This 5-step stress management technique is the key to fighting off stress the moment it strikes: breathe, disconnect and assess, get organized, prioritize, and take action. By following this simple strategy, you can manage your overwhelm, remain calm and relaxed, and take back control of the situation.
STRESS MANAGEMENT IN 5 SIMPLE STEPS
When you’re on the verge of shutting down in the face of insurmountable odds, these are the 5 stress management steps you need to manage stress in the moment and rise to the top:
It sounds too simple, but deep breathing evokes a powerful physical relaxation response. When you practice focused breathing, you’re giving your brain more oxygen and triggering your parasympathetic nervous system to transition your body from a state of stress into a state of relaxation. This lowers your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and releases muscle tension.
When stuff hits the fan, take focused deep breaths. Like, expand-your-tummy-to-the-point-where-you-feel-fat deep. Count to 5 as you breathe in (1-2-3-4-5)… and then count backward to 1 as you breath out (5-4-3-2-1).
Or if you’re more of a visual person, use the GIF below. Breath in as the polygon expands and out as it collapses. Repeat this until your heart rate has slowed and your mind has settled enough to move on to the next step.
2. DISCONNECT & ASSESS
Now it’s time to take a step back from your stress ball of a situation. Become an outsider looking in. Get curious about what emotions you’re feeling and why you’re feeling this way. Ask yourself this question:
- What do I feel right now? (Afraid, anxious, overwhelmed, upset, angry, excited…)
- What’s causing me to feel this way? (lack of support, disorganization, unrealistic deadline, not having the necessary resources…)
When you disconnect from an emotionally intense situation, you create space between you and your emotions, allowing you to act rather than react. By identifying your feelings and their triggers (i.e. “I’m overwhelmed because I have way to much work to do in an impossible time frame,” “I’m afraid that if I can’t get this all done that means I’m a failure”), you can deconstruct this tangled web of overwhelm, self doubt, and fear and manage each source of stress individually.
Consider this: it’s a lot easier to find your iPhone charging cable when it’s neatly coiled and stored in your work bag, instead of twisted in a rat’s nest of your 20,000 other charging cables!
Singling out each emotion and its cause will give you the clarity you need to take control of yourself, setting you up to successfully take control of the stressful situation at hand.
3. GET ORGANIZED
Once you’ve done your emotional housecleaning and stepped back from the “panic attack in the bathroom” ledge, it’s time to get organized and channel your stress into a concrete to-do list.
Those stressors you just identified? Write down them down.
When your mind goes into panic mode, small things often get blown up to seem like astronomical issues, so writing out a list forces you to logically think through each step in the process. This will help you gain perspective, uncover tasks that can be combined to save time, and discover pieces of the puzzle you hadn’t considered.
By writing it down, not only are you saving energy by releasing your brain from the exhausting task of holding on to all those thoughts, but you’re also taking the cluttered thoughts swirling around your head (much like your emotions) and organizing them into a list of tangible actions you can take.
And let’s be real, who doesn’t get satisfaction out of crossing off an item on your “to do” list?!
Even though you have your list of tasks written down in front of you, it may still be more complicated than you have the time, money, or people for. But don’t stress. Just prioritize.
Scan through your “to do” list and put a star next to every task that is essential to the completion of your job. What tasks are essentialt in order to achieve the larger objective of your goal? These become your high priority tasks – the stuff you must start with.
Next, think through the items that didn’t make the “high priority” cut. These remaining items will likely fall into the category of smaller detail-oriented tasks or finishing touches (aka the “fluff”). If you’re sure your project will fly without them, these become low priority. Then, if you happen to cross these items off, fantastic! Either way, now you don’t have to waste your time and energy sweating the completion of these low priority tasks.
5. TAKE ACTION
You are calm, in control, you have a to-do list, and you know where you need to start. The time has come to take action and go full steam ahead.
YOU’VE GOT THIS
While you can’t always control the source of your stress, you can control yourself. Learning stress management techniques to manage stress when it hits takes practice, but it’s a valuable skill that will serve you for your entire life.
The ability to manage stressful situations in a productive manner will not only result in a calmer, more empowered you, but this skill will also positively impact your relationships, your work, and every other piece of your life, ultimately lowering your stress levels and leading to a happier, healthier existence!
This article was originally published in May 2017 and has since been updated for accuracy and efficacy.
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