Stress is a part of everybodys life. At some point we have all experienced a very stressful situation, and most of us experience stress on some level every day. The things that stress us out – called stressors – are different for everybody. But in the end, there are a select few that seem to have an impact on us all: school, work, relationships, money, and the list goes on. Stress is not just a mental reaction to our environment; it also can have a huge physical impact on us all. This is my personal stress-management plan.
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By its simplest definition, stress is simply our reaction to something around us that disrupts our every day equilibrium (Huljich, 2012). The way each of us reacts to stress is different. For example, some people may experience tense muscles, or a rise in blood pressure, while others may experience sleep loss, appetite loss, and even a weakened immune system (Nordqvist, 2009). Because stress varies from person to person, it is hard to pick one stress-management technique that will work for every person, and therefore everybody could have a different personal stress management plan.
Being a student, my primary stressors involve school and career-related things. As a whole, school is without a doubt the most stressful thing in my life at the moment. Currently, I have 18 credits of classes, 15 of which are junior-level civil engineering courses. These classes involve many hours of studying and work every week, not to mention having an exam in at least one class nearly every week. My classes occupy most of my free time during the week, and can be exceptionally stressful at times. School also brings with it several other stressors. For example, I work eight hours a week as a tutor. While this is not a huge amount of hours, it can be stressful at times because I have appointments with difficult students, and working makes it harder to get all my work done. Finances do stress me, but fortunately I am fairly well off in that respect, which saves me a lot of stress.
Another big stress at the moment is my search for an internship. I have been searching since the beginning of the semester, and I have contacted approximately 50 companies. It seems as though civil engineering firms do not have a lot of work currently, thanks to a slow economy. Internships are critical for civil engineering because first, we all need to earn money, and second, employers like to see previous experience when hiring students right out of college. As of writing this report, I still do not have a definite internship and there are only a few weeks left in the semester.
There are many techniques and strategies for managing stress. Many of these include physical activities such as breathing techniques and exercise. Mental activities such as meditation and mental imagery have also helped many people manage stress. Other techniques such as improving time-management skills, decreasing or eliminating drug and alcohol use, and diet improvement have been proven to help as well. Many commonly prescribed stress management techniques are actually lifestyle changes that prove to be beneficial in many ways beyond just stress management. For instance, exercise improves mental well-being, physical fitness, and is a great way to manage stress (Nordqvist, 2009).
Communication is a huge and essential part of all our lives. According to our textbook, on average we spend 70 percent of our awake time communicating in some form or another. Since it is such a huge part of our lives, it is naturally something that can cause stress. Berlo’s Model of Communication lays out communication in its most basic form. The sender encodes a message, which is then decoded by the receiver, who gives the sender feedback. A breakdown in this basic process can cause stress. Failure to effectively communicate can cause all types of problems, which can cause stress. For example, if a friend misinterprets what another friend said, an argument could ensue. This would cause needless stress for both parties, which could have been avoided through improved communication (Romas & Sharma, 2010).
Being assertive is an important factor in communication. Assertiveness means standing up for yourself and being confident, not just agreeing with what everybody else says. Assertive people will not let others “walk” all over them, and will make sure they are heard when the time is right. Eye contact, good posture, good body language, and using “I” statements are all common attributes of assertive people. When we are assertive, improved communication is the end result (Romas & Sharma, 2010). Improved communication is good in many ways, and helps to decrease the possibility of stressful situations arising. Because of this, effective communication can be useful in preventing stressors.
I think I currently have decent communication skills. However, this doesn’t mean I do not have room for improvement. Being more assertive will help me in many ways, even beyond improving communication. By improving my communication with friends, family, and people in general, I will probably avoid some stressful miscommunications that otherwise would have occurred.
Anger and conflict resolution go hand in hand with effective communication. Situations involving conflict and anger can be exceptionally stressful. Whether dealing with friends, family, or coworkers, conflict and hard feelings can be very stressful. Therefore, taking steps to manage conflict and working together to solve issues can reduce stress for everybody involved. Anger that goes unchecked can potentially be harmful to one’s self and to others around them, because it can transform from internal emotions to external actions. By exploring what causes anger in its most basic form, we can work to resolve any anger issues. Being more understanding in many instances is enough to help curtail anger. One especially useful technique in managing anger from another person is to actively engage them in conversation, and listening to what they have to say (Romas & Sharma, 2010).
While I may not be perfect in dealing with anger and conflict, I think this is an area that I do not need to focus on improving. I already handle my anger very effectively, and just this week I had to deal with an angry friend. The situation was very stressful to me, but by calmly managing the situation, I was able to resolve things and end the stress for both of us. Because of this, I do recognize the importance of dealing with anger and conflict.
Anxiety is a huge stressor, and is probably one of the biggest stressors for most people. Dealing with it can make stress much more manageable. In its most basic form, anxiety is made of two parts: fear and inefficiency. Inefficiency occurs when we lose our ability to manage a situation, and fear is the imagination of bad events, whether or not they will truly happen (Romas & Sharma, 2010). Anxiety often occurs alongside depression, causing a two-faced issue for some people. In its most extreme cases, anxiety can cause many physical symptoms (many of which are commonly also associated with stress) such as tense muscles, increased heart rate, headaches, and stomachaches (“What Is Anxiety?”). The worrying associated with anxiety can amplify stressful situations, raising a person’s stress levels dramatically. Learning to cope with anxiety can relieve stress for many people. One particular technique, popularized by Joseph Wolpe, is called systematic desensitization. This technique involves analyzing situations that cause stress and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces to be dealt with (Romas & Sharma, 2010).
Anxiety is a big stressor for me, and I know that improving my ability to cope with anxiety will help me reduce stress. I especially like the idea of systematic desensitization to deal with my stress. For example, when I have multiple assignments due in one week, I would be better off to deal with them in an organized and logical manner to decrease stress. One way I could achieve this would be by improving my scheduling and time management skills, and planning deadlines in completing assignments. In a way, that is how this assignment was setup, so that we would meet deadlines established throughout the semester, rather than rushing to complete the paper in the last week while dealing with the stress of impending finals. By reducing my anxiety in general, I can lower my stress levels. Throughout this school year, I have managed to reduce my anxiety levels, and I have definitely noticed a decrease in stress.
The food we eat plays a huge roll on our lives. In its most basic form, a proper healthy diet includes eating breakfast, having one snack between meals, incorporating healthy foods into meals, and exercising moderation in alcohol consumption. Having a healthier diet allows people to reduce stress, and lead an all-around healthier life. Through proper diet and exercise, people maintain a healthy body weight, which is important for both stress reduction and a healthy lifestyle. Avoiding unhealthy components in a diet can help as well. People should especially try to limit their intake of caffeine, alcohol, fat, sugar, and salt. All of these things are unhealthy in large quantities, and can affect how our body functions on a daily basis. Improving diet can help to improve heart health. Even with a properly balanced diet, people should take extra steps to get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals. Water is also a huge factor in a healthy diet. For the typical adult, drinking eight glasses of water a day is recommended (Romas & Sharma, 2010).
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After studying what constitutes a healthy diet, I plan to improve my diet. Currently I eat a lot of homemade meals in any given week, but I want to do more to improve my diet. Avoiding fat, sugar, and salt can be very tough nowadays, but I will try to learn recipes for meals that are based more on vegetables and lighter meats rather than fatty meals with high salt contents and a lot of red meat. Improving my diet will probably not be an easy transition, but if I work over time to improve it, I think I will see some great improvements in my overall health and stress levels. I only occasionally take vitamins; so making an organized effort to take a vitamin every day will also help. As far as water intake, I do drink a lot every day, but probably not anywhere near eight glasses.
The FITT method of exercise can be useful in establishing a fitness program to improve my stress levels. The FITT method includes four parts: Frequency, Intensity, Time, and Type. Frequency just means how often something occurs. For my fitness plan, I would ideally like to run two or more miles, every other day. Along with this, I would like to implement occasional bike rides, and walking. These three forms of exercise allow me exercise daily while working different muscles and preventing myself from becoming mentally exhausted. Doing this allows me to achieve a frequency of exercise doing it once a day. For intensity, I plan to vary it from low-level walking, to higher-level running. My own personal philosophy is that exercising too intensely can do just as much harm as good for your body. Every form of exercise is good in its own way, so intermixing high intensity workouts with lower intensity workouts can help improve my overall physical fitness without stressing my body. For time, my goal is an hour every day. Just going off my schedule, and the fact that I’ll probably be working over the summer, I would imagine this would be achieved with one one-hour workout session every day, rather than spreading out shorter workouts throughout the day (“The FITT Plan,” 2013).
For type, my goal is to do several forms of exercise. Running, biking, and walking would be the foundation of my workout plan. In addition, other activities such as gardening, hiking, and weight lifting could be mixed in occasionally to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Through the use of such a FITT program, I will have improved energy during the day, better strength, more flexibility, as well as improved heart health. All of these things are the keystone to a healthy lifestyle, and go a long way toward reducing stress levels. Exercise is definitely something I have not had much time to do this semester, but I think I could fit it into my schedule, especially if I improve my time management skills (“The FITT Plan,” 2013).
Time management is a very important factor in stress management. Everybody has a limited amount of hours a week to accomplish goals. Much of this time is occupied by work and school, so finding the time to do other things can be difficult and stressful. People with poor time management skills are often late to appointments, miss deadlines, miss expectations, and are often tired. Fixing these problems can be easy, if one just takes the effort to work at it. The most basic approach to improved time management includes long-term goals, setting priorities, being more aware of how time is spent, setting short-term goals, and becoming more effective at decision-making (Romas & Sharma, 2010).
My personal time management skills have been improving as time goes byâ€¦but I would say there is always room for improvement. I will attempt to be more organized with my schoolwork especially. It is a little late for this semester, but next semester is a great opportunity for me to get off to a good start and really practice effective time management. If I improve my time management skills, I will be better at planning deadlines and hopefully have more free time to exercise.
Relaxation techniques are a great way to deal with stress. Yogic breathing, meditation, biofeedback, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, visual imagery, and self-hypnosis are all great techniques to deal with stress, and just a sampling of the possibilities when learning to deal with stress. Throughout this course, we practiced several of these techniques. I had different levels of success with each one. I found yogic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to be the most useful for me. I had some success with the others, such as autogenic training and visual imagery, but found them less effective. With this in mind, I plan to focus on practicing yogic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation more often, which I think will make them more effective. Over time I expect them to become easier and to have a bigger impact on my stress levels. I would like to work on incorporating some of the others into my routine, and maybe search for other techniques as well.
With the implementation of my own personal stress management plan, I hope I can decrease my stress levels. Understanding what stress is, how it works, and the impact of stressors is the first step in relieving stress. By indentifying what stresses me the most, I can focus on how to effectively manage those stressors, as well as prevent new stressors from bothering me.
While some of my stressors (such as school, and searching for an internship) will go away after a while, there will always be stressful elements in my life, which is why managing them is so important. The first step I will take to reducing stress is to improve my communication with others. Dealing with anger and conflicts goes hand in hand with effective communication. Understanding how they all impact one another, as well as working to manage anger and conflict, can prevent stressful situations before they arise. For me, anxiety is a huge factor in stress. I plan to work very hard at managing my anxiety, because reducing it will make me feel all-around better and help reduce my stress levels. Working on lowering anxiety should have a direct impact on my stress levels. Focusing on improving my diet and exercise routines will go a long way in improving my physical health, as well as helping my stress levels. And finally, the use of time management skills and relaxation techniques will help me get a grip on my stress levels.
The combination of all these techniques will go a long way in helping me manage and decrease my stress levels. Each one of the techniques I plan to use will be helpful on it’s own, but the combination of all the techniques together will prove to be especially powerful in helping me lower my stress levels.
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