Every so often everyone at my office receives a colorful little pamphlet from our health care provider filled with helpful tips on how to eat better and how to find exciting new ways to exercise. Usually I am quite excited when I see one of these pamphlets in my mail slot as it typically guarantees me at least ten whole minutes of un-bored time at the office. This time I was especially excited by the pamphlet when I saw on the cover that an article titled "Stress: Learning to Cope" would be featured. In my life, and in the lives of so many around me, stress plays a huge factor in pulling me towards negativity. When I am stressed, I eat worse, sleep worse, act worse, and feel worse. Unfortunately, no matter who you are or what you do, stress is an inevitable part of life. Rather than dwell on that negative fact, I decided to dive into the article and learn how I could better cope with the stress in my life.
According to the article, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey recently and found that 1/3 of Americans are living with extreme stress and 48% believe their stress has increased in the past five years. Since it seems like we have a lot of stress on our hands (and, most likely, a lot of the negativity that comes along with it), let's see what the article suggests we do to relieve the stress in our lives. Below are the seven steps listed in the article along with my personal interpretation of them:
- Understand that your stressors are highly personalized. It's important to realize that your stress situation is unique. What may stress you out may not stress others out. It's important to think about what personally makes you stressed and also to realize what makes your loved ones stressed. Assessing this is a very important first step in the stress-reduction process.
- Recognize how stress feels to you. This ties in with the concept of mindfulness that I have posted about before. It is really essential to think about how you feel when you are stressed. Ask yourself the following questions: How does my body feel? What is my breathing like? Where do I feel tense? What thoughts are running through my mind? Also, it may be helpful to recognize how you feel when you are not stressed so you can compare the two states of being.
- Discover your own stress signals. Once you have figured out how stress feels to you, you can figure out what your "stress signals" are. These signals may be mental (inability to concentrate, feelings of anger or frustration, etc.) or physical (stomach aches, headaches, lack of energy, etc.). If you can recognize the signals of stress, you can then begin to think of ways to minimize or cope with the stress. Sometimes I think we get so caught up in being stressed that we don't recognize it until after a situation, when we look back and say, "I guess I must have reacted that way because I was stressed." Recognizing the stress signals can really help lessen or diminish stressful situations and stress-related reactions before they get out of hand.
- Identify how you deal with stress. Take some time to think about how you deal with the stress in your life. Many (okay, probably most) people use unhealthy behaviors like drinking, smoking, overeating, etc. to cope with stress. Do you use unhealthy behaviors? If so, recognizing how these behaviors are related to stress could really help you manage them. No matter how good an unhealthy behavior makes you feel at the time, it definitely does not help you feel better (or melt your stress away) in the long run. Think about that the next time you want to light up a smoke or stick your face in a box of donuts.
- Think of healthy ways you could manage stress. Lucky for us stressed-out people, there are lots of great ways to deal with stress positively. Since we can't avoid it, we have to deal with it. Here are some of my healthy suggestions for dealing with stress:
- Try yoga or meditation. Clearing your mind and being mindful for a bit can really reduce stress.
- Spend time with friends or family (if you get along). Being with others can be a great distraction.
- Take a walk, especially if it's nice outside. There is something universally positive about sunshine.
- Exercise, but make sure not to over do it; overexercising is an unhealthy behavior.
- Read books on how to deal with stress. You never know what types of tactics you'll discover.
- Laughout loud. Call up your funniest friend or check out a local comedy show to get the guffaws going.
- Do something good for someone else. Volunteering or helping a pal can actually help you.
- Get a pet. Plenty of dogs and cats need adopting and studies have show that they can reduce stress.
- Practice deep, relaxed breathing. You can do this anywhere (in traffic, in a meeting) and it's very calming.
- Write about how you feel. Sometimes just getting it out on paper (or a computer screen) helps a lot.
- Vacatewhatever situation is causing you stress. Take a break. Take a trip. Do whatever you need to to get away.
- Smile at everyone you see. Smile at yourself in the mirror and your coworkers in the hall. It really does work.
- Learn something new. Trying new things will take your mind off of whatever it is that's bothering you.
- Take care of yourself physically and mentally. You've heard it all before -- eat right, drink lots of water, get 7-8 hours of sleep, exercise. Cliche as all of this advice sounds, it really does help to do all of these things, especially when you're stressed. As you might have noticed when you thought about your stress signals, stress can really take a toll on your body. Doing what you can to keep it working right will definitely improve the way you feel mentally and physically when faced with a stressful situation (or life, as the case may be).
- Accept help from others if you need it. This can be a hard one for a lot of people, especially if they aren't taking the time to realize they are stressed. Once you realize you are stressed and figure out what it is that's causing the stress, give some thought to whether or not someone else can help you out and lessen your stress load. Whether you talk to a friend about your stress or reach out to a coworker and ask for help on a project, seeking assistance is usually a small step that might make a big difference in terms of minimizing the stress in your life.
Though it may seem like a lot of the points made here are obvious ones, it never hurts to re-evaluate not only what causes stress in your life, but what you are doing to cope with that stress. Some stress is completely unavoidable; some stress can be removed from your life. Consider this carefully. Can you rid yourself of unnecessary stress? If so, do it! There's no time like the present to get rid of stress you don't need.
For the stress you can't get rid of, try to think about it positively. This is very hard sometimes, but try asking yourself this: What can I learn from this? You can learn from almost anything, and if you're going to be faced with the stress anyway, why not turn it into a positive experience?
Overall, I'd offer this advice: Think about what's causing you stress, how you are reacting to the stress, what you can do to minimize or remove the stress, and if there is any way you can get help with the stressful situation. Doing all of these things won't completely erase stress from your life, but it will definitely help you understand and manage the situation, which will ultimately make your life, even the stressful parts, a lot more positive.