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Stress Management Series: Steps for Managing Stress

In the first three installments of this series, we defined what stress is, distinguished between good (eustress) and bad (distress) and looked at some "stressor" events that have the potential to trigger stress in individuals.

Here, we will take a look at some of the ways in which distress may reveal itself, through various changes to our behavior, emotions and physical wellbeing. The goal in identifying these changes is to allow us to be more self-aware -aware of our personal triggers and/or when we are experiencing the effects of stress, so that we can be more proactive in taking action.

Managing Stress Step 1: Identify

One of the first steps in managing stress is becoming aware of your stressors and the way "distress" reveals itself for you. The following lists identify the many ways that our distress can reveal itself.

1. Behavioral Changes

  • Overeating
  • Smoking
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Procrastination
  • Complaining
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking
  • Withdrawing

2. Emotional Changes

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Impatience
  • Nervousness
  • Twitch/tic
  • Keyed up
  • Worrying
  • Irritable
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Low energy
  • Apathy

3. Physical Changes:

  • Headaches
  • Tense muscles
  • Sore neck, shoulder or back
  • Listlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Grinding teeth
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hypertension
  • Dry mouth

I am sure you have heard of - or experienced - many of these symptoms, but have you ever really stopped an asked what your signs of distress are? What about those of your team or teammates? Is it a headache, neck-ache, biting your nails, tapping a pencil, eating too many sweets or crunchy snacks, etc.?

It is good to be aware of these individual signs of stress because when you find yourself start to do these things you can step back and say, "Ok, what is going on here?" Once you are able to identify the reason behind these signs, you can act on taking charge of the situation - which is key, because as noted in our definition of stress, regardless of whether it is good or bad, your body will go through the following stages:

1. Alarm. At the first sign of a stressful situation, your body releases adrenaline into your bloodstream to increase your heart rate, dilate your pupils, and tense your muscles. The stress may be physical or emotional, but the initial effects on your body will be the same.

2. Respond. The second stage of the stress reaction also known as the "fight or flight" response. This is the stage you reach when your body is poised and ready to either confront the stress or avoid it.

3. Recovery. When the threat or challenge is removed or overcome, your body stops producing adrenaline and returns to normal. You will feel drained by the experience and need some time to fully recover.

So if you are aware you are distressed, you have an opportunity to do something about the situation - you have choices! Whether or not distress truly turns into an issue often directly correlates to how long it takes you to get to the recovery stage, how long we stay there before we are hit with another stressor (if we go into recovery mode and have time to recover), then the impact of these physical, emotional and behavioral changes won't necessarily be harmful.

Managing Stress Step 2: Reduce and Relieve

Now that you are aware of your stressors, and understand how to recognize when you are in distress, the question is, what can you do to relieve/reduce your distress? First, ICMI’s 90 Ideas for Revitalizing and Energizing Yourself: Suggested Activities to Help You Manage Stress, provides a comprehensive list of activities that will help manage your stress levels in the call center.

Next, I've included some stress-relieving tactics below. As you review this list, you might be thinking: "I know this stuff, I've heard it before," and you are a little skeptical if they work. If you are skeptical, please note that these have to be done consistently. There have also been scientific studies and surveys that were specifically aimed at proving how effective these tactics truly are! Sometimes, the simplest things really do work:

  • Enjoy licorice. Eating licorice has been shown to improve your mood. Surprising? The credit here goes to unique compounds in licorice extract that help lower stress hormones, studies show. Just be sure to get a brand that is made with real licorice extract, such as Panda, All-Natural Soft Licorice.
  • Green Tea. Drinking green tea is known to boost calmness, but did you know smelling the tea has benefits, too? A recent Japanese study shows the scent of green jasmine tea has a calming effect on nerves.
  • Bright Flowers. Sad that summer's over? Just pick up an inexpensive bouquet at your supermarket that is filled with gold, orange and red mums or other fall blooms. Here's why: Simply gazing at colorful flowers slashes anxiety levels and instantly lifts your mood, say Rutgers researchers.
  • Vanilla. Need a little comforting? Vanilla boosts relaxation. "The sweet, rich scent of vanilla bean balances mood and reduces stress," says aromatherapist Stephanie Touries, author of Organic Body Care Recipes.
  • Read. According to neuro-psychologists at Britain’s University of Sussex, if you really want to relax, reading works better and faster than other methods to calm frazzled nerves. In fact, their research shows that just six minutes of silent reading can reduce stress levels by 68%. Unlike sipping tea or watching TV, it requires real concentration, which creates a distraction that eases muscle tension and slows the heart rate. Prefer listening to music? It came in second-best, reducing stress by 61%.
  • Sit. Reduce sleep-robbing stress by sitting. Sit still and try to clear your mind of all thoughts for 10 minutes at night. This simple meditation reduces stress – a key factor in fitful sleep – more effectively than a massage, reports the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
  • Slow tunes. Problem sleepers who listened to 45 minutes of relaxing music before bedtime reported an impressive 35% improvement in sleep quality, reveals a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Slow songs banish tension in the body by slowing your heart and breathing rates, lulling you into a state of relaxation!
  • Play a game of Checkers. Challenge a friend to play a few rounds and watch your worries disappear! One German study found that the game immediately distracts you from your concerns and replaces them with happy memories of childhood.
  • Fresh Air. Breathing fresh air helps stop stress. If your home is sealed tight with the A/C on high, the air around you may have elevated levels of mild pollutants (from cleaning products and other sources) that can increase production of stress-inducing cortisol. The easy solution is to open up your windows for at least 10 minutes – or simply step outside!

Now that we've come full circle in the stress management process, I truly hope that you learned a bit more about stress and how to effectively manage it. I also hope you found one or two ideas (or more) and will try them!