Stress comes in all forms and levels of severity. On the job, having a key employee resign, planning an important event or installing a new computer system could all induce stress. At home, it could be illness, a move to a new home, an appliance calling it quits or the death of a loved one.
Stress is actually a necessary part of life. Without it, we wouldn’t have a reason to get out of bed in the morning or show up to fulfill our responsibilities. Eustress is the stress that motivates us, keeping us interested in daily activities and relationships. Distress is normally considered negative and is more difficult to cope with. That’s the stress that causes us to grind our teeth, disrupts sleep and may cause us to be short tempered.
April is National Stress Awareness Month so let’s consider some ideas for managing distress. According to “Stress Management, A Special Health Report” from Harvard Medical School, constant stress can have a physical impact on our mental and physical health.
The report details how people frequently handle stress: “People often eat unhealthy food and don’t have the energy or time to exercise. Stress can also lead us into other heart-damaging behaviors, such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol.”
Stress-inducing events are inevitable. It’s important to have some coping skills in our toolboxes that will help us manage stress in our lives. These skills will help us maintain resilience in the face of difficult happenings in life.
Stay positive. Think about how to move forward without dwelling on the past. Keep a sense of humor; laughter can decrease stress hormones as well as positively impact physical symptoms.
Meditation is known to reduce high blood pressure while relaxing the mind and body. Mindfulness helps people relax and focus on the moment at hand. Practice simple breathing techniques when you have a free moment. This simple breathing exercise has been know to help me fall asleep at night: breathe in while counting to four, hold your breath for seven and breathe out slowly for eight counts.
Exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep. To handle any difficult situation, it’s best to approach it from a position of strength. Your body and mind need to be fit, have fuel and rest to be refreshed and have the energy to manage stress.
Unplug from technology for some time each day. News, email and social media tend to bombard us with never ending messages, not all positive. To give yourself time to breath and think, turn off the computer, phone and television on a regular basis.
Figure out what you love to do and spend a little time every day doing it. For me, it’s knitting, reading, walking and sharing time with family and friends. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Do you love to shoot hoops or hit golf balls? Are you a runner/swimmer/biker? Does painting/woodworking/drawing/sewing help you relax? Perhaps you like to listen to music, dig in your garden or write in a journal. I’ve just scratched the surface of all of the possibilities. Build time into each day for your favorite stress reliever.
In our culture, we tend to think we shouldn’t put ourselves above others’ needs. In truth, practicing self-care doesn’t mean you’re saying, “Me first.” You’re actually saying, “Me too.” If you’re not strong and healthy, you’re not going to be able to help others and handle the stressful things that will happen. Learn what works for you to handle life’s twists and turns.
Penny C. Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County