Stress Management

Stress management tip  To start a discussion of stress management, we must first talk about what is stress? Stress is any force from the outside world that affects us.  Stress can feel like pressure to get things done in a limited time.  Or it may be obligations that we feel responsible for.  It comes from many different places such as: your job, the boss, kids, family, spouses, friends, school, etc.  Stress is natural and healthy in small doses.  Everyone has it. Stress can be internal or external.  This means that we can cause our own stress or something that happens in our lives can cause it too.  Stress can also be a positive experience, which forces us to change a negative behavior or encourages us to push through a rough patch.  Feeling the pressure of an important deadline actually helps some people accomplish their work faster and with better results.  However, there are times when positive stressors cross that fine line and become negative, high pressure situations.  This jump often occurs quickly and without notice, then the stress piles up.  The change may be in the amount of time a task takes or your reaction to the task.  To develop this idea further, let’s look at some common examples of stressful situations and discuss the positives and negatives within them.

Family/household stress

  • Taking the kids to school/carpooling — This can be a positive stressor because it forces us to make time to spend with our children.  Many parents report that some of the best conversations with their children occur in the car.  Children have a way of naturally talking about what is important to them, or scary for them or simply what is on their mind when one becomes involved in their daily lives. In contrast, taking kids to school / carpooling can turn negative when you have not budgeted enough time, are feeling stressed out or the children are in a particularly ornery mood and the day begins with an argument.
  • Cleaning the house — If you like having a neat house, and enjoy doing dishes, then this is a positive time of your day. Some people describe the cleaning process as therapeutic. It’s a time to just zone out.  But if you are cleaning for someone else and expecting a lot of praise or using cleaning as a way to procrastinate, you have a negative stressor.
  • Developing a chore schedule — Schedules are a great way to manage every day tasks and avoid big stressful blow-ups, but when they take control of your life, and you no longer have time for yourself, something’s gotta give.
  • Walking the dog every day — Ten or fifteen minutes around the block is great exercise. No matter what the weather, or your mood, it forces you to get out of the house and physically moving.  Additionally walking the dog is great bonding.  However, on the days where you would rather not have to rush home, or you get stuck in traffic, knowing you have a dog who is 100% dependent upon you can feel very stressful.
  • Making dinner —  While the idea of always eating a well balanced sit down meal has a certain degree of stress, it may be an enjoyable time. For many couples and / or families it is the one time of day where everyone comes together and sits and talks.  It can also be the one time of day where everyone in the family gets a well balanced meal.  In contrast, making dinner and eating it can be extremely stressful if one opts to make a 5 star meal each night.  Planning ahead is crucial.  Additionally, if time is limited and everyone in the household has a different expectation of what dinner time aught to look like, it could be stressful.  One person may be in a hurry to leave the table, while the other person wants to chat.
  • Planning holiday parties — Party planning can be really fun, especially around the holidays.  But it can become an energy zapper real quick if you are over-stretched or are not organized.
  • Family or marital discord — Many people would not see family problems as a positive stressor, but keep in mind, a family is a unit that constantly changes.  Try looking at the current issues as a chance to get to know each other better.  Take the time to find out from your partner’s perspective what is going on in his or her world.   The negative stress is pretty clear here: fighting can leave you feeling sad, isolated, depressed, mad, hurt etc. Additionally if you and your partner are not connecting, you may be carrying the stress into other areas of your life.
  • Expecting a new baby — A new baby is definitely a happy time in most families, but with it comes responsibilities, doctors appointments, financial costs, needing more space, and general worries for the future.
  • House repairs — Getting a new kitchen that you love and can actually move around in, will illicit feelings of happiness and a sigh of relief once the work is all done. But until the work is done, there will be messes to clean up, labor and materials costs, and a disruption to your normal routine.  Take it one day at a time a relish in the hard work at the end.
  • Bills piling up — This is another scenario where the positive is hard to see but think of it like this: in tough financial times, we have to learn to prioritize, the personal and family gains that will come from that are the silver lining.  Sometimes developing a realistic plan to manage it can leave a person feeling in control and good.  Again, the negative is prominent here spending more than you make is going to lead to debt and a big stack of bills. Being in debt limits ones options.  Though for a few, debt can make couples feel more bonded to one another. They depend on each other for their very survival!

Work and career stress

  • Commuting to and from work — Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic two times a day is enough to drive anyone into a rage, which is clearly negative stress.  But to change this situation around to a positive stressor, use the time to work on some relaxation techniques.  Or you can have a jam session to your favorite music. For many people, the commute to work is the one time in the day where a person has time to reflect on their lives or think whatever thoughts they want. It’s scheduled down-time.
  • An overbearing boss — A boss always who is always on your case may seen completely negative and unbearable, but changing your perspective may allow you to have him or her push you to the next level in your career.
  • Project deadlines – Project deadlines are a clear positive stressor.  They give us a goal to work towards, and many people thrive on knowing they only have so long to get something done.  The negative side of deadlines is when they are unrealistic.  Sometimes the deadline is too fast and it is impossible to achieve it.
  • Getting promoted — A promotion usually means more money, which is almost always a positive.  What’s the down side of a promotion: it could bring more responsibility that you’re just not ready for?
  • Getting laid off — Getting laid off is difficult and another negative stress that is easy to see.  Can it be positive? If you weren’t happy at your job, wanted to change careers, or your personal life was suffering because of it, a lay off can open the door to more positives.  Also, it will allow you to work on some personal behaviors to strengthen for your next position.
  • Co-worker interactions — When you have some buddies at the office, it’s going to be a positive experience.  They may even help push you farther on projects and give you a chance at a promotion.  This situation turns into negative stress when you’re not finishing your work or if you’re feeling disrespected, undermined, or sabotaged by a co-worker.
  • Traveling for business — Seeing new places, opportunities for company growth, and feeling accomplished in your job are some of the benefits of traveling for work.  Negative stress that can come from too much time spent away on business is constant packing and unpacking, lost luggage, lack of productivity, and strain placed on social relationships.

Personal stress

  • Not knowing how to say no or too much on your plate — Saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way will open many doors for social, personal, and work related growth.  However, if you feel pressured to join every club, work every bake-a-thon, and take every overtime shift possible, your own needs will get lost in the shuffle causing a build up of stress.
  • No social life/ Living alone or away from family and friends — For people who like to be alone this isn’t always negative stress, but it can be if you start feeling depressed, isolated, or misunderstood.  Having a connection with other people is important for our mental and physical health.
  • Procrastination — This is a biggie when it comes to stress.  For many people, procrastination is an opportunity to put off negative stress until they are ready for it. The problem with that is sometimes we procrastinate too long and we have extra stress to deal with.
  • Obsessive worry and preoccupations with details — Being detail oriented is seen as a positive when trying to get ahead these days.  Nevertheless, when this preoccupation turns into obsession small changes begin to cause very high stress and anxiety.
  • Not getting enough exercise — A lack of exercise is another negative stressor because our bodies need to be in motion.  Exercise lets us get out of our frustrations.  It also increases endorphins in our brain that cause happy feelings.  Not getting enough exercise can lead to feeling sad, frustrated, and body image issues.
  • Poor diet — If you eat junk food as a treat every now and then, you’re probably doing alright.  But if you constantly run on high calorie, greasy food you might be feeling nausea, stomach pains, heartburn, and fatigue.  These symptoms are also made worse by high stress.  Food is our fuel.  If we fill up on healthy foods our bodies will run better and be able to handle life’s curveballs.  However, if we don’t put good fuel in we won’t get good results out.
  • Not sleeping enough — Many people say “I can sleep when I’m dead.”  And I’m sure they have a great social life and high-power jobs.  But what are they sacrificing?  When we sleep, our brain processes everything that happened during the day. Not getting enough sleep can lead to less productivity, more anxiety, as well as physical symptoms.
  • Medical conditions — Having an illness is stressful enough, but add on top of it doctor visits, medical bills, and needing a care giver.  Stress can pile up quickly.  A positive stressor in an illness can be learning our own resiliency and a sense of relief when we get all the facts.
  • Loss, grief, or trauma — No one is going to say that loosing a loved one in an accident or being in one yourself is a positive.  But this is another chance to feel resilient and empowered.  You can channel your grief into volunteer work or advocacy and feel like you made a difference.

Stress affects people of all ages and all walks of life. The specific symptoms people feel when stressed depend on individual differences such as: physical makeup, quality of relationships, number of commitments, expectations about life, amount of support, life changes, or traumatic events that have occurred.  However, some generalizations can be made: People with strong networks of support report less stress and better mental health. People who are poorly nourished, who don’t get enough sleep, or who are physically unwell typically have higher stress levels.  Stress symptoms fall into two categories: emotional and physical reactions.  Some physical symptoms of stress include: Increased heart rate, Headache/migraines, Nausea, Heart burn, Stomach ache, High blood pressure, Fatigue, Sleep changes, Sweating, Dizziness, Weight gain, Feeling shaky, Changes in sex drive/frequency of sex, Muscle tension and pain, Dehydration, and Zoning out/working on autopilot.  A few emotional responses to stress include: Sadness/Depression, Anger, Irritability, Loss of concentration, Changes in eating habits, Moodiness, No enjoyment from life, No sexual desire, Crying, Feeling exasperated, Suicidal thoughts, Anxiety, Worrying about everything, Addictions, Wanting to escape, Feeling resentful of others, , Poor interpersonal relationships, Withdrawal from friends and family, Throwing temper tantrums or outbursts, Demanding things from others, and Blaming others for their problems.

Check your stress level:   If you’re experiencing any of the above mentioned situations and symptoms you have stress! But remember it’s normal to feel stressed out at times.   However, if you feel as though your life has been taken over by stress, it’s going off track, and that you can’t handle daily tasks; you have a high level of stress.  If this is the case, you’re probably “dealing” situation to situation and not managing or coping with your stress in an effective way.  Remember stress is natural and sometimes good for us, but when we can’t deal with it any more, we have some work to do.

Now, let’s talk about “dealing” with stress rather than managing it or coping with our feelings.  Dealing with stress from situation to situation is like being on a boat in a storm.  Some waves (situations) are small.  You float right past them with no problem.  Other waves (situations) are much bigger some water will get in your boat and you have to bail it out.  During this time you’re getting nervous and might feel overwhelmed.  Then the big tsunami hits.  Your boat (stress level) can’t hold any more water, gets capsized, and you’re drowning in a sea of emotion, anxiety, and frustration.  You might be thinking, “My waves never get that big; I don’t have to worry about capsizing.”  You might be right.  But why take the chance?  Instead of bailing yourself out after the big situations flood you with stress, why not face it head on?

The first way to manage stress is recognizing that you have it.  Many people who suffer from anxiety are in denial that they have stressful situations every day.  Hopefully by reading this tip, you have found at least one or two scenarios you can relate to.  Acknowledging your stress is the beginning of managing it.  The second step is to start to prioritize.  If you’re having difficulties at home and are throwing yourself into work only to experience troubles there; it’s time to take a look at what’s most important.  Make a pros and cons list.  Look for the positive and negative stressors in all your situations.  If the negatives are overwhelming the positives, cut something out.  If you have the opportunity to cut back at work for a short time so you can work on some family issues, take the time to do it.  Once you have identified the necessary stressors in your life you can use the time you spent on the other things to increase some positive personal time.  Take a day off just for yourself: no work, no kids, no boss, no spouse and no cell phone, just you.  Go out for lunch with a friend, or spend the day walking in nature.  Add an exercise routine to your week.  Try yoga — you’ll get exercise and relaxation all in one.  Do some positive self-talk.  Remind yourself how great you really are.  If you don’t have a daily schedule, try making one.  This will help you see what and when you can delegate.  If you try to manage your stress and still feel completely overwhelmed, you may wish to consider personal therapy.  Getting another perspective on what is going on can help you deal with those tidal waves of emotion that come with high stress situations.  Seeing a therapist can also help you to determine if that path you’re on is right for you or if some bigger changes need to happen.  Lastly, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Pick and choose your battles.  Think back to the boat analogy, riding a wave here and there can actually be fun.  Use the positive stressors in your life to help you push through, meet that deadline, or call up an old friend to apologize.  Remember stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing.