Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone encounters stress from time to time and it is just part of life. The goal is to either reduce stress, manage it, or eliminate it altogether.
Stressors can be major, minor, planned or spontaneous. When we talk of stress, we can be talking about “good stress”, which is called “Eustress” and may include a job promotion, a new marriage or baby, or a move to a nicer house. Despite being good things, these stressors cause our bodies and minds to react. “Bad stress,” otherwise called, “Distress,” also cause our bodies and minds to react. When we speak of stress, we are usually talking about distress. In one study, researchers found that 70% of Americans experienced stress or anxiety DAILY.
Untreated, stress can cause tension headaches, depression, insomnia, high blood sugar, fertility issues and erectile dysfunction, backaches, and weakened immune systems. Cortisol, (a stress hormone) can interfere with weight loss. As you can see, it is important to learn how to manage stress.
Not all of life’s stressors can be controlled or avoided, but we do have the power to choose how we want to react to a given situation. It is helpful to define the stressor as something you can control, reduce, or eliminate, it’s important to get clear on what you are actually dealing with.
Let’s begin with a stressor you have no control of. This might be a scary diagnosis for a loved one, or maybe a company layoff, or even a car accident which will make you late for work. You didn’t choose or cause any of these things, yet here they are. How do you want to manage? This is actually a good question, as a plan is more powerful than waiting to see what happens. Do you want to be helpful to your loved one? What would that look like? Being helpful and supportive is different from being worried or in denial. Company layoff? Will you look for another job, maybe return to school, or “hope” your company hires you back some day? Car accident? Call your supervisor and explain, go in whenever you can, call it quits for the day? We have choices.
It’s been my personal and professional experience though, that most stressors are brought on by decisions we make daily. Agreeing to host a holiday with family members you don’t get along with is a common example. If we know something is going to be stressful, why are we doing it? This is probably a good time to develop another more delightful tradition. Procrastination also brings on stress. So does taking on more than you can handle. Learn to say, “No” to things. Work on time-management, and schedule some down-time into your day.
But, since stress sometimes “sneaks” up on us, it is helpful to have “reserves” to manage. Ideally, we build these reserves before a stressor hits, allowing us an easier experience. Following is a list that will offer stress relief: Regular Exercise. This releases endorphins, gives you energy, helps you sleep, and builds confidence. All go a long way in stress management.
Aromatherapy. Scents can reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Try candles or oils such as Lavender, Rose, or Orange Blossom. Write it Down. This will “simplify” or summarize your stressors and make it easier to problem solve or let go. Writing a Gratitude Journal is also helpful.
Spend time with valued friends and family. This can release Oxytocin, which is a natural stress reducer. “Valued” is an important word here. Limit or avoid time spent with people who “drain” you. Use (or learn) good assertiveness skills. Laugh. Laughter releases endorphins that not only make you feel good, they also strengthen your immune system. Soothing Music. Listen to music you enjoy. Pay attention to your feelings. Music is powerful and can also irritate us, make us nostalgic, bring up negative feelings, give us energy, or calm us.
Yoga. This is not only good for us physically; yoga can be calming and spiritual.
I encourage people to make a list of activities they can use to reduce or manage stress and turn to the list in stressful times. It can be hard to remember strategies when we are in the middle of a difficult event, so when it is written out, all you have to remember is where you put the list!