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Below are some extracts from our Stress Management manual.

Understanding Stress

What is Stress?

The Random House Dictionary defines stress as, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension,” and, “a situation, occurrence, or factor causing this.”

Stress can be difficult to pin down because it is a very individual thing. Typically, we interpret stress as a negative thing, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

What is Eustress?

Eustress means stress with a positive effect. It was coined by psychologist Richard Lazarus in 1974.

Think of the emotional strain caused by these positive events:

  • Winning a race
  • Being a new parent
  • Riding a rollercoaster
  • Watching a scary movie

In these situations, the physical, mental, or emotional strain produces positive emotions, rather than the negative emotions usually associated with stress. Without distress or eustress, life would be pretty boring.

 

Understanding the Triple-A Approach

There are three main ways to approach stress. It is important to remember that you have a choice. You can choose to:

       Alter the Situation

       Avoid the Situation

       Accept the Situation

Altering the Situation

Your first option when dealing with stress is to alter the situation or your approach to it. You can do this by:

  • Thinking positively and having a positive attitude
  • Improving specific skills that will help you manage the situation
  • Doing something differently

Some examples:
You always find going to the dentist stressful. You decide to think positively about it: “Well, if I get this over with, it will be done for a whole year.” You also decide to bring along some relaxing music on your MP3 player to help you cope with the appointment.

You find interacting with a particular co-worker stressful because they tend to be very aggressive. You decide to take some communication and assertiveness training.

Traffic has become heavy on your morning commute. You decide to take a different route.

Identifying Appropriate Situations
Altering the situation is one of the most effective steps you can take towards managing your stress. By taking control of the situation and changing it to be less stressful, you are putting the power back in your hands.

However, there are a few instances where altering the situation is not appropriate, including situations where:

  • Altering the situation is not safe. (For example, you find wearing your seatbelt claustrophobic, so you don’t wear it.)
  • Altering the situation means transferring the stress to someone else.
  • Make sure that the benefit will be worth the effort in the long term.
  • Also, ensure that your actions are helpful and kind to all involved. Adding negativity to your life will not help reduce stress.

Avoiding the Situation

This method is all about identifying the things that you needlessly stress about, and how to remove those items from your life.

Identifying Appropriate Situations
Avoiding the situation is appropriate if:

  • Repercussions are non-existent or extremely minor
  • Other people are not negatively impacted
  • Do not use this approach if:
  • Avoiding will cause more stress in the long term than the short term (for example, avoiding the dentist or doctor’s office)
  • Avoiding will transfer stress to someone else
  • Avoiding will negatively impact your health and/or safety

The Positive No
One of the most powerful tools for avoiding a stressful situation is the Positive No. This tool enables you to say no in a way that maintains control over the situation but does so in a constructive, assertive way.

The Positive No comes in several forms:

Say no, followed by an honest explanation
 - “I am uncomfortable doing that because…”

Say no and then briefly clarify your reasoning without making excuses
 - “I can’t visit our neighbour right now because I promised Jenny I would take her to the playground.”

Say no, and then give an alternative
 - “I don’t have time today, but I could schedule it in for tomorrow morning.”

Empathetically repeat the request in your own words, and then say no.
 - “I understand that you want everyone to partake in the roast beef supper, but I do not eat beef.”

Provide an assertive refusal and repeat it no matter what the person says
 - “I understand how you feel, but I will not [or can not]…”

Remember to stay focused and not become side-tracked into responding to other issues.

Accepting the Situation

Accepting will help us deal with those things in life that just need to be done, even though they are unpleasant. Some examples include:

  • Going to the dentist
  • Taking a turn presenting a team project instead of passing it off to someone else
  • Visiting a lonely neighbour who tends to be unpleasant

Identifying Appropriate Situations
Accepting the situation is appropriate when:

  • The task must be done eventually
  • Avoiding or altering it would cause undue stress to you or another person
  • Accepting the situation is not appropriate when:
  • You are doing so just to please others
  • Avoiding or altering it would reduce your stress more than accepting it
  • You are accepting it because you feel you have no choice

With this model, you are choosing to accept the situation rather than to alter or avoid it. Often, having that power of choice can reduce stress greatly.

 

Environmental Relaxation Techniques

Finding a Sanctuary

Although escapism isn’t a good plan long-term, having a mental place to escape to and regroup can be a useful tool.

To create your personal sanctuary, start by thinking of your favourite place. It can be anywhere - a tropical island, a snowy mountain, an exotic jungle - wherever you feel most relaxed and safe.

Now, use your senses to capture all the elements of your sanctuary.

  • What do you see?
  • What does it smell like?
  • What does it taste like? (For example, you may be able to taste the salt in the air by the ocean)
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What textures do you associate with this place?
  • What sounds would you hear?

Feel free to create a physical sanctuary by writing down your observations or putting up a picture at your desk.

Using Music

Music can also be a great soother for the soul. Experts believe that the rhythm has powerful effects on our bodies, so if you need to relax, try to listen to some calming music. Jazz, classical, and even nature sounds are great ways to transport you to another place and give you time to unwind and regroup after a stressful situation. Music with an upbeat tempo can help you get back in the groove and up your mood.

Seeing the Humour

Humour is a great stress reliever. It has been scientifically proven that a good laugh lowers blood pressure, reduces hormones created by stress, gives the immune system a boost, and creates a sense of well-being and happiness.

Remember these points when using humour as stress relief.

  • Reading a funny story or joke can be a great way to make yourself laugh.
  • Keeping a humorous calendar in your cubicle is a good way to have a laugh at hand, particularly if it’s the page-a-day type. Just make sure it’s appropriate and permitted in your office.
  • Seeing the humour in a stressful situation can be difficult, but it can also help you put things in perspective. Try to imagine how the situation might appear from the outside, or how you might see it down the road.
  • Sharing a laugh with friends and family is always a good pick-me-up. When sharing jokes at work, be sensitive to others, and make sure that what you’re sharing is appropriate

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