However, the truth is that we can exercise control over these situations to a certain extent. To some degree, we can prevent these challenges from arising in the first place or we can manage our responses to them.
Facing triggers or stressors which cause uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, worry and panic are a normal part of our lives. However, you can use a range of stress management techniques to help control and manage these triggers so that they no longer have such a negative impact on your well-being. With this said, the same stress management technique is unlikely to be effective across all stressful situations – the types of triggers that you face will determine which techniques are most useful for you. In this resource, you are introduced to four stress management techniques and you will learn when each technique should be used as well as when it works at its best. You will also be encouraged to think about how you can start using some of these techniques straight away to help manage some of the triggers that you might already be facing.
This can be used to help you manage any triggers that lead you to feeling ‘stressed out’, and having these four techniques up your sleeve can be the crucial difference between you feeling ‘stressed out’ or you feeling ‘zenned out’!
The first step to managing stress is to identify the root cause or triggers. This is not always as obvious as it may seem and can often be overlooked. As an example, you may worry about the amount of paperwork that you have to manage. However, it may not be the paperwork itself that is leading to the rise of stress symptoms but instead the lack of planning ahead that is leading to the build-up of paperwork and subsequent stress symptoms.
Working out what your triggers are can help you to prepare for them so that any potential negative impact can be reduced. To help you identify the trigger or cause of stress, it can be useful to keep a journal. This journal should record how you feel at various time points as well as what you think led you to feel that way. It can be useful to consider regular triggers that you encounter (e.g. shifts when you are short staffed). It can also be useful to consider one-off major events. Finally, it’s also important to consider events which may be ongoing (e.g. a long commute to work every day).
Take some time during the day to reflect and identify what some of your key triggers are in your life (either inside or outside of work). Try to consider what situations, people or circumstances are currently making you feel anxious, worried, panicky or are making you experience any other negative emotions. Consider making a list of your top three triggers to begin with and remember you can always add to this later.
Once you know what the trigger is you can take steps to do something about it. We recommend that you consider the 4 A’s in the following sequential order: Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept.
The first two A’s (avoid and address) relate to the situation/trigger itself. The second two A’s (adapt and accept) refer your perception and reaction to the trigger.
Firstly, it is important to be aware that there are many triggers and situations which cannot and should not be avoided. Avoiding triggers which need to be addressed can lead to even bigger problems in the long run. However, at other times we can overload ourselves with situations which can simply be avoided. It can also be useful to consider if you can avoid people who add stress to your life. For example, a toxic relationship which adds misery and acts as a trigger for stress can be avoided or ended. You can control your environment and control what you do and do not expose yourself to, to a certain extent. Other examples include sitting in traffic. Consider how you could avoid sitting in traffic by travelling at a different time or taking a less well travelled route. If noisy people on the train frustrate you – sit in the quiet carriage. Avoid discussions that get your blood boiling. If you find yourself getting frustrated when discussing certain topics (e.g. politics, religion or sports), then consider avoiding that trigger by not starting conversations about it or excusing yourself if the topic arises.
Finally, say ‘no’ when appropriate. If someone is placing unrealistic demands on you – let them know that you have too much on. Be assertive but do this in a manner that is not considered rude by explaining what you currently have on and why you are struggling to take on any additional tasks. Alternatively, if these demands are placed on you by your manager, consider asking him/her which tasks you should prioritise first.
If the situation is one that cannot and should not be avoided – then alter it. Think about what you can do differently to either prevent that trigger from arising or to address that trigger. For example, if the relationship under strain is one which you cannot walk out on or end, then voice your concerns to the other individual and come to a compromise if necessary. Another example is if you are experiencing health issues that are triggered by health risk behaviours (e.g. smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of physical exercise). Consider any steps that you can take to change your lifestyle so that the likelihood of you experiencing the subsequent symptoms, and therefore stress, are reduced. If you have loads to do – let people know. Explain why you need to leave a social event early or why you can’t go out to meet your friends for two nights in a row.
Planning is also important. Many stress triggers can be eliminated simply by planning and preparing in advance. If you have loads of deadlines; plan how you will meet each of those in good time. Don’t leave it until a few days before so that you get overwhelmed. Furthermore, identify the time of day at which you work most productively. For some people this can be first thing in the morning whilst others prefer to work in the evenings. Once you have deciphered your optimal time of the day – use those hours to complete your tasks. Mix the tasks up if possible – avoid sticking to the same task all day as this can make you lose interest. Instead mix up those tasks which you find more interesting with those which you don’t find to be as engaging. This can maintain your engagement levels throughout the day so that you don’t become tired. Finally, take regular breaks whilst working. Every now and then move away from what you are doing and then come back to it. This can help you come back with a fresh perspective and help you be more productive in the long run.
At other times, you may well have no control over the situation nor be able to avoid it. An example could be not getting a job promotion despite taking the time to prepare for the application process. In this instance it is useful to change your perception of the situation so that you think of it in a more positive way. Having a negative explanatory style (e.g. ‘I will never be promoted’, ‘I’m not good at interviews’, ‘I’m always going to be stuck in this role’) can have a massively damaging impact and give rise to stress symptoms. Instead, a more positive explanatory style (e.g. ‘I will need to prepare differently next time’) can prevent the onset of stress symptoms. Furthermore, it can be useful to find the positive in any given situation even if it appears to be negative (e.g. ‘the job application process helped me get some experience and exposure which will be useful for future job applications’).
Another useful technique is to put things into perspective. Many things may seem like a big deal at the time but are not actually that important in the long run. For example, being involved in a car accident that has damaged your car is undoubtedly something that could give rise to stress symptoms. However, if nobody is hurt then think of the bigger picture. The car will get fixed and nobody got hurt so it probably won’t be something that has a big long-term impact. Focus on the positives – e.g. ‘it could have been a lot worse’, ‘at least my car is still in a drivable condition so I can carry on with my life as normal’, ‘the paint work can get fixed’ etc.
Finally, you can also adapt to the situation by not always striving for perfection. It’s okay for things to not always work out perfectly. As a result of changing your perception of the situation, you massively reduce the likelihood of inducing stress symptoms.
However, there are some situations which you can’t avoid, alter nor adapt to as you feel that the long-term impact is huge. Examples include becoming seriously ill or the death of a close family member or friend. In situations like this, it becomes important to accept the situation. Accept that you can’t control the situation itself, but you can control how you react. Trying to control something which you can’t tends to only give rise to stress symptoms. Instead, know that you can always still control the way you perceive the situation. However, if there is something that you can change about the events that led up to the situation then change it to prevent any further problems in the future (e.g. excessive smoking causing lung cancer). When dealing with a situation that is out of your control, seek social support. Talk to friends and family members that you trust about how you feel and what you are going through. This can help you to make sense of the situation and process it as well as gain informational and emotional support that helps you to see the situation from a different perspective. Finally, if the adverse situation involves another individual letting you down then learn to forgive. Accept that everyone makes mistakes so forgive them and move on.