One definition of stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Another definition I like is: when your gut says no, and your mouth says “I’d be glad to.”
There are at least two things to consider when it comes to stress: investigating the CAUSES of stress and managing the SYMPTOMS of stress.
Causes: What are causes of stress in your life? Are you doing too much in not enough time? Are you worrying or ruminating? Do you have a tendency to think about worst case scenarios? Do you feel overwhelmed by others’ demands on you?
Symptoms: How does stress affect your life, your body, and your emotions? Is your sleeping impacted? Are your relationships affected? How does your body feel? How are you doing at managing your thoughts and feelings?
Here are some suggestions for help with stress:
Breathing: Take time out to breathe! Breathing burns off adrenaline and is naturally soothing. You can schedule times during the day to give yourself even a minute to take a breath and be with yourself, or you can make parts of your everyday life become cues to remind you to breathe – like every time you are sitting at a red light or every time you pass through a doorway. Even one minute can make a big difference in your day, and, if you can get in the habit of taking several minutes for yourself during the day, imagine the relief!
Make sure you are taking slow, full, deep breaths. Try to imagine your breath filling your entire torso, down to your hip bones. You can even imagine your breaths reaching down to your toes and up into your head. Imagine that each breath makes a little extra space between your brain and your skull. Some people like to imagine breathing in a favorite color or white light. When you exhale, try letting the air just fall out of your body like a sigh.
Time management: Consider whether you need to let go of some of your obligations and responsibilities. If it’s hard for you to say no to a request, try saying “let me think about it,” and then really do think about whether it’s a good idea to say yes to yet another responsibility. When will you do it? What else will you have to give up in order to do it?
Schedule your tasks and your downtime. Research suggests that just knowing when you will do something helps reduce stress. Be realistic about what you can get done. Strive for a sense of success that you got things done instead of disappointment at incomplete tasks.
Finding specific strategies for your stressors: Pay attention to when stress hits you and then try to come up with specific strategies to address those stressors. If you notice you get stressed at bedtime, try something different, like stretching for a few minutes in bed before trying to sleep or listening to a relaxation CD. If you notice you’re most stressed when you’re driving, try something different, like letting people in or slowing down. One time when I was driving over Highway 17, there was a car that passed me and zigzagged endlessly through every car on the road. I could see him ahead of me the whole 20 minutes over the hill. At one point, when he passed a sign as a landmark, I started counting until I passed the same sign – 11 seconds! He gained 11 seconds by driving like that!
Be honest and notice when the stress is most obvious, and focus directly on those times. Get creative about how you can address your stressors head on!
Self-care: Sleep is so important! Keep it very high on your priority list, and carefully scrutinize what activities you choose instead of getting a full night’s sleep. It’s also important to sleep on a regular schedule, not just “catch up” on weekends.
Get outside and move your body. Think about the last time it rained and how wonderful the air felt and smelled afterward. Get out and enjoy that air, take it into your body and feel the pleasure of it!
We all know how important exercise is. It’s been proven to reduce depression and anxiety. If you can just get out and move your body, it will be well worth the time. When have you ever regretted getting exercise!??
Focus on the positive: Be Velcro for positive experiences and Teflon for negative experiences. Focus on the little things, like how pretty the leaves are while you’re driving or how nice the hot water feels on your body in the shower. Don’t brush off the positives – take the time to notice them and enjoy the pleasure they give you.
Therapy: Talking about your worries and getting unbiased feedback can help you sort out your priorities. Therapy often includes practicing relaxation techniques and problem solving how to make time for important self-care. Your therapist can help you see patterns in your stress reactions and find alternative coping mechanisms.
Stress is a common challenge in our fast-paced, overstimulating culture. You are not alone. And stress doesn’t usually just go away by itself. It’s up to you to pay attention and make the hard choices necessary to alleviate your stress.