“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
~ Lou Holtz
I thought since we are at the beginning of a new year, it was a good time to talk about stress.
Everyone experiences stress in one form or another and as defined in the dictionary of Merriam-Webster, “stress is a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in one’s life, work, etc.”
All our lives are filled with demands, frustrations, hassles and deadlines. Stress does not have to be bad. In small doses, it can be a motivating force to do better. But, if you find yourself in a constant state where everything is an emergency and needs to be attended to then your mind and body will pay an awful price. Stress is dangerous and unhealthy when this way of being is your everyday world.
There are many ways to cope with stress but first you must be aware of the warning signs and symptoms to know what to do when they appear.
Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms
Inability to concentrate
Seeing only the negative
Anxious or racing thoughts
Irritability or short temper
Agitation, inability to relax
Sense of loneliness and isolation
Depression or general unhappiness
Aches and pains
Diarrhea or constipation
Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
Lack of sex drive
Eating more or less
Sleeping too much or too little
Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
Using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
Nervous habits (i.e. nail biting, pacing)
I am sure you have experienced many of these warning signs and symptoms as I have too. What we need to remember is that stress is unique so therefore, tolerance levels will vary based on personal attitude and outlook on life, sense of control and ability to deal with emotions as well as a network of support that is different to each person.
Also, keep in mind that stress can appear out of nowhere but as there are many warning signs and symptoms of stress there are also many causes of stress that include: grief, family problems, financial problems, illness, lack of work related problems; moving; relationships; losing a job; becoming a parent; driving in traffic; fear of crime; retirement; abortion; miscarriage; uncertainty; nosy neighbors; noise; overcrowding; all to name a few.
Regardless of where you are with stress and as many causes, warning signs and symptoms that exist, there are many healthy and positive ways to manage stress that you can do for yourself. These include:
- Exercise – Moving our bodies is always a good thing and has been proven to directly impact our emotional health. Get to a gym if that is your preference or even more simple, take a walk and let the movement of your body ease the stress you are feeling.
- Delegate– let go of the need to do everything yourself. Delegate anything that can be shared with another.
Learn to say “no” – Don’t be the first one to accept every task and project. It is okay to pause and say “no”. Just do so with kindness.
- Alcohol and drugs – There is no relief of stress abusing alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs when used to relax will only numb the pain in the moment but the stress will still be there. Whatever your consumption is cut down the amount immediately or stop completely.
- Get good nutrition – when you are under a lot of stress it is during these times that the foods we eat will impact us the most. Making good food choices and eating a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains etc. will help you to manage more easily the level of stress you are experiencing.
- Time – when you are under a tremendous amount of stress, it is imperative that you take some time for you; short breaks daily and scheduling time to pursue interests that you enjoy will give you much needed energy to handle the stress in your life.
- Breathing & relaxation techniques – it seems oversimplified to talk about breathing but when under extreme stress, stopping a moment, closing your eyes and taking a slow, deep breath will have profound results of increasing your energy instantly. Other forms of relaxation such as meditation, yoga, journal writing, massage are all wonderful ways to help you to slow down and manage stress.
- Talk – Reach out to family, friends, trusted co-workers or a professional. Having a safe place to express your feelings is always beneficial. Allowing others to help is a surefire way to alleviate stress.
Stress is always going to be a part of life. Choosing to recognize what causes you stress as well as knowing how well or not so well that you tolerate it is an awareness that will allow you to know how to manage and deal with stress on a regular basis. Half the battle is knowing ourselves well enough to acknowledge how stress manifests inside. Then knowing what to do about it and to put into action the tool that will work best.
My hope for you is that by bringing up this topic so early in the year, you will be able to utilize this information to your advantage. Stress does not have to be all consuming and knowing what works best for you personally can only make stress more manageable.