Original article written by Carlo Atienza for BusinessMirror

SO many things cause stress. As a leader, we are constantly bombarded by urgent requests and employee concerns which affect not only our productivity but also our mental health. And the thing is, it is not only our work and our teammates which cause stress, but also other things that go on in our lives—be it personal or otherwise. But one thing is certain, we all experience stress one way or another.

Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. This can be caused by a new job, requirements at work, issues in the family, or any other issues which make us feel pressure and strain. Stress is so prevalent, the World Health Organization calls it the health epidemic of the 21st century. There is simply no way of escaping stress.

Karl Albrecht in his book Stress and the Manager says there are four kinds of stress. The first one is called encounter stress and we experience this when we meet new people or a certain group of people. The second one is called anticipatory stress, which involves anxieties about what could happen in our future. The third one is called situational stress, which is triggered by certain events that happen to us. And the last one is time stress, when we feel stressed because we are running out of time.

However you feel stressed, the effects of stress can be debilitating if not taken seriously. Aside from its effects on your productivity, stress can lead to sickness, low motivation and anxiety. It can lead to feeling distracted, insecurity and even loss of sleep. With all of these, we really cannot avoid stress. If we cannot avoid it, how then can we manage stress?

The first step in managing manage stress is to understand stress is not your enemy. A study in Wisconsin University showed that your perception of stress actually has a direct effect on your health. One group which says they experience a lot of stress and perceive stress as their enemy has an increased 43 percent risk of dying based on public death records monitored over a period of eight years. The other group also experienced a lot of stress but saw it as a natural event in their lives. The results showed they had higher life expectancy. To this group, they saw stress as a motivator to prepare them for the challenge in front of them, and they did not let stress get in the way of what they needed to do. This group’s result was similar to a third group which said they experienced little stress in their lives. This teaches us one important thing about stress: how we perceive it has a direct impact on whether we will benefit from it, or if we will make it a hindrance to our success.

Do you know that sense of fulfillment after overcoming a challenge? That is the rush of dopamine in your system. Dopamine is also known as the happy hormone. This is the hormone responsible for making us feel pleasure and satisfaction, as well as see rewards and move toward them. That is why you feel ready for the next challenge immediately after completing one. It is not just adrenaline which keeps you moving; dopamine can get you there, too. And this hormone is released when overcoming a stressful challenge.

Another hormone which helps us during stressful situations is oxytocin. Kelly McGonigal is a famous health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who is better known for her TED talk video, titled Make Stress Your Friend. In her video, she talks about oxytocin, which is more popularly known as the trust hormone. If you have not heard of oxytocin, it is the hormone released when we hug someone and makes us crave for intimacy and physical contact with our loved ones. What people do not know is it is also a stress hormone. Dr. Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress, explains when we are faced with a stressful situation, our biological response is to surround ourselves with people who will support us. This just goes to show that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It is our negative response to stress which debilitates us.

Once we understand how our view of stress is the problem and not stress itself, we are better equipped to manage it. Here are several things you can do to manage stress. First is to learn how to take breaks. It is perfectly okay to take breaks when in a stressful situation. You can take a walk or go to the office lounge just to clear your mind and give your mind a break. This will keep you grounded and help you look at the challenge with fresh eyes.

Listen to relaxing music or play soothing background music to help alleviate a stressful situation. Music has a way of lowering blood pressure and calming the senses so you can focus more on a solution to the challenge you face.

To give you an instant push, you can eat a bit of chocolate. Chocolate helps the body release endorphins, which relax you and put you in a better mood to handle the challenge. Endorphin is another type of hormone which acts as an analgesic and reduces the feeling of pain. This, in turn, will help you focus more on ways to overcoming a challenge rather than worry about it. Another way to release endorphins is to have a good laugh. Laughter has so many benefits and it is no wonder it can also mitigate stress. For long-term effects, exercise goes a long way in ensuring your body regularly releases endorphins and is fit to face any challenge.

Knowing that stress is not the problem is the first step in managing it. After doing so, you can do a lot in ensuring stress propels you and gives you the needed energy to overcome whatever challenge you face. We all experience stress but knowing what to do when we encounter it makes the difference between succumbing to it or rising to the challenge.