07 Nov Stress Awareness & How to Manage Stress Effectively
The first week of November is International Stress Awareness week. In honor of that, and, in honor of the upcoming holiday season that often causes a lot of people to feel stressed, let’s take a couple of minutes to talk about what stress is and what you can do to more effectively manage it.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress can be defined as “any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action.”
Everyone experiences stress in some way, and it isn’t always related to negative things. We can feel stressed in preparing for a vacation and we can feel stressed when trying to manage intense work demands. In fact, some stress is actually GOOD for us. It helps to motivate us and push us into action. It’s when we are dealing with TOO much stress, where we feel shut down and totally overwhelmed, is when the problems lie.
Stress can present itself both physically and mentally. Often, our bodies give us a lot of cues about stress. We may feel tension in our shoulders, or clench our jaw. Maybe, our stomach hurts or we feel overly fatigued. We may not be sleeping or eating well. For some, there may be an over reliance on drugs or alcohol.
Emotionally, we may be more irritable or short tempered. We may find that we are frequently feeling on the edge of tears. Our feelings of anxiety may be escalated. It may even be that we just feel “nothing” and as though we are totally shut down.
All of these symptoms can exist on the stress continuum. And all are signs that we need to pay attention to ourselves and how we are doing.
So, what can we do when we are feeling stressed? How do we hit the pause button when it feels like we don’t have time, energy or the ability to stop?
- Start small — We hear so much talk about self-care. It is a great defense against stress. However, when we are feeling overwhelmed, the idea of taking an hour to care for ourselves feels impossible. Start small. Take five minutes every hour to stand up and stretch, take some deep breaths, and go for a walk. The build up of five minutes over the course of the day is really powerful and can help mediate the stress you feel.
- Start early — If you know that some situations are more stressful than others, start to prepare early. Know what you need to do to take time out for yourself. Create a cope ahead plan that you can put into play should you need it.
- Ask for help — Many of us, myself included, think we need to do it all on our own. Most of the time, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fear prevents us from asking for help, as it demonstrates that we are vulnerable. And, even superheroes have sidekicks. Asking for help may be just what you need.
- Say no — Sometimes, you just have to say no. It’s better to disappoint someone else than it is to disappoint yourself. And, when your plate is full, you have to say no.
Stress happens. It’s unavoidable. Sometimes, it is actually really helpful, as it pushes us to action. When it becomes overwhelming, it is important to take the time to address it so that it does not cause more problems emotionally and physically.
Authored by: Dr. Jennifer Hartstein