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Coping with Stress

Md Shamim -ul-alam

In small doses, stress is a good thing. It can energise and motivate you and perhaps even prevent or delay certain types of damage to your cells. But prolonged or excessive stress the kind that overwhelms your ability to cope can take a severe psychological and physical toll. High stress levels have been linked to depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems, an impaired immune system and cancer.

The following tips may help reduce your stress.

Identify your stress triggers

Your genes, personality and life experiences all influence the way you respond to stress. Situations and events that are distressing for most people might not bother you in the least. Or, you may be particularly sensitive to even minor stressors. The first step in dealing with stress is identifying your particular stress triggers.

Some causes of stress are obvious -- job loss, a divorce, the death of a loved one. But small, daily hassles and demands such as a long commute or trouble finding childcare also contribute to your stress level. Over time, small, persistent stressors can wreak more havoc than sudden, devastating events do.

Try one or more of these techniques to help identify the factors causing you stress
* Keep a stress journal. For one week, note which events and situations cause a negative physical, mental or emotional response. Record the day and time. Give a brief description of the situation. Where were you? Who was involved? What seemed to cause the stress? Also, describe your reaction. What were your physical symptoms? How did you feel? What did you say or do? Finally, on a scale of 1 (not very intense) to 5 (very intense), rate the intensity of your stress.
* Make a list of all the demands on your time and energy for one week. Some examples may include your job, volunteer work, driving kids to after-school activities or caring for an elderly parent. Then, on a scale of 1 (not very intense) to 5 (very intense), rate the intensity of stress that each demand causes.

Sit down and look at your stress recordings. Pay particular attention to events that you ranked as very stressful. Select one of them to work on using problem-solving techniques. That means identifying and exploring the problem, looking for ways to resolve it, and selecting and implementing a solution.

Suppose, for instance, that you're behind at work because you leave early to pick up your son from school. You might check with other parents to see if your son can ride with them. Or, you might come in early, work through your lunch hour or take work home to catch up. The best way to cope with stress is to try to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it.

Improve your time management skills
Effective time management skills can help you identify goals, set priorities and minimise stress in your life. Use these tips to improve your time management skills and lower your stress level.
* Create realistic expectations and deadlines for yourself, and set regular progress reviews.
* Throw away unimportant papers on your desk.
* Prepare a master list of tasks. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order.
* Use a planner. Store addresses and telephone numbers there. Copy tasks from your master list onto the page for the day on which you expect to do them. Evaluate and prioritise daily.
* For especially important or difficult projects, reserve an interruption-free block of time behind closed doors.

Extinguish job burnout
Nowhere is stress more likely than in the workplace. Twenty-five percent of people say that their job is the primary stressor in their lives. And the vast majority of workers believe that on-the-job stress is worse today than it was just 10 years ago.
Job stress can affect your professional and personal relationships, your livelihood, and your health.

Here are strategies you can use
* Identify the source of the problem. Whether it's an unrealistic workload, job insecurity, inadequate compensation, office politics or a hostile work environment, you need to figure out what's making you miserable at work and then take steps to deal with it.
* Develop friendships at work and outside the office. Sharing unsettling feelings with people you trust is the first step toward resolving them. Minimise activities with "negative" people who only reinforce bad feelings.
* Take time off. Take a vacation or a long weekend. During the workday, take short breaks.
* Set limits. When necessary, learn to say no in a friendly but firm manner.
* Choose battles wisely. Don't rush to argue every time someone disagrees with you. Keep a cool head, and save your argument for things that really matter.
* Get a hobby. Read, enjoy a hobby, exercise or get involved in some other activity that is relaxing and gets your mind off work.
* Seek help. If none of these things relieves your feelings of stress or burnout, ask a health care professional for advice.

Adapted from Mayo Clinic

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