Know your stressors
Effective stress management starts with identifying your sources of stress and developing strategies to manage them. One way to do this is to make a list of the situations, concerns or challenges that trigger your stress response. Take a moment to write down some of the top issues you're facing right now. You'll notice that some of your stressors are events that happen to you while others seem to originate from within.
External stressors are events and situations that happen to you. Some examples of external stressors include:
- Major life changes. These changes can be positive, such as a new marriage, a planned pregnancy, a promotion or a new house. Or they can be negative, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce.
- Environment. The input from the world around us can be a source of stress. Consider how you react to sudden noises, such as a barking dog, or how you react to a bright sunlit room or a dark room.
- Unpredictable events. Out of the blue, uninvited houseguests arrive. Or you discover your rent has gone up or that your pay has been cut.
- Workplace. Common stressors at work include an impossible workload, endless emails, urgent deadlines and a demanding boss.
- Social. Meeting new people can be stressful. Just think about going on a blind date, and you probably start to sweat. Relationships with family often spawn stress as well. Just think back to your last fight with your partner or child.
Strategies to manage external stressors include lifestyle factors such as eating a healthy diet, being physically active and getting enough sleep — which help boost your resiliency. Other helpful steps include asking for help from others, using humor, learning to be assertive, and practicing problem-solving and time management. Consider how you use your time and energy by focusing on activities that are important to you, paring down the number of activities you're involved in, and saying no to new commitments.
Not all stress stems from things that happen to you. Much of our stress response is self-induced. Those feelings and thoughts that pop into your head and cause you unrest are known as internal stressors. Examples of internal stressors include:
- Fears. Common ones include fear of failure, fear of public speaking and fear of flying.
- Uncertainty and lack of control. Few people enjoy not knowing or not being able to control what might happen. Think about how you might react when waiting for the results of a medical test.
- Beliefs. These might be attitudes, opinions or expectations. You may not even think about how your beliefs shape your experience, but these preset thoughts often set us up for stress. Consider the expectations you put on yourself to create a perfect holiday celebration or advance up the career ladder.
The good news is that we have the ability to control our thoughts. The bad news is that our fears, attitudes and expectations have been our companions for a long time and it often takes some effort to change them. Strategies to manage internal stressors include reframing your thoughts and choosing a positive mindset, challenging negative thoughts, using relaxation techniques, and talking with a trusted friend or counselor.
Take the first step
Recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it. By beginning to identify and understand the sources of your stress, you've taken the first step in learning to better manage it. Manage it, not eliminate it. Stress is a fact of life. And that's OK. You can learn ways to handle it.
April 28, 2016
See more In-depth
- Stress: The different kinds of stress. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-kinds.aspx. Accessed March 29, 2016.
- Stress and your health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/stress-your-health.html. Accessed March 29, 2016.
- Seaward BL. Essentials of Managing Stress. 4th ed. Burlington, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2017.
- Olpin M, et al. Stress Management for Life. 4th ed. Boston, Mass.: Cengage Learning; 2016.
- Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. 8th ed. Burlington, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2015.
- Creagan ET (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 6, 2016.