Some levels of stress are unavoidable, especially when ambitious goals are involved. Although stress is a fundamental response to survival, it can also be triggered in situations that are not life threatening. These conditions can include public speaking, conflict, and even too much work. As I'm sure you know, long-term stress is proven to be detrimental to our mental and physical health. However, the good news is that we can create our own calm and manage stress.

Signs of Stress

Richard Lazarus, a psychologist, defined stress as,

"A condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize."

According to Cleveland Clinic's website, there are various signs of stress that we should look out for.

  • Physical symptoms: headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, muscle tension, increased heartbeat, chest pain, and/or sexual issues.
  • Behavioral symptoms: irritability, sleeping too much or too little, avoiding people or places, drinking more, smoking more, and/or eating too much or too little.
  • Mental symptoms: feeling overwhelmed, being forgetful, struggling to make decisions, and/or difficulty concentrating.

During a stressful situation, we may get the feeling that things are out of our control. So how can we get things back under control?

Not All Stress is Made Equal

There are different types of stress, which is important to identify. Hans Selye, a researcher in the area of stress, identified four types of stress: distress, eustress, hyperstress, and hypostress.

Eustress is "good stress," and a type of healthy tension we feel when getting out of our comfort zone and stretching our capacities. Distress, on the other hand, is when we feel anxious and panicky.

The intensity of stress varies as well. Hypostress can emerge as boredom, whereas hyperstress manifests as burnout.

When managing our stress, the goal is to maximize eustress while avoiding hyperstress and hypostress.

How to Create Your Calm

With most things in life, there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy we can use to manage our stress. However, there are three main types of strategies to create a sense of calm when things seem chaotic and out of control.

  • Action-based strategies. Directly address the situation that causes you stress. For example, you can apply time management techniques, avoid multi-tasking, say no more often, and write down your priorities.
  • Emotion-based strategies. Try changing the way you feel instead of changing the situation, if the stress is coming from within. Is it fear of failure, worry, or anger? Sleep, exercise, and meditation are all proven ways to help better manage emotions.
  • Acceptance-based strategies. Unfortunately, there are some situations that are out of our control. In these cases, try to develop emotional agility (in-depth article coming soon!). Essentially, try building a support group or forming habits like journaling that can help you cope with difficult situations.

Although we think of stress negatively, it is a natural part of life and work. The goal of managing stress better is to ensure short-term stress that our bodies can handle rather than harmful long-term stress.