Okay, who knew that November 1, 2023, would be a day to celebrate stress awareness? I know – the very idea of pairing the words “celebrate” and “stress” in a sentence is unnerving. But as we all know, avoidance is rarely the key to success. So, this year, instead of trying to ignore stress, I’ve decided to stand up to that familiar and rarely welcome companion. Here’s why:
We all need to get a handle on stress
We experience stress when we feel under pressure, overwhelmed or unable to cope. The stress response includes physical components like an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger. While small amounts of stress can motivate us to move toward our goals (did someone say “article deadline?”), heavy doses, or stress that is chronic, can negatively impact our mood, physical and mental well-being and our relationships. An ever-growing body of research also suggests that stress can lead to conditions such as hypertension, heart diseases, and decreased immunity that contribute to premature death. Not to mention what it does to the quality of our daily life! While we can’t completely eliminate the sources of stress from our lives, here’s the good news:
We can learn to put ourselves in charge
We each experience stress in our own way, so it’s important to understand which of these psychological or emotional signs of stress show up for you:
- Depression or anxiety
- Anger, irritability, or restlessness
- Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or unfocused
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Racing thoughts or constant worry
- Problems with memory or concentration
- Making bad decisions
I know mine. Which applies to you? Identifying your symptoms is the first step in putting yourself in charge of your stress. Next, think about what causes your stress. Your particular life challenges are often the source. These may include relationship issues, financial problems, concerns about family, job pressure or dissatisfaction, and medical conditions – just to name a few. I know that my challenges now differ considerably from what they were at other periods in my life. This is also important to recognize because those you care about may have sources of stress that are quite unlike your own. Once you’ve homed in on your major sources of stress:
Take a fresh look at specific actions you can take to lighten your stress load.
You have of course heard this before, but doing something, or doing something different is how we take charge so that the stress we experience doesn’t get the best of us. Case in point: a current source of stress for me is the health of a dear friend who lives over 750 miles away. Fretting and stressing isn’t helping me; calling her twice a week and sending a thoughtful “care package” every few weeks does. Another friend is reeling from the unexpected passing of her husband. One way that she is handling the grief and the accompanying stress is by channeling her feelings into her writing and painting. Ultimately, the question is how can we get a handle on stress for the long haul? Here’s how:
Make stress management key to how you live your life.
This is critical. You can’t afford to allow stress management to be an afterthought. A quick “how to reduce stress in your life” google search reveals 491,000,000 results. No surprise there! Even a brief perusal suggests these key long-term actions:
- Eat a healthy diet. Take a fresh look and make some positive changes.
- Exercise regularly. Start by setting small, achievable goals.
- Nix tobacco and nicotine products.
- Incorporate simple relaxation techniques.
- Set realistic goals in everything you do.
- Reduce your triggers. Ask for help, set priorities, pace yourself and reserve time for self-care.
- Say “no.” The sooner you learn to be discerning about your commitments, the better.
- Safeguard your self-esteem. Create an inner standard; not something imposed from the outside.
- Stay connected to others. Having a support system on the journey is priceless.
- Find and create opportunities for lightheartedness and laughter.
And about that deadline? I didn’t stress. I took it in bite-sized chunks and got it done!
National Stress Awareness Day encourages us to take a deep breath and embrace peace. The day is celebrated mid-week on Wednesday (usually the most exhausting, stressful day) to remind us that stress management is fundamental to optimum performance.