A Complete Guide to Stress Management

Do you ever feel like stress is killing you? Surely, we’ve all been in that state. But here’s the secret–you don’t need to be stressed! A lot of the stress that makes us unhappy is within our control. All we have to do is to break the habit of spinning in that stress vortex. Read on to learn some of my stress management ideas and strategies to help you get rid of your destructive stress or watch the Youtube video below!

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2 Types of Stress

The first thing we need to understand is that there are 2 types of stress: Good Stress and Destructive Stress. Encountering one or the other depends on how we interpret the situations we find ourselves in.

1. Good Stress

Good Stress, as the name suggests, is important stress. Its purpose is to inspire us and keep us focused. In some way, Good Stress keeps us alive. It is important to note, however, that this type of stress should not be constant. It is supposed to happen in spurts, in bursts of inspiration, something we do not feel too much of. 

2. Destructive Stress

Destructive Stress, on the other hand, is the type of stress that takes us away from that sweet spot of good performance, productivity, and profitability. This is the kind that we do not need, nor do we ask for. It only makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed. Instead of inspiring us to finish the things we need to do, it will only overwhelm us. Instead of helping us focus, it makes us turn to different directions and distracts us, adding to our level of stress.

Managing the Destructive Stress Vortex

Some people don’t even realize that they are in a Destructive Stress vortex. High-achievers, for one, are used to the overwhelming, buzzy environment. There is always something to do and they accept that, thinking that that’s just how life is. Having that mindset is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Awareness: What are the cues?

To help avoid Destructive Stress, we have to figure out when we’re feeling it in the first place. How do you approach stress? How does your body respond to stress? Stress could show up physically; it could be an upset stomach, shallow breathing, or something else entirely. Whatever stress looks like on you, it is important to realize when you are stressed. Know your cues and figure out your response. Recognizing when you are in a Destructive Stress vortex is the first step to getting out.

Awareness: How do you respond?

Another thing to note is that all the tasks we need to do and obstacles we need to solve are external to who we are. Even the relationships we have and the adversities we face–they are all separate from us. These are the “external stuff” we need to deal with on the daily. 

Now, we also have “us,” or our actual selves. In between “us” and the “external stuff,” we’ll find our reaction. This is how we respond to the “external stuff.” Our reaction to the things we need to do is what causes stress.

Knowing this, we see that the “external stuff” itself does not cause stress. How we interpret these tasks is the stress. So what type of reaction causes stress? We have misplaced emotions, negative storylines, and various barriers to performance. All of these reactions take all that is supposedly external to us, and shapes it into Destructive Stress.

3 Main Culprits of the Destructive Stress Vortex

Differentiating Destructive Stress from Good Stress is one thing. Avoiding it is another. How can we possibly get rid of all the bad stress in our lives? Of course it isn’t easy, but we have to reverse engineer our reaction to the external stuff. This way, we can stop causing unnecessary trips to the Destructive Stress vortex.

#1 Misplaced Emotion

Putting in misplaced emotions into a situation is a common way to add Destructive Stress into your life. Sometimes (if not most of), the emotions we feel are not even necessary to the task at hand. Maybe we feel angry about something else, and it doesn’t even apply to the situation we’re in. We have to practice emotional discipline to make sure that our emotions relate to the tasks and obstacles we face.

#2 Negative Storyline

Learn to examine the stories you tell yourself. There are times when we over exaggerate a task or situation, making it harder to accomplish. We may be looking too far into the future, filling our minds with “what if’s.” We may also find ourselves buying into someone else’s opinion on the situation. A good way to avoid negative storylines is to try not to read too much into a certain event.

#3 Barriers to Performance

Creating barriers to our performance can mean many things. The biggest culprits, which we’ve all been through, are worrying and procrastination. Worrying is rehearsing for trauma, waiting for something to go wrong. Think of it as a downpayment on a problem you may never even have! It causes you to perform poorly (or not at all!), not to mention waste your time. Procrastinating a task is also very counterproductive. It is prolonging the time you spend dealing with a certain situation. Many tasks shouldn’t take that much time to accomplish, but by procrastinating, you put more time into one simple chore!

Abolishing even just one of these Destructive Stress enablers will help lessen your overall stress levels. Reverse engineer your reaction to the “external stuff” so that the tasks you have won’t lead to Destructive Stress.

Stress Management: Do You Want to be Less Stressed or Do You Thrive in the Busy?

Still, the problem with a lot of people is that they do not want to stop being stressed. One could get their source of validation from being constantly stressed. If they didn’t have this buzzy, busy storyline, then they would feel less validated. It could be that surrounding themselves in a busy environment makes them feel like they are contributing to society.

If you relate to that idea, then maybe you don’t actually want to be less stressed. This kind of thinking is so engrained in who we are. Being busy is our identity. If we aren’t busy, we are failing. So to turn that around, we have to shed the busyness from our identity. Ask yourself: What is my identity when I am not stressed? Once we answer that, then we can shift our lives to a less stressful one.

Your Environment Also Affects Your Stress Level

Another simple factor that can contribute to stress is the environment you surround yourself with. More specifically, the people in your life may affect your stress levels. If you are often around people who are constantly stressed, then you will be constantly stressed as well. “Birds of a feather flock together” as they say. 

Observe your daily environment, because your stress may be coming from it. Hanging out with people who feed into this “busy is best” culture will also make you that way. It is almost like you are feeding each other with this busyness.

So, the environment you choose to be in will significantly influence how you live your life. If you are surrounded by people who are more relaxed, inspired, and focused, then keep going. These people make you feel empowered. They are who you want to be around. People with negative energy, on the other hand, will not make you feel good about your life. If this is the case, make changes on how you communicate with them. What needs to be done is to shift our relationships so that they do not negatively affect ourselves as well as others.

Be Willing to Make Changes

The trick to shifting your stress levels is to actually want to change. If you aren’t willing to make changes in how you respond to external stressors, then you will stay as stressed as you are now. Your last 6 months of stress will mirror your next 6 months in the future. Unless you make an effort to change how you deal with stress, your negative responses will stay the same even though the circumstances change. Only you can decide if you want to be less stressed.

Looking back on your last 6 months, can you say that you feel good about it? Is that what you want moving forward to your next 6 months? And if you don’t like how it was, are you willing to change it? We must understand that the only way to change our thinking is to unpack our emotions and reverse engineer our response to all of the “external stuff” we face. Because if we wait for the “external stuff” to change, then we will never have full freedom. We will never be truly happy, we cannot fully enjoy our lives, and our stress levels will skyrocket all the time. Remember, stress does not come from the “external stuff,” so changing them will do nothing to our stress levels.

Detach Yourself from the Eternal Stuff

Be mindful of your separation from the “external stuff.” Some of our tasks don’t even require emotional investment. A task that can be done in 15 minutes or less does not require 3 hours of procrastination. If a certain task is important, and it isn’t going away unless you do it, just get it done. Rip off the bandaid. Ignoring the tasks you need to do will only steal your capacity unnecessarily. Thus, it will make you feel a lot more tired even though you haven’t done anything to cross it off your list. We must emotionally detach ourselves from the tasks and obstacles to free up our capacity.

So, you know when you’re feeling Destructive Stress, you know what causes it and what needs to be done, what now? When you are in that Destructive Stress situation, do not ignore it. 

Instead, lean into it and feel the feels. Only then can you figure out and uncover the misplaced emotions, the negative storylines, and the barriers to performance you put into the equation. You may need to discipline your emotions and shift them to how you feel about the circumstance itself. Maybe you’re procrastinating, so change that. Immersing yourself in the roots of your Destructive Stress will help you see the real issue. That way, it’s easier for you to know which things you need to change and shift around.

The Critical 6 of Stress Management

There are things we can do to feel less stressed. One specific guideline is The Critical 6 of Stress Management. However, the flaw in this strategy is that it only adds to the long list of tasks we need to get done. In order to manage the stress, we have to do more. This is a problem because we may be adding into a capacity equation that isn’t working for us. Our personal capacity may be too full to handle more tasks, no matter how good they are for our stress levels.

Before entering the Critical 6 into our system, we need to figure out how to fix this capacity problem. Stop allowing those tasks and obstacles to consume as much of our mental, emotional, and physical capacity. Again, we cannot change these external stressors because they are part of our lives. What we can do instead is to shrink the amount of effort we put into accomplishing them. Only then can we have the freedom to add even more helpful tasks, A.K.A. The Critical 6, to help us handle the symptoms of Destructive Stress.

What exactly are The Critical 6 of Stress Management?

  1. Rest. The most obvious yet most neglected trick is to have some rest. And yes, sleep is one of, if not the most important type of rest. It is very important to let your mind and body rest and relax after long periods of busyness. However, getting effective sleep is not easy when you are working at midnight because you allow interruptions all day long. Your capacity equation may be, again, harmful to your lifestyle. Fix that issue, and then get the rest you so need.
  2. Exercise. I get it–many days, it’s not convenient to slip in exercise to your daily routine. But it is important to keep your body healthy, especially when under a lot of stress. Stress can be positively influenced by our physical health. Exercising makes us feel that we accomplished something. Further, being consistent with exercise will get those endorphins running. Being away from your desk even for a while will help you get some clarity, thus being able to come up with the best ideas.
  3. Mindfulness. There’s no contest that having quiet time will help relax your mind. Just having a few minutes of quiet can provide a sense of calm and peace. Taking it a step further, meditation will also allow your brain to have it’s well-deserved R&R.
  4. Laughter. A simple yet effective trick, indeed! As might be expected, it is hard to see the fun and joy when you are stressed. So, integrate laughter into your moments of stress. See the silver lining, see the funny in the situation. Maybe even watch funny YouTube videos for 5 minutes. However you see fit, consider having a laughter break once in a while.
  5. Be Optimistic. Look for the silver lining in the situation you’re in. Believe that there is always something good that can come out from the difficult. The difficult will always come one way or the other. Remind yourself that you do not have to rehearse for it. Instead, trust that you can deal with it when it does happen.
  6. Have strong social support. Surrounding yourself with friends and family who listen to you and comfort you really helps in lessening stress levels. You can hang out with them and do the things you enjoy together, and it will instantly brighten up your mood.

Now the interesting thing about The Critical 6 of Stress Management is that these are the first things to go when we get stressed. We forget about sleep, we’re too busy to exercise, we stop taking care of ourselves, we stop hanging out with friends. It can be quite challenging to see the good in the mundane when so much is going on in our minds. Remember, we need to free up our capacity before we add these 6 tips to our day to day.

Shift Your Response and Be Less Stressed

Shift your perspective. Instead of thinking you have all these things to do, believe that you get to do these things.

Shift your identity. If you believe that you hate exercise, then your body and brain will listen. But if you think otherwise, your body and brain will follow as well. What you expect from yourself is important to note.

Shift how you relate to all the external stuff around you. If you don’t, and you still react negatively to your daily tasks, then you will still be controlled by the things you need to do.

Allison Graham headshot smiling leaning against a grey wall, blue cardigan and white top

Welcome! I'm Allison Graham

Let’s face it – life is tough enough without having behaviour patterns that make life harder than it needs to be! 

That’s why I’m obsessed with finding ways to make the human experience easier by offering strategies for problem solving, dealing with chronic pain, leveraging empowering stress, and stopping patterns that create destructive stress. 

I hope you find huge value in my content. To go deeper please check out my online courses, coaching, and keynote speeches