To define stress management, one must first understand stress, the object of the management.
Stress is the body’s response to any unusual demands made on it, whether those demands are physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
Many misunderstand this, believing that stress is the demand itself. For example, you might here, “My boss gives me so much stress. She slapped two huge projects on my desk, and wants them both done sooner than I could do just one! That’s too much stress.”
The unusual demands of the two projects are viewed as stress, for which the boss is blamed. In reality, however, the stress is the employee’s response to the demands. The employee is responsible for his or her own stress.
Those unusual demands are called stressors, not stress.
Define Stress Management
We define stress management as you controlling your response to stressors. The opposite of stress management is to let stressors control your response.
You need not let stressors manage you. You can, and should, organize your life in such a manner that you control your response to stressors in the majority of situations.
Stress Management Steps
Below are three steps to stress management. These are ways that you can organize and control your response to a wide range of stressors.
1. Proactivity: Stress management should be, first of all, proactive. That is, you should take “action” to prepare for response “before” a stressor arises. If you are a secretary, think through the stressors you have encountered in your past work. List them, along with your normal reaction to them. Then take time, as much as you need, to form a stress management plan that will let you respond in a positive manner to those stressors. Are there interpersonal problems? Your best stress management response might be a soft answer and a smile as you go back to your work. Prepare yourself to give a positive response, and you will experience eustress – beneficial stress – rather than distress.
2. Redirection: A second step toward stress management is redirection of your response. Suppose your usual response to a heavy workload has been to pity yourself and/or eat for comfort. Redirect that response with stress management. Choose consciously to feel good about yourself. Laugh at the workload. Challenge it to a duel, so to speak, and set yourself small goals toward its completion. You can soon experience stress management and the euphoria of eustress.
3. Prevention: Stress management was long an unknown in society, partially due to effective training in planning one’s time. In an agrarian society, farmers knew how to plan their work. They knew when to get up to get the livestock watered and fed. They knew how early or late to plant crops. They planned, understanding that unusual things might happen. Such life planning is a stress management tool that prevents many stressors that would otherwise occur. If you plan your work, you will not let a half hour of gossip put you in a position where any extra work will be a stressor. If you plan your studies, a last minute assignment will not be the stressor it would otherwise be.
Define stress management accurately, and then take steps to change potentially debilitating “dis-tress” into liberating, happy eustress.