“We create stress for ourselves because you feel like you have to do it. You have to. I don’t feel that anymore.” -Oprah Winfrey
I feel like this is a very timely blog post because I have actually put off writing it due to my own stress-level being elevated! Have you ever looked at your calendar and realized almost every hour of your day is filled-up and maxed-out with appointments and commitments? That’s what I am experiencing right now. I even have my sleep scheduled-in on my calendar to ensure that I don’t miss any of it! With being a full-time student at a new university, working 30 hours a week at my day job, and also running a transformation coaching business, my life has to be organized in such a way that it keeps my stress to a minimum so that I can be the best me I can be.
Most of us deal with stress on a daily basis. But the good news is that we are not powerless against it! Let’s see if we can come up with some strategies to achieve this healthy balance! First, it would be best to discuss what some common sources of stress are. To identify our true sources of stress, we need to look closely at our habits, attitude, and excuses.
Ten Common Sources of Stress:
- Over-scheduled daily calendars
- Job stress and demands
- Lack of play and downtime
- Lack of time with family, friends, and significant other
- Inequity in home responsibilities
- Lack of time to explore own interests
- Guilt (about everything)
- Being on a crash diet
- Trying to achieve perfection
- In families: children’s behavior and how to discipline
- Lack of time
- Lack of money
Some of these sources are certainly areas I am struggling with right now myself and hit close to home. When we feel stressed we also tend to exhibit symptoms of stress that affect our lives both physically and mentally. When we feel stressed, two things are going on at the same time. Physically your heart pounds, hands sweat, breathing rate increases, and we are liable to feel tension in your muscles. Mentally our thoughts and self-talk are either escalating the physical stimulation with self-destructive statements, such as, “I’m too burned out for this”, or they are giving us anxiety reducing counsel, such as “I have learned a lot from this situation.”
Symptoms of Stress include the following:
- Increases in blood pressure
- Suppressed immunity
- Increased fat around the abdomen
- Bone loss over time
- Increases in blood sugar
- Increased level of cortisol
- Weaker muscles in abdomen
- Increases in blood cholesterol levels
- Internal monologue or thoughts that provoke anxiety, hostility, or pain.
- Food cravings
- Feelings of “should do this”…
- Hampered ability to make changes
The symptoms of stress listed above are not exactly desirable and we may consciously or unconsciously look for ways to calm down and seek comfort. Stress and our reactions to stress can become so common in our lives, that we may not realize that they present us with problems. If our methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to our greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find better ones. There are many healthful methods to handle and cope with stress, but they all require change. We can either modify the situation or change our reaction.
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
- Drinking too much
- Overeating or under-eating
- Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
- Using pills or drugs to relax
- Sleeping too much
- Filling up every moment of the day to avoid facing problems
- Taking out your stress on others (angry outbursts)
The simple realization that we are in control of our lives is the foundation of stress management. Managing stress is all about taking charge of our thoughts, emotions, schedule, and the way we handle problems. Balance comes with our ability to choose– to choose to make smart actions is a baby step in relieving stress.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so we must experiment with different methods and strategies. It’s best to focus on what makes us feel calm and in control. Here are some ways we can help manage our stress:
- Learn how to say “no” – We know our boundaries and stick to them. Whether in our personal or professional life, refuse to accept additional tasks when we’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than we can handle is a definite recipe for stress.
- Avoid people who stress us out – If someone consistently causes stress in our life and we can’t turn the relationship around, we should limit the amount of time we spend with that person or end the relationship entirely.
- Take control of our environment – If the evening news makes us anxious, we should turn the TV off. If going to the grocery store is an unpleasant chore, we could do our grocery shopping online.
- Avoid hot-button topics – If we get upset over religion or politics, cross them off our conversation list. If we repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, we might want to stop bringing it up or excuse our self when it’s the topic of conversation.
- Pare down your to-do list – We could analyze our schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If we’ve got too much on our plate, differentiate between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or get rid of them entirely.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things we can control such as the way we choose to react to problems.
- Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If our own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, we could reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Share our feelings. Talk to a close friend or make an appointment with a counselor. Expressing what we’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing we can do to alter the stressful situation.
- Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Let’s free ourselves from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the symptoms of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week.
- Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better equipped to cope with stress, so we should be mindful of what we eat. We should start our day right with breakfast, and keep our energy up and our mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary “highs” caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in our diets, we’ll feel more calm and we’ll sleep better.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. We shouldn’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels our mind, as well as our body. Feeling tired will increase our stress because it may cause you to think irrationally. Adequate sleep for the average person is 8 hours a night. But for athletes and highly busy people, more sleep is crucial. Sleep is all about recovery. We can’t play as hard the next day if we did not take the time to recovery from the last time we played hard.
Some simple, yet effective other ways to cope with stress in our lives are incorporating some of the following into our everyday lives:
- Do something you enjoy every day: listen to music, read a book, and dance
- Set aside relaxation time: take a nap, get a massage, listen to a guided relaxation, and meditate
- Keep your sense of humor: read or watch something funny and play with a pet
- Connection with others: write a letter, call a friend, forgive someone, ask for help
- Walk outside
- Go to a park
- Sit in nature
- Take a bike ride
- Engage is small acts of kindness
- Find a relaxing scent
- Drink warm tea or coffee
- Buy some flowers
- Write in a journal
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
Let’s not become so stressed-out in life that we are stressed-out about being stressed-out! I intend to schedule in some “me time” this week to relax and enjoy my wonderful life. I hope that you’ll do the same!
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