Stress: What's In Your Control?
*Article originally written for Frederick Natural Health Center
Do you feel like you struggle with the pressures and demands of work and life? If so, you’re not alone.
According to a 2014 American Psychological Association report, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.
The most common symptoms cited were fatigue, headache, irritability, and anger. And it’s not getting better…almost half of Americans feel like their levels of stress has increased over the past five years.
What Is Stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand that’s been placed on it. Acute stress comes from singly occurring events in our lives, such as giving a presentation to a room full of people or sitting in a traffic jam. Acute stress is normal and our bodies are well-equipped to handle it.
However, stress becomes a problem when it becomes chronic. Chronic stress is that grinding stress from life’s pressures and demands that wear us down day after day, week after week, year after year. It can have many causes including work, finances, relationships, or constant worry about anything.
Our bodies are not equipped to handle chronic stress and if left uncontrolled, it affects your body and your immune system. For me personally, uncontrolled stress is the single biggest contributor to flare-ups of my Crohn's Disease.
But don’t let all this stress-talk stress you out! While it’s impossible to remove all stress from our lives, it IS possible to change the way we perceive and respond to it.
Strategies for managing stress fall into two main categories:
1. Reduce the number and severity of stressors in your life.
Take a few minutes to identify the stressors in your life. How do they impact you, both physically and emotionally?
Can you eliminate or reduce any of these sources? Really think about this one…what’s truly necessary vs those things that may not be as important as you’ve been perceiving them to be? Can you let the less important stressors go?
Prioritize your tasks and projects. Don’t let your to do list overwhelm you! There will always be things “to do”. Be realistic about what you can accomplish on any given day.
Be organized so everyday tasks are easier and take less time to complete.
Focus on the things you CAN control, rather than what you can’t.
Keep things in perspective. When you feel anxiety or stress creeping in about something, step back and re-evaluate the importance of it in your life. Can it be "downgraded" in importance? Chances are it's not as big in the overall scheme of life as you originally perceived it to be
Be OK with "good enough". This one's hard, and it takes practice! Whether it's a project around the house, for work, or a certain aspect of your life, things are rarely going to be perfect. But...they are often good enough. Can you view it differently...without anxiety or obsession? Give it your best shot, be satisfied, then move on.
2. Increase your resilience to stress to reduce the impact your stressors have on your body and mind.
Have fun! Make time for activities you like to do.
Schedule daily down time, even if it’s just a few minutes. Make self-care a priority so you can relax and recharge.
Practice mindfulness. Recognizing little positive things throughout the day forces us to slow down and helps us feel more joy and happiness.
Truly connect with others (in person or on the phone, rather than electronically). Take the time to nourish the relationships that nourish you.
Connect with nature. Try to get outside for at least 15 minutes per day.
Get enough sleep. Sleep reduces the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our bodies. When we're stressed, often we don't get quality sleep. Try going to bed a little early to give your brain extra time to "power down" before sleep.
“Turn-off” your brain by practicing simple meditation/deep breathing techniques.
Take time for a “digital detox” or two (or three?) each day. Reducing screen time decreases stress-inducing stimuli. It's really OK to not be 100% available all the time.
Practice gentle movement or exercise daily.
For stressors that cannot be avoided, it can be helpful to “reframe” your thoughts around them in a more positive way. What good is coming from it? Seeing the positive (no matter how small) in an unchangeable situation can be a powerful tool in altering the effect it has on you. I use this one A LOT, and it works!! It even helps to write those positives down on paper.
I’d love to hear from you! What do you do to reduce stressors in your life or to increase your stress resilience?
References: American Institute of Stress, https://www.stress.org/daily-life/; American Psychological Association Report from July 2014.