How to best handle stress

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As much as we loathe it, stress is a part of human nature. Unless you’re surround by monks in a Japanese bonsai garden, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to find anyone who is truly without stress in their lives, including yourself. Stress is a common human trait and it can be a good thing – it can help you motivate yourself, perform at your peak and conquer fears – but too much can be debilitating. So how do you best handle excess stress?

How to know if you’re stressed

There are a few tell-tale signs that indicate high levels of stress. These can manifest themselves as psychological (depression, anxiety, pessimism, irritability and indecisiveness), behavioural (aggression, mood swings, isolation and underperformance), and physical (headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, insomnia and skin inflammation).

If these symptoms start to show themselves, it’s important to try to identify the source of the stress. This source may be work/study related (long hours, heavy workload, lack of resources, job insecurity or overbearing leaders) or of a more personal nature (relationship difficulties, harassment, bereavement or financial difficulties).

No matter what your specific situation, it’s important to know that there are ways and means of making it better.

Tips for stress relief

There are some general rules for dealing with stress no matter what the situation. You’ll notice that these fixes all boil down to one simple thing: treating yourself well.

If your body feels good, it’s far easier for your mind to follow suit. So step one is to treat your body as the stress-free temple. A good, healthy diet will ensure that you feel balanced, and regular exercise will release endorphins that have been proven to reduce stress levels. It’s amazing what a boxing session or dance class can do for your pent-up stress.

Talking to a loved one can be one of the quickest ways to reduce stress. It forces your internal thoughts to be voiced, and helps you to avoid overreacting to the events that have triggered the potential stress. You are programmed to be calmed when communicating with another human being, particularly with someone who makes you feel safe and understood.

When trying to relieve stress, your main aim should be to minimise time with the stressor. In these situations, it’s helpful to remember the four A’s.

Avoid any unnecessary stress – while many stressful situations need to be addressed, others simply do not. If you have stress-inducing people in your life, for example, avoid them as best you can.

Alter the situation – if your current methods are creating stress, alter them. Put a time management plan in place. Express yourself more. Be willing to compromise.

Adapt to the stressor – regain control in stressful situations by changing your attitude and expectations regarding them. Adjust your standards. Reframe problems. Look long term.

Accept the unchangeable – you can’t control the uncontrollable, so sometimes you just have to accept the state of play, and do you best to find the positives.

Stress management while studying

Study stress and anxiety are things that almost all students have experienced at one time or another. Again, it can be a healthy thing, provided you don’t get overwhelmed by it. If you do feel a little overcome as a student, it could be worth trying one of the solutions below.

A large chunk of student stress comes from a lack of time. You feel as though you’re on top of an assignment, but next thing you realise you’ve got 2000 words due by Monday morning. Remember: proper planning prevents poor performance. It’s a cliché for a reason. Use a wall chart to plan out your study calendar, and stick to that plan.

It’s also vital that you have a clear idea of what your teachers require of you. Chat to them and identify what they expect from you. The clearer your goal posts, the less stress and confusion involved in kicking those goals.

Like all things in life, when it comes to stress, moderation is key. Excessive stress can be debilitating to live with, so ensuring that you have the tools to manage your stress levels is vital for success in work, study or your personal life.

If you’re experiencing overwhelming stress, go to Head Space for resources, info and support services. Deakin students can access free, confidential counselling on campus.