
Taking that break allows us to recognize that God is God, that he will provide for us and meet our needs, and that work isn’t our god. Taking a break from work is an act of faith and rebellion against our high productivity culture that demands so much of us.
Plan well, execute, and avoid procrastination.
A huge workload can be managed if we manage ourselves well. In some cases, the work piles up because we haven’t dealt with it in a timely fashion, and a change in work habits can place us on the road to success and away from stress.
Break up tasks into manageable portions.
When faced with a mountain of work, sometimes the best way to deal with it is to break it up into smaller portions and deal with those in order of importance. Smaller pieces of work are easier to wrap our heads around, and with each task completed, that feeling of success can boost our energy and help us keep going.
Learn to say “no.”
To avoid having more to do than we’re comfortable with, or to better control the stressful situations we find ourselves in, being able to say “no” is a valuable gift to ourselves (and other people). Sometimes, to please other people we agree to things when we can’t do what we’re being asked. Saying “no” may induce a level of stress all its own in the moment, but it will save you even more stress down the line.
Stress can affect your sense of wellbeing, so coping with it in healthy ways enables you to live your life with a positive outlook and a greater relish for the tasks you must perform.
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