Managing Stress Effectively: Make Stress your Ally, not your Enemy

Vatsal Jain
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
7 min readOct 18, 2021

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Most of us are battling with degrees of stress. The coping strategies that worked earlier seem to fail now. By losing our ability to handle stress or not understanding when to look for help (or both), we’re putting our health, professional success, and personal relationships at stake.

At the core of this hurdle lies a misled notion of stress per se, contributing to our inability to identifying and managing it. Several professionals perceive stress as an unmixed negative, something to cut through or mitigate. As such, they might address it inadequately.

Indeed, stress serves a natural, physiological purpose that can help us address critical issues and learn and grow from our experiences. Rather than striving to stave off or reduce stress, we must seek to understand it and optimize it, minimizing the downsides while pouncing the upsides.

The Supercomposition Theory

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The analogy between stress and sports helps elucidate a massive challenge in managing stress — poor self-awareness. At gyms, for instance, we pretty much know when we’re straining muscles or resting them (the two stages of supercompensation). And when we voluntarily add new, varied exercises (behaviors) to our workout plans, we get stronger and more flexible with time.

The same holds true for stress management. Yet, at a certain point, we don’t know which stress condition we’ve slipped into (recovery or engagement), not to mention consciously seeking behavior shifts that’d enhance the efficiency of either condition. Stress management, thus, begins with self-awareness.

No meaningful life is stress-free. However, managed properly, stress can drive peak performance and personal growth.

Outline your Stress Points

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To achieve optimum stress, we need to be aware of our stress. In neurological terms, it’s the first move toward persisting behavior shift.

“Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows,” asserts Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist, and author.

And it’s these freshly cultivated neurological routes that shape our behavior and lead to new habits.

But what does it mean to remain conscious of your own stress? Ask yourselves the following questions:

  • How often do you feel entirely focused on your work (in a state of “flow”) in a typical week? How long does this happen? When does it occur?
  • How often do you feel well-rested in a typical week? How often during the working hours do you fetch moments of recovery than “powering through”?
  • How do you react to something stressful at work? How do you utilize the resources to manage the stress? How do you struggle? What’d you do differently in the future?
  • How do you tackle stress? Do your coping strategies drain your energy or renew it? Do they help create understanding about your stress or decrease it?
  • What are the primary stress sources in your life? In what situations does stress from one element of your life turn into another?
  • How many alarming signs of chronic stress have you suffered this week?
  • How often do you identify your stress at once versus later?

These are questions you can rethink now and then as you develop self-consciousness. Outlining your stress points is a process of discovery, and the more you know, the better you’ll leverage your own stress response. Moreover, you can start journaling to gather info about how your body responds to various activities — with a recovery response or a stress response — and measure your pulse fluctuations periodically.

Create Room for Focus and Engagement

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Most of us are overburdened, overstressed, and exhausted — making it difficult to maintain focus. And with the rapid transition to remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent work-from-home settings aren’t helping — distracted by messages and emails, toggling from one video meeting to the next, working with one eye and, in some cases, helping out spouses or looking after the kids. We believe we are multitasking, but instead, we’re setting ideal grounds for cognitive overload.

Creating new habits can help turn the tides on stress. Consider the following tips; all are equally effective whether you’re in the office or working from home.

  • Reserve Time for Deep Work: Save 1–3 hours daily for focused time. Turn off chats and emails and put your smartphone in silent with the screen facing downwards to hunch down to work in peace.
  • Take Some Time off Video: While video meetings come with several pros, they can be draining and distracting. The need to ferret non-verbal cues, multi-person gallery views, and lingering eye contact can seem like continual multitasking. Shuffle your formats to learn your preferences. Disable your own video from time to time to focus only on the audio.

Set an Environment for Rest and Recovery

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Several people might not have taken recovery seriously before the COVID-19 crisis. Why? Think of all the in-built breaks we had — our travel, the brief convo at the coffee machine, the short wait in the elevator, even the airport check-ins. All these provide breaks for cognitive recovery. But now, we need to replace these old pauses while focusing on exercise, sleep, diet, and other everlasting — yet crucial — recovery pathways. Try these:

  • Eat Better and Hydrate: Online ordering and curbside pickup provide new opportunities to focus more on what we’re purchasing and eating — so keep an eye. Proper diet is integral to coping with stress, while the opposite causes various disorders, as well as workplace presenteeism. Hydration is essential, as well. Finish your desk-side glass of water by the conference’s end and use the time in between to refill it.
  • Take Micro-breaks: Blocking 3–5 minutes between subsequent conferences offers a valuable reboot. Even a 30-second pause can diminish stress — look at the wall paintings, stare at a plant, pamper your pet — see what fits the bill and make it a habit. However, don’t use this time to scroll down social media feeds, and most importantly, don’t make it a smartphone break.
  • Work out Daily: Without the regular movements and strolling around the office, our step count has plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regular workout reduces inflammation, boosts mood, and helps manage our emotions. Pinpoint which conferences you can join while walking rather than sitting in front of your PC. Devise short 10–15 minute rounds of physical exercise, including brisk walking. Even regular, low-intensity workouts boost our energy and reduce fatigue.
  • Get Serious about Sleep: Aim for a reliable 7–9 hours with an uninterrupted slumber. Heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, and electronic screens before bed are obvious no-nos. At last, don’t catch up on sleep over the weekends — your body will slip into jetlag.
  • Just Breathe: Whenever in doubt, deep breathing can come to the rescue. Even a few minutes of exercising deep, steady breathing revives our parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and helps break the vicious cycle of stress. Set your phone alarm to prompt you for a breathing break.

Switch between Recovery and Engagement

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Oscillating between focus and recovery helps keep them independent and distinct in our gray matter, enhancing their efficiency and further helping us influence them.

Let’s say you have an important deadline, so you have to work through the evening. You kid is fretting in the next room, grudging to take a bath, and yelling at your spouse. You feel a spurt of stress hormones, and before you could figure it out, you’ve gotten off from your chair and ranted at them.

Later, as your body calms (and after you’ve apologized), you’d realize that you were reacting to your deadline, not your kid.

While you should always utilize the time right after stress activates to reflect and contemplate new behaviors, conscious shifts between rest and work will help you transition more conveniently between productive recovery and productive focus. For instance, try the following exercises:

  • Stick to a Preset Work Plan: Even though you can extend your working hours, don’t make it a rule. Set the alarm or catch up with a friend for a fixed after-work conversation every day to mark the workday’s end. The added connectedness will benefit both sides.
  • Walk to Work: Simulate your morning travel with a brief walk to exercise your body and groom your mind. Carry a go-to drink, walk around the building, or see where 1,000 steps on your fitness app take you.
  • Perform an End-of-day Ritual: If you have a home office, leave it and shut the door when you’re done for the day. Chalk a clear line between “work” and “no work.” If you’re space-bound, pack up your workstation equipment and reconvert your temp office into your regular home space so that you’re less bothered about work in the evening — and less induced to return to it. Make this a ritual. Furthermore, take another stroll to mimic your commute, just like you did as the day kicked off.

Connecting the Dots

Stress offers us the mental focus and physical energy to respond to critical situations. Stress isn’t bad per se but managed poorly, leads to wide-ranging adversaries. By rethinking how we perceive stress and optimizing instead of minimizing it, we can turn stress into growth, learning, and better performance.

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