There are countless articles on how to reduce stress, live a positive life, and be more zen. And while we’re all on board for trying to be happier, aiming to totally eliminate stress from your life is not sustainable and frankly, not that helpful. What is helpful? Learning how to handle the inevitable stress that’s part of life so you can deal with it constructively without letting it ruin your day. In this article we’ll address seven common daily stressors and how to manage them in real time. Not by assuming you have an hour to sit in child’s pose every time someone frustrates you, but with quick methods to process the stressor and move on with your day.
The Long-Term Effects Of Stress On Your Health
Before delving into the most common daily stressors, let’s examine how chronic stress can affect your health. In the short term, a stressful situation can cause you to experience a weakened immune system, tension headaches, migraines, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, and more. But over the long run, continual stress becomes chronic, and that’s when it can really wreak havoc on your body. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress poses long-term threats to your respiratory, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, reproductive and nervous systems. Yikes!
Long-term stress can cause:
- increased risk of stroke and heart attack
- fertility problems and low sex drive
- weakened immune system
- high blood pressure
- increased weight gain, which can put you at greater risk for Diabetes or heart disease
- high blood sugar
- high inflammation in the body, which puts you at an increased risk of heart attack
- memory impairment and poor concentration
- increased instances of anxiety and depression
You can see why stress management is crucial to your overall health. Let’s look at seven common daily stressors and the simple techniques you can use to manage them. Managing your stress allows you to acknowledge your stressor and move on without letting it do long-term harm.
1. Running Late In The Morning
Mornings can be stressful—that’s inevitable in today’s society. When you’re in a hurry and trying to do everything at once, it can backfire. Frazzled, you’re more likely to make mistakes. You put your shirt on backwards, spill your coffee or forget to pack a lunch. So what should you do to avoid stress if you find yourself in a hurry to leave the house but have a ton of things to do first?
Stress Management Tip: Do less with more focus
If you’re short on time in the morning, try focusing on completing only two or three important tasks. Take them one at a time, giving each your whole attention before moving on to the next. Maybe it’s feeding the dog and putting your hair in a quick ponytail, or getting your child ready for school and enjoying a cup of coffee. Avoid the urge to multitask and don’t get bogged down in distractions—your email can wait until you get to your desk, and will anything bad really happen if you don’t curl your hair, take out the trash, or make a gourmet breakfast before you leave? Do only the essential tasks, and tackle them one at a time instead of trying to do multiple things at once.
2. A Long Commute
Is there anything more stress-inducing than a traffic jam or a long commute? Whether you travel by car, bus, train, or bike, a long commute is one of those life circumstances that’s inherently frustrating because there’s nothing you can do about it. Reframe the narrative and instead of feeling victimized by traffic, use it as time for yourself.
Stress Management Tip: Reclaim your time
Instead of focusing on something you can’t change, reclaim your commute as time that’s just for you. Listen to a funny podcast, play music, or focus on what you are grateful for today. If you ride the train or bus, use your time to make lists for the week ahead, journal, or start a juicy book that you only read when you’re commuting. If feelings of frustration or impatience come up, take 10 deep inhales and exhales. On the inhales say to yourself I accept what I cannot change and as you exhale say I use this time to be grateful for my breath.
“Peace: it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” – Unknown
3. Email Overwhelm
As the number of emails in your inbox rises, so can your stress. Practice a strategy that many successful people use to be more productive: only check your emails during certain times of the day. You do not need to answer each email the second it comes in—this interrupts what you’re currently doing and makes you switch back and forth between different tasks. Neuroscientists say that multitasking drains you of mental energy; it causes you to feel more fatigued and actually hinders your ability to do any one task well.
Stress Management Tip: Designate specific times to check your inbox throughout the day
Pick three times throughout your work day: Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, at noon, at 2 pm, and at 5 pm when you respond. In between those times, you can work on things that come up, but unless something is high priority, it’s likely just something that needs your attention as soon as you have time to do it. Checking your email at this time can help you glance at new projects or demands and re-prioritize the rest of your workday, but you aren’t constantly interrupting what you’re doing to answer a new question.
4. Resistance To Your Current Emotional State
When you think you “should” feel or be a certain way but you just don’t, it causes a stressful inner disconnect. You end up feeling ashamed and then stressed that you’re not doing everything perfectly, or that you’re tired or a little angry about something. Yes, we all have things we have to get done on any given day and can’t bow to our every emotional whim. But you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself to be in a perfect, happy frame of mind 24/7.
Stress Management Tip: Repeat an emotional acceptance mantra
If you’re feeling low-energy, melancholy, or upset, work on first accepting how you feel without judging it. As you go through a difficult day, repeat this mantra: Emotions come and go, and I observe them with a calm awareness. By letting go of the need to run from negative emotions, you’ll actually find you can process them more quickly, and any inner resistance or stress about how you “should” feel tends to dissolve.
5. Interpersonal Conflict
Throughout your day you’re bound to have an irritating encounter or two. Maybe someone cuts ahead of you in line or you have a notoriously cranky coworker who loves to complain to you. Sometimes the most stressful conflicts can be with people you normally get along with, too—a tiff with your spouse in the morning can stick with you all day and leave you feeling on edge. So how do you deal with a stressful interaction with another person?
Stress Management Tip: Use the 4-7-8 breath to de-escalate
We can’t control what other people do, but we can own our reactions. When another person is irritating you, focus on the 4-7-8 breath: breathe in for four seconds; hold it for 7 seconds; exhale for 8. Repeat this cycle for one minute. It’s a well-known breathing technique that helps ease anxiety and nervous tension. When you can come from a calm place it will de-escalate the situation and allow you to own your response to someone instead of simply reacting.
6. Being Overstimulated
Both noise and screen pollution can cloud our thinking and keep our nervous system running on overdrive. The stress of chaotic surroundings—screaming kids or barking dogs, a busy bus full of talking people, an office full of chatter, constant screen time… it all overstimulates us. Both technological and noise stimuli can even make us fatigued and depressed. Overexposure to blue light from devices is scientifically known to increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and can keep you up at night, too.
Stress Management Tip: Limit screen time + set aside 15 minutes of quiet meditation per day
When you get home from work, resist the urge to turn on the television or check your phone right away. Get some time away from screens; go for a walk, prepare dinner and sit down to eat it, read a book, or do something with your hands. Set aside 15 minutes of quiet meditation at night where you don’t have noise or blue light pollution spiking your cortisol. Set aside quiet time where you can just unwind.
7. Tossing And Turning All Night
Stress causes insomnia, and in turn, insomnia causes major stress. It’s not a pretty cycle. And when you’re tossing and turning, focusing on the fact that you’re awake when you shouldn’t be causes a great amount of stress. As long as you stay in bed and stay fretting about your lack of sleep, you’re likely to stay awake.
Stress Management Tip: Get out of bed
If you’re experiencing insomnia that lasts more than 5-10 minutes, get out of bed and go into another room to do something relaxing. Read a book, have a glass of warm milk, meditate, journal, whatever you like. Just don’t put the focus on forcing yourself to sleep—focus instead on doing a simple task in a calm manner. Only get back into bed when you start to feel drowsy. You’ll take the pressure off yourself—and likely be able to fall back asleep in the process.