“I’m stressed”. The number of times I have heard myself and people around me say that is insane. Sometimes, life really feels like a race against time for many of us. We juggle work with being parents, keeping a house together, and finding time for friends & family. It’s no surprise that we’re overwhelmed, tired and seeking ways to managing stress.

At times, it feels like we’re buried under this huge pile of pressures that keeps getting bigger, causing us to stress more. Everywhere you look there’s pressure: to eat well, to look good, to pay bills, to get a good education and a great job, to buy a house, to have the “perfect life”! Even when you think you’re alone, your personal phone and laptop and TV bring in even more pressures. Nobody is alone in feeling that way. Though it remains a mystery how so many of us manage to live with so much stress. Sometimes, it feels like there’s no way out of this, or so it seems…

Though we are stressed out, one thing is certain: stress is a process. This is good news for anyone looking to manage stress because processes can be analysed and therefore managed. Stress, as a process, is triggered by external factors such as a place, a person or finances, which then affect us mentally (this can vary from losing one’s appetite to feeling low and depressed).

Some stress-triggers can be managed with pragmatic solutions such as being more organised, managing or spending our money and time wisely or planning in advance. But, there are other forms of stress that have deep-rooted psychological sources such as fears, and they require more work to be uprooted.  To manage those types of stress and have happier, lighter lives, we need to know how the particular type of stress we want to manage works within us. Here are some suggestions to get started.

First steps to managing stress, like a boss

When embarking on a journey to manage stress, it’s crucial to acknowledge two truths. First, stress is part of our lives; it signals that a situation is important (like a job interview) or dangerous (like being locked up in a room by a stranger). As a result, we can’t get rid of stress completely. The good news, however, is that we can manage it. Second, the journey to a stress managed life is not always smooth, straightforward or short. It may take weeks, months and sometimes years to reach the stress managed dreamland. There will be ups and downs, and many setbacks. Whatever happens, we can’t lose sight of the end goal.

Like a boss would, use your best skills or learn new ones to manage stress well

If we think of ourselves as great managers, we can envisage having skills such as leadership and management, which can help us to know our team really well, lead our team superbly under pressure, successfully meet deadlines and so on. When dealing with stress in our lives, we need some of these leadership and management skills to win the stress battle. The truth is, we are our own lives’ managers. This means we have to lead different parts of our body and mind in our journey to managing stress in a better way. Like that great manager, understanding our stress and how it affects parts of our body & mind are essential to getting the best results possible in our journey.

Understanding the stress process (1): know your stressors

Remember, stress is a process. So, like a savvy boss, it’s vital to understand this process and take measures that will help us handle stress successfully. The first step is to learn what our stressors are. Stressors are simply what trigger our stress. A stressor can, for instance, come from fear of speaking in big groups or feeling unable to meet others’ expectations. Identifying stress requires good observation skills and can take time.

Once stressors are identified, it’s a great exercise to find out why they have become stressors. What triggered them in the first place? Was it an event, a person, a place, a widely-accepted narrative? We must then work to tackle these roots causes. The more we get to the bottom of our stress, the higher the chances we have to managing stress well.

Understanding the stress process (2): Find out how your body and mind react to stress

Once we know the root causes of our stressors and address them, the next step is to understand our stress symptoms, or how we experience it physically and mentally. This is essential to managing stress as a process. Stress causes a surge of hormones in our system, including adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone). This leads to reactions that many of us are familiar with, including breathing faster, tense muscles, palm sweating, dry voice and tummy aches.

These hormones change the way we think and act. Our thinking can, for instance, become clouded, and as result, some of our actions can seem unlike us. The recurrent release of cortisol (the stress hormone) can lead to serious health problems such as increasing blood pressure and contributing to obesity. We need to know how we individually feel and are when we are stressed. Working towards handling and/or minimising these reactions are crucial to managing stress and improving our overall health.

Challenging the stress process: Confront your stressors and your stress symptoms

We’ve just taken a trip inward to unearth the root causes of our stress and understand its symptoms. The next step is naturally to challenge them. This is the therapy session of the journey. That sounds scary, right? Trust me, it’s not. What we need to do at this stage is to simply confront our stressors gradually to weaken their hold on us and to manage our stress symptoms better. The more opportunities we seize to confront our stressors and stress symptoms, the faster the healing process will be. In other words, we will have to be a bit more outside of our comfort zones.

While at this stage, let’s remember that we are breaking links that may have been left unchallenged for years. This final process can therefore take time. So be patient and kind on yourself.

To conclude, in a time when we live, breathe and talk stress, skills like learning the stress process and managing stress like a boss are must-have. This is especially when stress is the bridge between ourselves and our happiness or success. So, we need to follow the necessary steps to cross that bridge and reach our happy-land. There will be several obstacles and challenges in this journey. However, we can’t give up, our wellbeing and happiness may very much depend on how well we can manage stress day in day out.