Identifying sources of short-term stress
|Log your stress events.|
You’re tired. You’ve had a hard commute. The office receptionist was grumpy and curt when you arrived at work, and you’ve already dealt with two minor crises today. Then a member of your team spills his coffee over some important work.
Should you have snapped at him? Probably not, but it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” at a time when you were really stressed.
So how can you reduce the levels of stress you experience, so that you can deal with problems in a calm, gracious way; and improve the quality of your life at the same time?
This is where Stress Diaries are useful for understanding the causes of short-term stress that you experience. They help you target and manage the most significant sources of stress in your life, and they help you think about how you handle stress, so that you can learn to deal with it better.
Introducing Stress Diaries
The idea behind Stress Diaries is that, on a regular basis, you record information about the stresses you are experiencing, so that you can identify repeating patterns and then manage them. This is important because these stresses often flit in and out of our minds without getting the attention and focus that they deserve.
As well as helping you capture and analyze the most common sources of stress in your life, Stress Diaries help you to understand:
- The causes of stress in more detail.
- How much stress you can tolerate before your performance starts to suffer.
- How you react to stress, and whether your reactions are appropriate and useful.
Stress Diaries, therefore, give you the important information that you need to manage stress.
Using the Tool:
Stress Diaries are useful in that they gather information regularly and routinely, over a period of time. This helps you to separate the common, routine stresses from those that only occur occasionally. By targeting repeating or major sources of stress, you can hopefully significantly reduce overall stress levels with a minimum amount of effort.
Download free Stress Diary template and make regular entries in your Stress Diary, for example, every hour. (If you have any difficulty remembering to do this, set an alarm to remind you to make your next diary entry.) Also make an entry in your Stress Diary after each incident that is stressful enough for you to feel that it is significant.
Aim to keep the diary for several days or a week. Every time you make an entry, record the following information:
- The date and time of the entry.
- The most recent stressful event you have experienced since the last entry.
- How happy you feel now, using a subjective assessment on a scale of -10 (the most unhappy you have ever been) to +10 (the happiest you have been). As well as this, write down the mood you are feeling now.
- How effectively you are working now (this is a subjective assessment, on a scale of 0 to 10). A 0 here would show complete ineffectiveness, while a 10 would show the greatest effectiveness you have ever achieved.
- The fundamental cause of the stress (being as honest and objective as possible).
You may also want to note:
- How stressed you feel now, again on a subjective scale of 0 to 10. As before, 0 here would be the most relaxed you have ever been, while 10 would show the greatest stress you have ever experienced.
- The symptom you felt (e.g. “butterflies in your stomach”, anger, headache, raised pulse rate, sweaty palms, etc.).
- How well you handled the event: Did your reaction help solve the problem, or did it inflame it?
Analyzing the Diary
At the end of the period, analyze the diary in the following ways:
- First, look at the different stresses you experienced during the time you kept your diary. List the types of stress that you experienced by frequency, with the most frequent stresses at the top of the list.
Next, prepare a second list with the most unpleasant stresses at the top of the list and the least unpleasant at the bottom.
Looking at your lists of stresses, those at the top of each list are the most important ones to deal with.
Working through these, look at your assessments of their underlying causes, and your appraisal of how well you handled the stressful event. Do these show you areas where you handled stress poorly, and could improve your stress management skills? If so, list these.
- Next, look through your diary at the situations that cause you stress. List these.
- Finally, look at how you felt when you were under stress. Look at how it affected your happiness and your effectiveness, understand how you behaved, and think about how you felt.
Having analyzed your diary, you should fully understand what the most important and frequent sources of stress are in your life. You should also know the sort of situations that cause you stress so that you can prepare for them and manage them well.
As well as this, you should now understand how you react to stress, and the symptoms that you show when you are stressed. When you experience these symptoms in the future, this should be a trigger for you to use appropriate stress management techniques.
You will reap the real benefits of having a stress diary in the first few days or weeks. After this, the returns you’ll get for each additional day or week will diminish.
If, however, your lifestyle changes, or you begin to suffer from stress again in the future, then it’s worth using the diary approach again, as you’ll probably find that the stresses you face have changed. If this is the case, then keep a Stress Diary again – this will help you to develop the approach you need to deal with the new sources of stress.
There’s no point knowing these things unless you take action on them. Make a plan for dealing with the most important sources of stress that you identify, and put the first actions in this plan onto your To Do List or Action Program. And where you find that you need to improve your stress management skills, make sure these are on the plan too.
Also, don’t feel that you’re being self-indulgent by working on this plan as part of your job: If you’re happier, your team will be happier, people will be more motivated, and everyone will be more effective and more productive.
Stress Diaries help you to get a good understanding of the routine, short-term stresses that you experience in your life. They help you to identify the most important, and most frequent, stresses that you experience, so that you can concentrate your efforts on these. They also help you to identify areas where you need to improve your stress management skills, and help you to understand the levels of stress at which you are happiest, and most effective.
To keep a stress diary, make a regular diary entry with the headings above – it’s often best if you do this every hour. Also make entries after stressful events.
Analyze the diary to identify the most frequent and most serious stresses that you experience. Use it also to identify areas where you can improve your management of stress.