The trials and tribulations that cause tension in our lives are personal problems, yet they often fall into larger categories of common anxiety triggers. These universal stress points -- money, relationships, work, time constraints -- are often painfully obvious to everyone involved. Other times, however, they can hide behind our own excuses and denials, while we blame others for our problems and overlook the true causes.
Keeping a stress journal for a period of one or two weeks can help you better identify the specific sources of turbulence in your life, while these common stressors may highlight areas that need special attention.
Financial stress is nothing new, but in recent years it's skyrocketed to the top of our worry list: In the American Psychological Association's 2009 Stress in America report, it was the number one issue reported, with 71 percent of those surveyed saying that money was a significant or very significant source of stress in their lives. The economy was mentioned by 63 percent of respondents, and housing costs by 47 percent.
Americans are also feeling the health fallout of the economic downturn in myriad ways, from being unable to sleep at night to losing their health coverage or retirement funds. Worrying about these things will only make them worse -- but you can try to use your stress as motivation to improve the areas you can still change.
In today's world of smartphones, laptops, and telecommuting, work and play have become strange bedfellows -- and not only because you occasionally fall asleep next to your laptop. The boundaries separating labor from leisure have all but dissolved: You might be at dinner or even on a beach somewhere, but if you're responding to an email from your boss, are you really there?
This doesn't mean you're doomed to 24/7 enslavement, however; you just need to figure out new ways to manage your work-life balance and set boundaries between your job and your free time.
We all aspire to find joy in our careers, but during times of economic stress, loving what you do can be a luxury. The emptiness of a monotonous job can be a slow poison, and your performance can suffer. Still, you may feel it's hard to complain at a time when so many people are unemployed.
The key to surviving a go-nowhere job is to revise your perception of what you do. You may not have a lot of control over your work life now, but you have total control over your attitude.
In close relationships, there are fights -- and then there are fights. Some spring from watershed issues: how to save or spend money, how to raise the kids, how to honor religious beliefs. But this isn't what couples fight about most of the time. Instead, we argue over loading the dishwasher properly, cutting toenails on the coffee table, and cleaning the cat box when it's your turn.
While the offenses may seem minor enough, these garden-variety arguments can cause tremendous stress, contributing to general wear and tear on a relationship. But when you stop reacting and start responding with compassion, you can defuse silly squabbles and help strengthen your bond.
It's bad enough when you get sick yourself, but if you're the caregiver to a parent, a child, or a sick spouse, you have even more to worry about.
In 2009's Stress in America Survey, "personal health problems" and "health problems affecting my family" were each cited by 47 percent of participants as a significant or very significant source of stress. (Only financial and relationship issues ranked higher.)
If you're fighting your own health concerns, remember to address your emotional needs as well as your physical ones. And if you're caring for someone else with a chronic illness, you'll need self-care strategies to keep yourself healthy.
The pressure of holiday travel, shopping, parties, and family gatherings can sometimes make the season more stressful than joyous. (The same goes for planning a vacation any time of year: By the time you get everything booked, paid for, and taken care of, you're already dreading the work that you'll inevitably come back to!)
It's important to look past the stress and to appreciate these times of year, however. Whether you celebrate with friends, with family, or with your own personal rituals, these special occasions can provide a much-needed break from our day-to-day lives.
There are lots of reasons we struggle with telling other people "no," even if we're already overloaded or it's against our best interests to give them a hand. Some people feel bound by obligation, or by fear of hurting someone's feelings. Others believe they really can do it all -- and hate to pass up the opportunity to try.
But think about it: Almost every misplaced "yes" is really a "no" to yourself -- and may be putting you on the fast track to a meltdown.
Finding time for yourself isn't a luxury; it's essential for protecting your health. Some people recharge by spending time alone or writing in a journal. For many women, however, hanging out with close pals is the best medicine for stress.
Research shows that women's proclivity to "tend and befriend" during times of stress may be due to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that's also secreted during childbirth. If we don't get enough time to ourselves -- and quality time with friends -- we can burn ourselves out quickly with no outlet for stress.
Your meticulous nature and Type-A personality may be the source of much of your success -- but if the thought of making even a tiny mistake paralyzes you with fear, your perfectionism could be doing more harm than good.
Instead of focusing on everything that could go wrong, free yourself from the unrealistic expectations you've set for yourself (or those you've let others set for you) and move your life forward -- one healthy achievement at a time.
We often lose sight of activities that bring us delight in the blur of day-to-day responsibilities. Preoccupied with our jam-packed schedules and never-ending to-do lists, we rarely experience the rich, soulful emotion of passion -- those moments when we feel awestruck, inspired, brought to tears, utterly moved.
Instead, we go through the motions of life, but we constantly feel like something is missing. Taking time to find your true passion can not only help you better manage stress, but it will enhance every aspect of your life.
Clutter can prevent us from letting anything new into our lives, says life coach Cheryl Richardson. Think about a disorganized home, a messy desk, or an overflowing inbox: Not only is excess baggage physically in the way, but it can slow down your productivity and keep you focused on things in the past.
In time, our lives get so filled with the debris of the past -- from dried-up tubes of Krazy Glue to old grudges -- that it's a wonder we can get up in the morning, never mind go to work, or even just put one foot in front of the other. Gail Blanke, author of "Throw Out Fifty Things," suggests a room-by-room clean-out of your house... and your life.