It is inevitable that you will feel stress at some point in your life. Whether you are frustrated with your job, a relationship, your responsibilities or the challenge of juggling a personal and professional life, stress can creep up on you when you least expect it.
Learning to get a handle on stress before it consumes you is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially when you are caring for little ones who need you to be operating at 100% every moment of the day. It can also lead to a healthier and happier life.
Know the Basics of Coping Mechanisms
According to Lou Ryan, cognitive behavioral training expert and founder of SelfHelpWorks, there are two basic types of coping mechanisms you can use in stressful situations; these are emotion-focused and problem-focused techniques. “Understanding the difference and learning to quickly transition from emotion-focused to problem-focused coping techniques will do wonders to reduce your stress levels, keep you healthier and more resilient,” says Ryan.
Emotion-focused coping techniques are often helpful in the short-term when you feel emotionally overwhelmed or the situation is out of control, says Ryan. “Emotional coping is how most people initially deal with a stressful situation,” he says. “However, getting stuck in the emotion-focused coping prevents you from adjusting to the situation and is linked to lower levels of resilience and higher levels of stress and illness.”
According to Ryan, emotion-focused coping techniques include:
- Denial: Refusal to believe that the stressful situation is real.
- Behavioral Disengagement: Reducing your efforts to deal with the stressful situation.
- Self-Distraction: Using an alternative activity to take your mind off the problem.
- Self-Blame: Blaming and criticizing yourself for what happened.
- Venting: Focusing on the upsetting experience and complaining about it.
Problem-focused coping involves looking at the situation in a different light and finding ways to change it, says Ryan. “When you use problem-focused coping techniques, your resilience and productivity actually increase and you’re also less likely to get stressed out or sick,” he says.
According to Ryan, problem-focused coping techniques include:
- Positive Reframing: Thinking about the stressful situation differently and interpreting it in a positive manner.
- Planning: Thinking about how best to handle the problem and making an action plan.
- Active Coping: Taking action to get rid of the problem or contain it so it doesn’t spill over into other areas.
- Acceptance: Accepting the reality of a stressful situation and learning to live effectively with that reality.
Being able to transition quickly from emotion-focused coping to problem-focused coping can lower your stress levels dramatically in virtually any situation and keep you bouncing back again and again, no matter what life throws at you, says Ryan.
Time-Saving Stress Reducers
Even though you may recognize that stress exists in your life, sometimes the responsibilities and pressures of caring for children and maintaining your own life can distort your ability to move from emotion-focused coping to problem-focused coping.
Time and stress go together like RAM and computer program glitches, says Dr. Robert Neff, chairman of Mental Training, an athletic training organization. “If you don’t have enough of the first one, you’ll soon have too much of the second,” says Neff.
If you’re on the stress track, Neff recommends the following techniques to help reduce the pressure:
- Start a to-do list: Perhaps you’ve heard that list-makers feel great when they cross off a completed task or check off reaching a milestone. But do you know why? That simple act releases endorphins – those same chemical signals that make you feel good when something makes you laugh.
- Avoid list-lock: Thinking you must stick to a list even when your priorities change can cause stress. You must constantly rethink your list and revise it to match reality. The inflexible will soon break if they don’t bend.
- Set Aside Time at Work: While at work, list home-related chores and do the same at home for tasks you face at work. Reason? Time management experts agree that always trying to separate the personal and the professional causes even more stress. But, they say, integrating the two will help you lead a more organized life.
Making your health a priority can also be a motivator to reduce stress. In the midst of a busy day caring for children, take a quick moment to breathe slowly, count to 10, close your eyes and relax with some one-minute meditations. The good news is that you cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time.