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Take Control of Your Stress

by The traineo Team

September, when not handled correctly, can bring on a great deal of stress. The kids are back in school, traffic has picked up as a result, and your summer spending has finally caught up with your credit card bill. In addition, the relaxed atmosphere adopted by most workplaces during the summer months has reverted back to its relatively stressful state. No more half day Fridays or extended lunch breaks.

That there are thousands of stressors in our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. A stressor is an agent that puts mental pressure or strain on an individual. Notice that this definition has neither a negative nor a positive connotation. That is because a stressor can be positive or negative. Winning the lottery, for example, puts a large amount of mental strain on a person, and as such is a strong stressor. In order to show the relative importance of stressors, Psychologists often construct “Life Stressors Charts” wherein they rank stressors by strength. Major life changes such as pregnancy, marriage and separation always rank highest on these charts.

It's important to realize that stressors, though overwhelming at times, are often good for us. They provide our lives with excitement, anticipation and emotions that fuel us. If our lives were absent of stressors, we would feel as though in a stand-still and would accomplish little. Our goal in dealing with our stress, then, should not necessarily be to eliminate it, but rather to learn how to manage it.

If you, like so many Americans at this time of year, feel overwhelmed by stress, it helps to take a look at why you're feeling that way. Identifying your stressors is the first step towards managing them. Try to be aware of your mood changes throughout the day. If you find yourself particularly happy, annoyed or upset at any point in the day, take a step back and determine the root of that emotion. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to jot down a list of the stressors you encountered throughout the day. Beside each one, rate whether it is a good or bad stressor.

The “good stressors” on your list can be left alone. As long as you don't come across an overwhelming number of them throughout your day, good stressors are good for your health. Focus instead on the bad stressors on your list. When considering them, determine how strongly each affects your mood throughout the day. Does the stressor leave you annoyed for 3 hours or for only a few seconds? Also, determine how strongly each affects your mood. Is the stressor hardly noticeable or does it make you really mad?

Once you've identified the nature of each stressor, you'll be able to see which ones you should work on changing. The most harmful stressors are those that are severely bad and affect you for the longest duration of time. These are called “chronic negative stressors” and are so bad for you because they contribute the most to high blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, sleep disturbances and even skin and reproductive problems.

Now that you've identified the stressors that you need to manage, you can ask yourself whether it's feasible to reduce or eliminate them. If you find that your boss is your chronic negative stressor, you might realize that it's impossible to change who your boss is. You can, however, reduce the stress given to you by your boss. While speaking with or thinking about him or her, you can focus on slow, deep breathing and employ relaxation techniques that will help reduce your physical reactions. If, on the other hand, you find that the stressor is avoidable, then it's in your best interest to avoid it. For instance, if you find that a certain intersection on your commute to work contributes to your daily stress, you can choose to take a different route or mode of transportation to work.

The methods discussed above will work in reducing the effects of stressors in your life. The best and most permanent way to deal with stress, however, is to suit your body to dealing with it. It's been found that exercising is a very effective way to fend off stressors. A fit body with a strong heart and strong lungs is well equipped in avoiding the physical effects of chronic negative stressors. Also, exercising is a positive stressor, and so favors a positive balance between good and bad stress in your life. Stress relief is yet another great reason to treat your body well – get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet, work on maintaining your ideal body weight, and exercise regularly.