How Do You Manage Stress When You Feel Overwhelmed?
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For many, March and April are the height of stress and anxiety. Students are faced with midterms and finals, couples are faced with wedding season, and for some, late spring may call for moving and relocation. While there are many things we can do to reduce our stress during this time, see some ideas here, coping with momentary stress is different from managing stress.
Coping with stress might include short-term activities that reduce the effects of the event, but managing stress in your life can help you prepare for difficult events so that when they arise, you are better equipped to handle them and they won’t cause too much disruption to your everyday life. See a visual breakdown of coping versus healing here.
As suggested by the Harvard Business Review, the impact of feeling perpetually overwhelmed can range from “mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating or thinking logically, to a racing mind or an impaired ability to problem solve.” Overtime, neglecting the management of stress can worsen these effects, making everyday tasks trickier to complete.
As stated by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Not all stress is bad. But long-term stress can lead to health problems. Preventing and managing long-term stress can lower your risk for other conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression.”
Now that we have a better grasp on the differences between coping with and managing stress as well as the negative effects of long-term stress, we can discuss changes that can be implemented into our everyday lives to diminish long-term stress.
- Planning ahead and organizing can be a meticulous task for those to whom it does not come naturally. Personally, I’ve bought a planner and calendar every year of high school and college. Unfortunately, this did not stop me from leaving them in a corner of my room and not touching them until it was time to relocate or clean. In cases like this, the trick is to find systems that work. For example, if you prefer visuals, find a way to organize that takes that preference into account. Put to-do items on sticky notes, use Google Calendar, draw on whiteboards, or use mind maps. If you like spreadsheets, put your to-do lists and plans in Excel, or consider apps like that will allow you to track your progress in a numeric way.
- In moments where tasks are beginning to pile up, try techniques such as the ABCDE method. Here’s how it works:
- Go through your list and give every task a letter from A to E (A being the highest priority)
- For every task that has an A, give it a number which dictates the order you’ll do it in
- Repeat until all tasks have letters and numbers
- Once you know how to prioritize your tasks and your time, you realize that much of the work that feels urgent doesn’t really need your attention. At least not right away.
- Also, consider color coordination with your calendar in terms of priority. For example, red can be a top priority, yellow is a medium priority, and green is a lower priority.
Prepare for Stressful Events
- “Meta-stress,” is something that occurs when you worry about stress in advance. While tense situations are bound to happen in our personal and professional lives, there are ways to alleviate those feelings beforehand, and save yourself from the buildup of anxious thoughts that can take a toll on your well-being. Things such as taking a day off before a busy day, or communicating with others before a stressful event and reaffirming boundaries or asking for help or delegating can reduce the hit of stressful feelings on the big day.
Set Boundaries With Your Time and Workload
- Setting boundaries at work can include minimizing the hours you spend on a task or project, leaving the office by a certain time, or saying no to specific types of work. Saying no and setting expectations can prevent others from taking advantage of your time and helps you by not losing track of time and neglecting other areas of your life.
Challenge Your Perfectionism
- Perfectionism can lead us to make tasks or projects bigger than they need to be, which can lead to procrastination and psychological distress. Is it really worth the extra effort in the long run? If the answer is very little, stop where you are and be done with it. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. Overall, this active decision to finish a task can allow for more time spent on other projects that might begin to pile up. It may also help to check out a few books on perfectionism!
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