Your boss just put a huge project on your plate and you’re already stretched thin with your regular workload. Meanwhile, evenings are jam-packed with soccer practices, orthodontist appointments and housework. Plus, you just found out your dog needs an expensive surgery, oh, and what’s that weird noise your car engine is making?|
Stress can have any number of triggers and can manifest in countless ways. While some people thrive under stress, most of us have fewer positive reactions. Common symptoms of stress can include headaches, trouble sleeping, irritability and stomach problems, but severe cases can even lead to panic attacks or chronic pain.
Next time you start to feel stressed, it can be helpful to stop and ask yourself a few questions to help you stay calm, assess the situation and react in a healthy manner.
1. Is there another way to approach the problem?
If you’re feeling like you’ve reached a dead-end, perhaps there’s another route available to reach your destination. For example, if you’re staring at a seemingly impossible project, consider breaking it up into multiple smaller, more manageable projects. Or if you’re having trouble getting through to someone, perhaps you’d have better luck reaching out to a different contact. You might even ask a third party for their fresh perspective on overcoming whatever obstacle you’re facing.
2. Would stepping away help me in the long run?
In some situations when your presence is absolutely required, leaving is not an option. But there may be cases when it makes sense to step away, at least temporarily, to regroup and return with renewed energy and focus. This can mean anything from taking a five-minute walk around your office to shelving a project for a few weeks.
3. Can I ask for help?
When facing an overly complex, confusing or time-consuming challenge, don’t hesitate to ask for assistance. Whether that means enlisting a colleague to help with a project, setting up a carpool for kids’ activities or calling an accountant to handle your taxes, requesting help is not an admittance of failure—it is a sign that you’re smart enough to know when you need it.
4. What can I change, and what is outside my control?
This is critical knowledge when it comes to managing stress. If you can identify a couple of things that are within your control, making those changes can arouse a sense of empowerment and calm. For those factors that are not in your control, give yourself permission to accept them and limit the mental energy spent on worrying.
5. Am I carrying someone else’s feelings?
How much of your stress stems from what someone close to you might be going through? For instance, if your daughter got cut from the soccer team or your partner is struggling with workplace drama, you might be taking on their feelings yourself and experiencing "secondhand stress." While empathy is admirable, it's also important to draw a line between feeling for someone and carrying a burden for them—understanding the difference can save you from driving yourself crazy.
6. Will worrying help with this problem?
Although some situations do call for introspection and planning, in most cases, worrying will not lead to constructive change or resolution. Instead of thinking about everything that could go wrong, be proactive and invest in some self-care time or write out a list of everything that could go right.
7. What can I do to relax?
Whether it’s a bubble bath, massage, half an hour of reading or just a cup of hot tea, remind yourself of what relaxes and rejuvenates you—and then take the nearest opportunity to do it.
Stress is a normal, unavoidable part of daily life. The key is not to eliminate it altogether, but to recognize and manage it in a healthy way. By taking a beat to ask yourself a few simple questions, you can reduce its adverse effects and more effectively tackle whatever challenge you’re facing.