The Four Fundamentals of Stress Management

Every day, we wake up to do what is expected of us, be it at work, home, or school. In most of these settings, there are expectations we need to meet, goals we aspire to, and tests we must pass and overcome. But with all the pressure coming at us from all angles, it might be easy to feel overwhelmed and, at times, overpowered. When we find ourselves facing conflicting challenges that take away our time and energy, we might fall into a cycle of anxiety, depression, and even despair. If this sounds like you, then you should know that there are solutions that can take away your struggles.

Self-care is a term that most of us have heard about – in an age that never lacks an abundance of stressors and distractions. Often when we hear about self-care, it’s wrapped in carefully crafted marketing techniques aiming to sell us luxurious bath bombs and scented candles. While relaxing baths and sweet fragrances have the power to soothe some nerves, they still fall short of tackling the root problems we have head-on.

We all require small and realistic practical solutions that can help us manage our lives and achieve the ever-elusive work/school and life balance. If you want to change your life, one little but meaningful step at a time, you’re in the right place. We’ll share some tips and approaches that experts recommend for everyone willing to succeed in these modern and challenging times.

Self-care is a discipline, not an indulgence

Before we explore some techniques we can implement to manage stress, it’s important to acknowledge how we define self-care. The way self-care is portrayed today is a focus on the notion that it’s just a mere indulgence and not something that needs to be practiced often.

For example, we might hear that we should practice self-care when it’s convenient or when we really need to relax. This warped view creates negative consequences because we may feel that we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves – or maybe we do deserve it but there simply isn’t enough time in a day to fit it all in. When at work, we might feel like we don’t deserve our lunch break, and when asked to do tasks, we aim to please others. While some of these actions might benefit others, such as our employers, they harm us by decreasing our energy and motivation.

Rather than look at self-care as a mere indulgence, we need to adopt a new mindset that it’s not a “boring thing we do when we get home.” and that self-care is not something you do once a month after you finish a project, or when everything is going south. Self-care is something you need to practice every day, week, and month because it’s the best way to ensure that you won’t lose yourself amidst the chaos.

So, instead of looking at self-care as something you indulge in, incorporate it into a routine and develop the discipline to keep it going. Be committed to your daily meditation or whatever self-care method speaks to you, and with time, you’ll become stronger. Taking care of yourself shouldn’t be an option but a choice you actively make each day. When you practice self-care with a disciplined attitude, you’ll have all the energy you need to work, play and care for your loved ones.

Now that you understand why it’s important to perceive self-care as an exercise in discipline, you can familiarize yourself with the four fundamentals of stress management. Incorporating these into your routines can ensure that you actively practice self-care and maximize your ability to manage stress.

1. Preparation

Preparation is one of those things that appears easy to implement, but surprisingly, can be tricky enough that most people treat it as an option. If success is what you’re looking for, then preparation is the telescope that makes sure you land where you are aiming. It’s important to get into the habit of creating a schedule that works around your demands and needs.

As a student, think about when it makes sense to carve out time for the coming week. It could look like scheduling an hour on Sunday evening to look at the plan for the week. This means being in the know about upcoming lessons, assignments, and curriculum content. When you’re prepared, you have more resiliency for the practically guaranteed surprises that will pop up from time to time. This is a fantastic way to avoid sacrificing your sleep or rest time as a remedy, guaranteeing that self-care is a priority.

When you have a job, preparation is as simple as taking time early in the week, let’s say Monday, to check your calendar. Take advantage of preparation tools like reminder apps or organizational programs linked to your calendar. By being proactive in your knowledge of upcoming tasks and responsibilities, the short amount of time you set aside to manage your schedule will translate into a smooth week with minimal surprises.

Other tips on how you can be prepared for anything include:

  • Be positive. Always know that good things and bad things will happen, and focus on what you can accomplish rather than whatever might go wrong. Allow for flexibility in your life.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to focus or be aware of what’s happening around and within you. Mindfulness can help you focus on the present, and you’ll find it easy not to be judgmental because there’s a solution to everything if you take the time to breathe and consider your options.
  • Expect the unexpected. Sometimes, even the best plans face some unexpected challenges. You might be planning to study for an upcoming exam, but on the night before, there’s an electricity blackout. Think of all potential situations that might cause a problem and plan against surprises. You can’t prep and plan for every eventuality, but you know if you make time to finish work ahead of schedule you’ll have more time for helping others who might be stuck – and teaching is a really effective way to cement knowledge and learn new things!

When you come prepared, you set yourself up to successfully manage any pressure that might arise.

2. Planning

Planning is another power move that you need to master if you’re going to excel at stress management. Some might think planning is synonymous with preparing, but planning is all about forecasting the methods that can help you achieve a desired goal. In nature, some birds such as crows, ravens, and other larger species, show signs of deliberate planning. These creatures anticipate the future and plan for it by setting up food caches, digging warm burrows, and hibernating to survive rough winters.

Equally, the human species evolved to embrace planning, and by thinking ahead, we’ve survived longer than most species on the planet. While the early man didn’t develop Gantt Charts yet (visual presentations of plans and timelines) they devised different plans to hunt and gather. They thought ahead about hunting mature prey, sparing younger mammals, and moving in migratory patterns to utilize the land best. In modern times, planning has become more commonplace, finding relevance on both individual and business levels.

The four types of plans include:

Operational planning

Operational plans define how things need to happen. This type of plan is further divided into ongoing plans and single-use plans. Just as the name suggests, ongoing operational planning takes into account daily operations, while single-use plans are considered an event. On a personal level, an ongoing plan can be waking up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym for some exercise. A single-use plan would be a plan to finish your finals by prioritizing tasks like studying over other activities such as vacations and long work hours.

Strategic planning

Strategic plans are those that consider the reasoning behind our actions. A strategic plan is about playing the long game, or big-picture thinking. In most places, strategic plans come in the form of missions, values, and visions. A student can describe their strategic plan as the desire to become their best self, to live honestly, and to learn something new every day. This plan takes the future into account, seeking continuous improvement and growth as a foundation for the future.

Tactical planning

Tactical plans are all about looking at what is going to happen and saying, “Let’s get even more specific.” Tactical planning divides large goals and expectations into small actionable tasks that serve the overall goal.

For example, James just got accepted into a master’s program. His tactical plan divides his new venture into specific actions that include setting up 2 hours each day of the week to attend classes, a plan for funding his course fees, and finally, how to relax and reboot during the weekend. Using a calendar or diary, James can monitor these targets and how well he achieves them to stay on track.

Contingency planning

Fans of science and engineering know Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This statement is relevant as it refers to the reality that often, things don’t go as we imagine or hope that they will. In such cases, we need this kind of backup plan to secure ourselves from the unanticipated moments that can undo all we’ve been working towards.

Contingency plans are important in all scenarios, especially when you’re already working. One contingency plan that asks the “What if?” question is creating a backup for an important project. Backing up worksheets, documents, and media helps you avoid a costly scenario like equipment malfunction or hacking. Having such solutions in your pocket can guarantee that you act rather than react when something goes wrong.

As highlighted by these examples, planning is crucial at any stage of school or work life, and when you do it correctly, it protects you from burnout. When you plan, it’s unlikely that you will quit when faced with adversity, because you have trained yourself to stay calm and pivot.

3. Backup Plans

We invest in setting the best-laid plans when we need to deliver, but the reality is that eventually, things will go wrong. You can do everything possible to ensure that your plan is successful, but as things unfold, some factors outside of your control can shift and throw your plan into disarray.

Take the example of an app that relies too heavily on the expertise of a lead engineer. Three days before the launch, the engineer becomes so ill that they are unable to complete any additional work. This could be disruptive to the project because the launch dates have already been set, complete with marketing and media hype. A backup plan for this scenario would incorporate bringing in a junior developer or engineer with familiarity with the project.

Good plans rely on strategies such as delegation to ensure that a single person is not responsible for the entirety of any piece of the project.

Other strategies that can be a proactive step include:

  • Catch up with a friend or colleague. Any person or project can face a hurdle at any time, which makes having a backup plan for recovery important. When your mood or project progress is not where you thought it’d be, catching up with a friend can be like therapy. The 10 minutes you spend speaking to each other can help you reset & tackle any problem with renewed energy.
  • Another example is a scenario where you might be feeling burnt out after studying for your finals for days on end. Taking time to sprinkle in breaks such as enjoying a favorite show is a smart plan to prevent burnout!

Remember, even the best machines break down, so protect yourself from the stress that can make it a struggle for you to get back to your best form.

4. Time Management

Stress management is a continuous process, and one technique that supports your entire life is time management. Time management captures everything you do in life, career, and education, and like it or not, it is a skill that deserves your all, not just a little investment. So, when we have to tackle stress from all sides, we must appreciate that time management can help us conquer half of it.

For example, students completing a LEARN Academy program are expected to practice whatever they learn after and before class. The practice is the element that makes it easy for them to digest content from the classroom. Time management can help you create time to watch a video on coding, consult reference documents and find time to complete assignments. With time management, you can manage your life and its demands to ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed by stress.

If you’re experiencing stress from having too much on your plate, some tips that can reduce the pressure include:

  • Journaling. This ensures you can foresee upcoming events and react to them on your calendar effectively.
  • Setting SMART goals. The SMART strategy, which refers to Specific (time-bound), Measurable (progress can be tracked), Achievable (you’re capable), Realistic (relevant), and Timely (with deadline) goals, is a great solution for assessing which tasks demand your attention.
  • Organizing your space. An organized study desk or room can help your mind remain focused, and instead of fighting distractions, you’ll have a clear mind.
  • Delegation. If you get overwhelmed, pay attention to your stress levels, and if the task can be handled by another person, consider it. Know your limits and strive to respect them.
  • Reflect on what happened.

Taking time to reflect is another positive practice that can help us slow down and track our feelings and behaviors. When we have busy schedules, we think in terms of project objectives, goals, and targets. Sadly, most of us never take time to reflect on the lessons we learned and craft strategies for the future. Practicing reflection can help you examine the future, introduce changes, and strategize better.

The first thing you need to do when reflecting on your experiences is to consider the aspects of your job that usually cause stress. Are you stressed when deadlines are tight or when you’re inconvenienced by situations at home? When reflecting, try to be critical and honest with yourself because, in the end, you need to discover the truth to learn from your experiences or unlearn them. Once you discover the main drivers of stress in your life, you can act more responsibly, make changes, and gradually reduce frustration.

But what if everything is going smoothly? What if everything in your school and work life is progressing the best way it could? Reflection works to correct weaknesses, but it’s also incredible for boosting your strengths. Unpack the elements you can change to become more resilient, and you’ll be surprised by how much impact small changes can create for your life. Ultimately, you should realize that there’s no bulletproof plan for all that you do, but via reflection, you can maximize your excellence.

Self-care starts and ends with you!

Managing stress is a skill, and luckily, we can all learn how to do it better. Whether your life is fast, slow, or just right, we all need to find ways of managing our realities to ensure that we don’t get lost. But rather than focusing on definitions, take care of yourself and remember that even when you fail, you deserve to be patient with yourself too. A good plan can fail when outside factors intervene, and thus, we should always be kind to ourselves to ensure we don’t lose.

Always be willing to work towards overcoming your stress and never relent on improving. But if you’re looking for a place to start, try to map out your plans on paper. When you have your plans, visions, and objectives in mind, you can start organizing your vision, and with time, you can find ways of integrating it into your life. After learning all these tips and strategies, which ones have you been practicing, and what do you plan to start doing? If you know one thing you can and will do, you’re on the right path!