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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stress Management through Goal Setting

 by selnov09


Stress is an ever-present part of life for everyone. It's perfectly normal and even healthy in moderation. But in excess it can be emotionally and physically problematic. Too much stress can increase the risk of health problems, like heart disease, depression, or autoimmune disorders. Excessive stress can cause irritability and mood swings, erode productivity at work and in the home, and damage interpersonal relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. That's why it's important to deal with stress early to prevent it from spiraling out of control. While it's impossible to get rid of it entirely, you can set goals for yourself to manage stress effectively.

Pinpointing Stress Triggers

The very first step in this process is to identify all of the stressors in your life. Start by listing everything that causes you stress, no matter how small it may be. For instance, it's easy to identify the loud-talking co-worker in the next cubicle, the long line at the bank's drive-thru window, or the screaming of a baby as stressors. But you should also look for more subtle stress triggers such as inadequate lighting or heating, or the annoying printer sounds in your workspace. In addition, you should take note of any stress associated with your goals or objectives, such as office politics, bureaucratic delays, pay freezes, or a lack of recognition for your successes. When listing these stressors, you should physically write them down so you can refer back to them when assembling your stress management plan.

Establishing Stress Management Goals

Next, you should look at these stressors and formulate goals to deal with each of them. When making these goals, you must be sure to set realistic expectations for achieving them. So if you are disturbed by your co-worker talking too loudly on the phone, don't make "just ignore it" your goal (because if you were able to do that, it wouldn't be on your list). Instead, consider goals like "use my iPod" or "ask co-worker to speak more quietly," because these are more likely to address the root problem.

When making goals to achieve bigger stress triggers, try to work in small, manageable steps. For example, if you are stressing about getting a promotion at work, you shouldn't simply pledge to "get promoted by year's end," because every week in which you don't get promoted is likely to discourage you and set you up for failure. Instead, try to achieve your goal in steps, such as "list accomplishments and qualifications needed for the promotion," "check with human resources to identify potential openings," or "have lunch with someone in management." Achieving each one of these "sub-goals" not only allows you to make progress toward your ultimate goal, but also reduces your stress levels and gives you a sense of accomplishment along the way.

Many stressors might require long-term and short-term goal-setting. For instance, if one of your stressors is "getting criticized by the boss," it may not be enough to simply plan to "focus on your accomplishments to balance out the negatives." While that may be a laudable long-term goal, it may not be very effective in the moments right after you receive criticism when you are besieged by stress.
Instead, establish feasible short term goals, like performing breathing exercises or visualizing yourself relaxing on a beach right after a stressful situation occurs.

The presence of a long-term goal in and of itself may not be enough to keep you from stressing out, which again could result in a sense of failure. In addition, you might want to consider framing your goal into a weekly or even daily timeframe. If your goal is to wake up earlier, you might be more successful in accomplishing it if you write down "wake up 15 minutes early tomorrow."

It's not realistic to believe you will wake up earlier every day for the rest of your life, especially if you enjoy sleeping in. But challenging yourself to rise earlier for the next day, and repeating this process frequently, will make the goal more attainable and build your confidence as you achieve it each day.

Remaining Realistic about Stress Management Goals

After you complete your stress management goals, be sure to recognize that there will likely be setbacks. Aside from the fact that no one is perfect, there are life events which will naturally increase your overall stress levels — from end-of-year business duties and holiday shopping to personal illness or the death of a loved one. Forgiving yourself for straying from your stress management plan is an important factor in its ultimate success.

Also, don't be afraid to enlist support for your stress management objectives. Not only will friends and family give you encouragement, but co-workers might be able to give you direct assistance in achieving your goals, such as lobbying management for better lighting or more comfortable chairs. Most importantly, be sure to congratulate yourself when you experience success, even for taking a small step.

Giving yourself a well deserved pat on the back will boost your overall confidence level and increase the chances of you achieving your long-term stress management objectives. And definitely celebrate the realization of a stress management goal! This will not only supply you with added confidence on your quest for total stress management, but will also reinforce the idea that you can control stress instead of letting stress control you.

Chris Martin is a freelance writer who writes about self improvement and stress management.


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