Learning to manage stress is essential for anyone who wants to be productive and successful in work and life, and more importantly, to stay healthy. If you are a young professional with at the start of your career, it is absolutely critical to learn stress management techniques before life really takes off and your load of responsibilities starts to get heavy.
Identifying your major stress areas and taking steps to alleviate pressure is always a great place to start, but managing stress is really a holistic process. In many ways, stress is tied to daily behaviours and habits, ones you may not even realize you have. From how you keep your home, to what you eat, to how you prioritize work tasks: it’s how you approach the little things that can have a big effect on your stress levels. And it all starts with taking care of yourself.
Health and stress management go hand in hand; indeed, each is very much dependent on the state of the other. Countless medical and research reports all indicate the same thing: stress is a factor in the vast majority of non-inherited diseases and illnesses. Among young people, stress overload can lead to a lifetime of chronic health problems that affect everything from your job to your family. The cycle compounds itself as more stress leads to health deterioration, leading in turn to greater stress and further decline—and dragging the rest of your life down with it. It’s much easier to break the cycle at the start of your adult life than it is many years down the road after years of missed career goals and lost opportunities.
It seems like common sense that getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating regular, balanced meals are the absolute essentials for health and happiness. Yet huge numbers of us aren’t putting these principles into practice in our daily lives. This behaviour often starts in college or university (sometimes even earlier) when we start to take time away from our health to put more focus on other areas. Whether it’s studying for an exam or writing a paper, most students know the pain of pulling an all-nighter with coffee and junk food as sustenance, but few stop to think how dangerous such activities can be when they become habitual.
As eating and sleeping patterns decline, we lose energy and feel sluggish, become more sedentary and depressed, and fall behind on our commitments. As a result, it becomes even more difficult to manage responsibilities and tasks. Whether you’re still a university student or trying to get a foothold in the working world, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you’re not going to fulfill your potential. No amount of coffee and sugary snacks will give you the alertness that a good night’s sleep and a balanced breakfast can. Similarly, although staying up late to finish a project may seem necessary, organizing your time days in advance and sticking to a schedule will allow you to finish tasks on time without sacrificing rest.
The unifying theme here is time, and more specifically, how to manage it. There is no greater boon to stress management than learning time management. As the pace of life speeds up, time is becoming more of a hot commodity than ever before. Particularly for young professionals, the demands of working hard to prove yourself, staying connected and trying to balance a life on top of it all make time management critical for success—and really, for survival. Organizing yourself to use time wisely is the only way to keep your workload and your life commitments from overwhelming you. It goes beyond schedules, calendars and alarms: managing time is about recognizing priorities, fighting the urge to procrastinate or slack off, and learning when and how to stop and take care of yourself.
That being said, it’s okay to turn off the phone or take a day off from checking email. Go to a yoga class, take a walk or a bike ride, spend a day watching your favourite old movies: giving yourself relaxing “mental health breaks” without feeling guilty is part of a truly healthy lifestyle. As you learn to manage time, you’ll see that you have more hours to spend doing these things, and your stress levels will improve accordingly.
Life is more than work—the sooner you realize it, the sooner you start striking a true work-life balance, and you’ll be happier and healthier because of it. Stress will always be a part of life, but you want it to be a manageable and transient element—not what defines your life.
Stress Management and Mental Health Resources, Health Canada:
Stress Management Information for Students: