Stress should be increasingly recognised as a disease so that people recognise it and seek treatment and lifestyle changes. This should not be interpreted as admission of guilt or weakness or inability to cope. It is a way to identify the problem and plan measures to overcome this.
The A-B-C strategy is often used by psychologists for effective stress management. The beauty of this strategy is that it can be used by the layman as a form of self-help tool for making the necessary modifications in his life.
A is for awareness
Be aware of the various factors, internal or external, which increase your stress levels. When you are feeling under pressure next time, make a note of what caused it and how you could have coped with this situation better. Talk to your trusted colleagues or friends and get their perception of you as a person. Are you too aggressive or do you come across as rude or intolerant towards others. Do you treat your colleagues and subordinates with respect? Finally, be truthful to yourself and ask yourself whether whatever you do and the means to achieve your ends are justified.
B is for balance
All stress, as we have already discussed, is not bad. Without stress, we would be uncompetitive and lose out in the real world. This is what spurs us to achieve and progress and gives us milestones to measure or success and worth. Still, a balance has to be achieved between the positive and the negative stress. It is okay to take on additional responsibility during times of need such as financial or family pressures inspite of the stress which you suffer, but if this is prolonged and taking a toll of your mind or your body, it is better to reduce things or do them in moderation. Learning to say "no" is important.
C is for coping and control over your life
This is where you learn to make those changes in your environment or yourself to cope better and combat negative stressor. These include stress management techniques and changing or modifying your thinking, your behaviour and your lifestyle:
Reframing or emotionally-oriented approach: If you do not have the power to change a situation, then you may be able to improve things by changing the way you look at it, and feel about it, by using an emotionally oriented approach. These are often less attractive than action-oriented approaches. In that the stresses can recur time and again; however, they are useful and effective in their place.
Power of positive thinking: Focusing on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Make a written list of your strong and weak points (be truthful)- use your strength to your advantage and work on eliminating or strengthening your weaknesses. Constantly look for opportunities to de-stress. In a hectic job schedule, reserve 20 minutes of your time to take a walk or have lunch with a friend.
Acceptance-oriented: Sometimes, we have so little power in a situation that it is all we can do to survive it. This is the case, for example, when loved ones die. In these situations, often the first stage of coping with the stress is to accept one's lack of power.
Action- oriented: To be able to take an action oriented approach, we must have some power in the situation. If we do, then action-oriented approaches are some of the most satisfying and rewarding ways of managing stress. These are techniques that we can use to manage and overcome stressful situations, changing them to our advantage.
- Be assertive, not aggressive: Being assertive involves standing up for your personal rights and expressing but not imposing your thoughts feelings and beliefs. Do not infringe on the rights of other people though. Assertiveness includes establishing eye-contact but NOT staring. Learn to use body language effectively, be concise and to the point. Give yourself the right to decline responsibility for other people's problem. Assertiveness gives you a higher self esteem and feeling of self-control.
- Get organised: Make lists and prioritise objectives and activities. Keep them achievable and enjoyable. Avoid chaos in the workplace.
- Practise effective time management: Avoid procrastination, learn to say "no," delegate responsibility, drop useless pursuits and plan your day in advance.
- Start writing a diary to release pent up feelings, talk to a close friend or trusted colleague, appoint a mentor and listen.
- Use humour and develop an ability to laugh at yourself. As rightly said, 'humour is the best medicine'. Humour is a good stress reducer, relaxes muscular tension, increases the levels of endorphins or the "feel good factors" in the body and improves breathing and circulation. It also keeps you healthy and feeling younger. Join a laughter club in your areas.
- Diversion and distraction: In a tense situation, take time out to think logically. Walk away from the situation for some time. You will be surprised by the way you feel even 15 minutes later. Practice slow deep breathing to relax your muscles. The age-old remedy of counting till 100 when you are anticipating an explosive outburst of your emotions helps effectively to calm you down.
- Diet control: Control your diet. Avoid comfort eating when you are stressed. It is a well known scientific fact that if you can beat your craving for 15 minutes, the craving normally disappears. Use distractions in such situations. Or keep a fruit handy. Avoid smoking at all. Avoid alcohol or drink only in moderation. It is quite easy for a liking to become an addiction in times of stress. Avoid excess caffeine and restrict salt intake.
- Regular exercise: dissipates pent up energy from the fight-or-flight response. Regular exercise is a good de-stressor which reduces the heart rate and makes the heart beat more effectively, reduces blood pressure, releases endorphins and strengthens our immune system. It also improves one's self-images, increases social contact and promotes good quality sleep. It is recommended that you exercise at least thrice every week for an hour with activities of medium intensity.
- Sleep: Scientists recommend eight hours of sleep daily. Try and sleep at the same time daily, avoid heavy meals or exercise just before bedtime. Instead, take a relaxing hot bath and a glass of warm milk to relax you completely. This gives you better ability to cope each day. Avoid sleep deprivation which causes irritability, easy fatigue and increased stress.
- Leisure activities: It provides an outlet for relief and relaxation, improves social contact and reduces aggression. Avoid spending too much time in front of the idiot box. Having at least one meal a day with the entire family at the table is pleasurable and an effective anti-stress agent.
- Alternative medicine: As more and more people recognise and seek changes to their faulty lifestyle, many traditions are making a comeback. Newer therapies are being explored and harnessed to enable people to achieve and yet relax and enjoy their life at the same time. Yoga, massage therapy, acupressure, and acupuncture, meditation, aromatherapy, herbalism, reflexology, homeopathy and hypnosis are making a comeback. Pet therapy has taken off in a big way. New counselling techniques and psychotherapy, bio-feedback and modern drugs are being used in the extreme cases with good results.