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Understanding the sources and levels of stress that affect you is an important step towards managing that stress. Learn to identify the potential causes of long- and short-term stress, and analyze your reactions to it.

Be Aware of Long-Term Stress

The first step in managing stress is understanding the stresses you experience so that you can anticipate, and prepare for, stressful situations and learn to use the stress management techniques that are most appropriate to each situation. You are probably aware of some of the immediate points of stress in your life, but you may not be as aware of the deeper, longer-term stresses.

Respond to Change

It is important to recognize that all kinds of change in your life raise your stress levels as you try to adapt. The transition from college to a new job, for example, involves radical changes in lifestyle, location, and personal status that can be deeply stressful. Anyone changing jobs, or even his or her role within the workplace, will experience a wide range of new challenges and difficulties. The joys and upsets of relationships and families also have their stresses, and all of these will have an impact on your ability to cope.

Think Smart

It may be possible to manage a serious stressor by taking control of more easily manageable stressors that may be tipping the balance.

If there is a serious stressor you can’t avoid, look for any additional sources of stress. If you can take steps to control these additional stressors it will help you to bring the overall stress in your life within more manageable bounds.

Learn from Experience

Read through the three groups of life events in the Schedule of Recent Experience and make a note of how many of them apply to you.

If a large number of these life events are relevant to you, especially those in Group 3, which are the most stressful events, then you should take great care to keep your life as stable and as stress-free as you possibly can.

Schedule of Recent Experience

Group 1
  • A minor violation of the law (e.g. a parking ticket or speeding fine)

  • A major change in your eating or sleeping habits, in your social activities, in your usual type or amount of recreation, in the amount of participation in church activities

  • Taking out a loan for a purchase such as a car, television, or freezer

  • Moving house or changing to a new school

  • A major change in working hours or conditions

  • A revision of personal habits

Group 2
  • A major change in living conditions.

  • An outstanding achievement

  • A son or daughter leaving home

  • A major change in duties and responsibilities at work

  • Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan

  • Taking out a mortgage or loan for a major purchase

  • A major change in the number of arguments with your partner

  • Changing to a completely different line of work

  • The death of a close friend

  • A major change in the state of your finances

  • Sexual difficulties

Group 3
  • Pregnancy or gaining a new family member through adoption

  • Major business re-adjustment (merger, bankruptcy), retirement from work, redundancy

  • Major personal injury or illness, or health problem of a family member

  • Marriage, marital reconciliation, separation, or divorce

  • The death of a close family member, especially a partner or a child

  • Detention in a prison or other institution

Consider Short-Term Stress

Against the background of your long-term stress level, sources of short-term stress occur on a routine and daily basis. These can include over-demanding deadlines, problems with your co-workers, worries and anxieties, or any of a host of other possibilities. Because stress is partly a matter of perception, and because people respond to situations in different ways, it is important to understand and analyze your own particular sources of stress. Keeping a stress diary is a good way of doing this.

Use a Stress Diary

You can use a “stress diary” to record information about the stresses you are experiencing, so that you can analyze these stresses – which rarely receive the attention they deserve – and determine how best to prevent them or deal with them effectively and efficiently.

If you learn to identify recurring stresses you will be able to do something about controlling your reaction to them.

Techniques to Practise

Record stressful events on a daily basis, detailing the nature of each event, and why it caused stress. Also record, on a scale of 1­–10, the level of stress you experienced and how it made you feel. You can also record how you dealt with the stressful situation.

Gathering information regularly and routinely over a period of time about the stress you are experiencing will help you to separate the more common, routine stresses from those that occur only occasionally. It will also give you an important insight into how you react to stress, help you to identify the level of stress at which you prefer to operate, and show whether your reactions are appropriate and useful.

  • Make entries in your stress diary at fixed points during the day, for example every hour, or every three hours.

  • If you tend to forget to do this set an alarm to remind you when you should be making your next diary entry.

  • Make a diary entry only if an incident is stressful enough for you to feel that it is significant.

Analyze the Information

By keeping a stress diary you can uncover patterns of stress and extract the information you need about the stressful events and situations in your life. When you have been keeping your stress diary for a month, list the different stresses you experienced during this time by frequency, with the most frequent kind of stress at the top of the list. Then prepare a second list that ranks all the stressful experiences by how bad they made you feel, with the most unpleasant stresses at the top of the list. The stresses at the top of each list are the most important for you to learn to control. Your assessments of the underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well (or otherwise) you handled particular stressful events may reveal that you could benefit from improving your stress management skills.

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