Stress Management

Dealing with stress

What is stress management?

At its simplest, stress management is the term that is used to cover a wide range of different techniques that will help you to lower the feelings of stress you experience in daily life. Although some aspects of stress management are there to help with high levels of peak tension, known as acute stress, some are more focused on long-term feelings of strain, known as chronic stress. Either way, the idea is to lower the levels of things like cortisol, a hormone that is known to be related to feelings of anxiety and stress. When we learn techniques that will help to lower stress and deploy them properly, this is when stress can go from being something out of our control to a manageable phenomenon. In this regard, stress management is not dissimilar to anger management.

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Why are stress management techniques good to learn? 

As mentioned, there are numerous techniques that you can try to manage your stress effectively. Different people respond differently to the various methods on offer, so no single one can be considered better than others. Try things like meditation, deep breathing and reading something relaxing to lower the impact of stress hormones on your brain. Professional help can also be sought for stress management in the form of cognitive therapy, conflict resolution and certain types of psychotherapy. In many cases, getting out in nature, pampering yourself with some 'me time' and even listening to music has been shown to have a demonstrable effect in successfully managing stress.

What stress management models are there?

There are numerous theoretical models out there to be explored for anyone trying to combat stress. One of the main ones is the so-called transactional model, which was first developed in the 1980s. This model explains stress as an internal conflict when a person's resources cannot meet their demands or when their coping strategies have failed. Alternatively, in the health model of stress management, stress can be seen as innate and something that does not occur because of outward conflicts. In this approach to stress management, disengagement with negative thought processes is commonly proposed as a way to deal with it.

Can mindfulness be effective with stress management?

Yes, mindfulness is one of the main methods that a wide range of professionals are now advising people to adapt in order to lower their feelings of stress. Not only does it work well within the health model, but it can also be applied equally as successful in the transactional model. This is because it helps people to release themselves from their conflicts for a time, such as worrying about work pressures, for example. Mindfulness can also help anyone wanting to deal with and lower the signs of anxiety or depression and has also been successful in helping people combat addiction or deal with chronic pain.

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What stress management programmes are available in the workplace?

Not all employers are as engaged with stress management as they perhaps should be for the wellbeing of their employees and thereby also their company. This is not universal, however. In the aviation industry, for example, there have been big strides taken in the management of stress in recent years, largely because the sector is known to have a high burnout rate among employees and because the potential for catastrophic failure is higher when people feel stressed in this particular field. Stress management programmes tend to teach people how to be more objective with their approach to understanding their own stress.

When is stress management important?

Being able to manage stress more effectively is good at any time. If we start to feel anxious and pressured when we are placed under only modest levels of stress, then it can necessarily make carrying out tasks and achieving goals much harder. That said, most people have enough resilience and coping mechanisms to deal with everyday stresses. Therefore, the successful management of stress becomes more important when we are faced with exceptional pressure. This might come about because of a life event we have never had to deal with before, such as a relationship breakdown or becoming unemployed. High levels of stress may come about at work because extra workloads or responsibilities come your way. When we are faced with these sorts of exceptional stresses, the ability to manage them becomes even more important because failing to do so could lead to undesirable outcomes, such as burnout.

How does stress management influence health?

There are various mental health conditions that are associated with stress. Anxiety and depression are just two conditions that have links to stress. As such, good stress management can help to keep these conditions – or, at least, their worst effects – at bay. Nevertheless, managing stress is not all about mental health. It can have physical benefits, as well. For example, the onset of asthma is something that is known to be linked to stress. To be clear, managing stress well would never be able to cure you of such a condition, but it could mean you suffer fewer asthma attacks and lower the severity of those you do. Equally, stress has been found to be involved with the suppression of the immune system. In turn, this can make us more susceptible to all sorts of communicable diseases, such as the common cold, for instance.

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Are stress management skills easy to learn?

As previously mentioned, mindfulness techniques are often found to be effective in managing stress levels. However, the sort of mindfulness meditation that is often used to achieve these positive outcomes is not always suited to everyone. In such cases, simple breathing exercises are more likely to be of assistance in managing stress. By focussing the mind on something that is every day, such as breathing, it can help to refocus us. Equally, long and deep breaths will help to lower the heart rate and blood pressure, which can also start to alleviate feelings of stress. Such techniques are easy to learn, and all you need to do is to listen to a recording of a led breathing exercise to get to know what to do. Some people find that listening to relaxing music is enough to help them manage stress, and this is an even easier thing to do.

What is acute stress management?

Acute stress management is what people do to manage particular moments of high stress. All of the common methods used to handle stressful situations – such as taking a moment to reflect, breathing deeply or using mindfulness techniques – are usually there to manage acute stress. To be clear, acute stress is something that is temporary and will pass. The coping mechanisms people have will help them to get over such moments until these extenuating circumstances have passed. This is in contrast to managing chronic stress. Simply put, chronic stress is something that is akin to chronic pain insofar as it is felt over a significant amount of time. People in certain job roles or who have been exposed to traumatic situations repeatedly - such as in war zones, for example – may suffer from chronic forms of stress which need repeated, often daily management techniques to treat.

What is a stress management plan?

A stress management plan is nothing more than a self-written set of ideas for how you will cope with acute stress. People who suffer from clinical or chronic forms of stress will often have a plan drawn up by medical professionals, counsellors or psychologists. For acute stress plans, most people will write down a list of what it is that triggers their stress and their usual responses to them, such as feelings of anxiety or anger. These parts of the plan can then be referred to when we feel stressed to help normalise the experience when it may seem to be getting on top of us. Stress management plans will then often include a list of what is controllable and what is not with an action plan about how best to handle the controllable elements of the stress. This will usually refer to common management techniques for stress, such as deep breathing and relaxation sessions.

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How does the aviation industry handle stress management?

Because it is known to be a stressful industry, and because calmness is a key attribute needed by both pilots and cabin crews, professional stress management has long been a part of the aviation industry's approach. Few industries have put more into how they manage the stress levels of employees. As such, much can be learned about the way in which the sector has innovated with methods of assessing and managing stress. Essentially, aviation operators use several performance-based quantitative measures to assess the performance of employees, which offer insights into their stress levels. The sector also uses more qualitative tools, such as self-assessment questionnaires which employees will fill in about themselves several times a year. Another approach airlines and cargo flight operators use is to assess employees physiologically. In the case of pilots, this can mean monitoring their heart rate and taking their blood pressure, for instance.

Which measurement systems are associated with stress management?

There are numerous measurement systems that are in use in the field of managing stress professionally. One is the perceived stress scale, or PSS, which was first introduced in the early 1980s by American psychologists. This scale uses just ten questions which people must score themselves against on a rating of one to five. Each individual will have his or her score added up, with the most stressed people often achieving the highest tallies. Although this approach assesses stress in a relatively qualitative way, it is often helpful in ensuring people realise how much stress they are under. The coping skills inventory uses a similar methodology. However, instead of focusing on stress itself, this system asks people how often and to what extent they make use of common coping mechanisms. These might include things like religion, humour and even substance misuse, for example.

How can stress management improve quality of life?

Overall, stress management is supposed to help human beings to deal with a primaeval sensation. Like animals, we all feel stress in certain situations as we prepare for 'flight or fight'. In the wild, animals use this basic mechanism to survive, often helping them to feel more alert and focused. As such, stress can help people as well as hinder them. In business, the arts and sport, stress can be extremely useful. However, if left unchecked, it can also lead to poor decision making and, even worse, mental trauma and anguish. Therefore, doing away with stress is not always advisable and will not lead to a better quality of life. On the other hand, managing it so it can be harnessed but also such that it does not lead to unwanted health outcomes can lead to a great improvement in life quality.

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Stress management in summary

Managing stress is something that everyone does without necessarily realising it all the time. It is only when stress becomes unmanageable or that our coping mechanisms start to lead to detrimental outcomes that it needs to be thought about formally. Thankfully, psychologists have been developing ways of understanding how we can better manage our stresses and anxieties for decades. This now means that there are many tried and trusted techniques for overcoming high levels of acute stress as well as many cases of long-term, or chronic, stress.

In the workplace, successful stress management has many positives. These include the fact that fewer people will resign or go on long-term sick leave due to feelings of stress. As a result, there is a financial benefit to be had alongside the human one. For example, it means that less money will need to be spent on recruiting people to take over in job roles, and there will be greater levels of business continuity. Although some enterprises do not take the management of stress seriously, many forward-thinking organisations now do, including some government departments and charities as well as businesses.

From an individual's point of view, however, being able to cope with stress is about enjoying a better quality of life. Yes, in certain regards, stress will get the best out of us and help us to achieve more than we otherwise might. That said, to achieve these sorts of positive outcomes, stress needs to be effectively managed and not left to get out of control. Like many things in life, therefore, there is a balance that needs to be obtained in the successful management of stress.

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