Did you know that Stress Awareness has its own month—and we’re in it?
What a coincidence, this has been a really stressful month for me. Work is busy, school is busy, home is busy… and it’s tax time… so maybe that’s why the National Institutes of Health identify April as Stress Awareness Month.
Are you aware of your stress?
I know I am. And I’m pretty sure everyone in my house is aware of it, too. But what do we do about it?
First of all, what kind of stress are we dealing with?
If my mind won’t shut down at night mulling over the meeting with my accountant, that’s situational stress. But when I get out of bed to distract my mind only to find myself endlessly scrolling and then worrying about not getting any sleep, that’s what experts call cascading stress. We’ve all been there. It’s when we stay there stressing over one thing after another for days and weeks on end that it becomes a problem.
Chronic stress is common in our modern world and leads to a host of physical, emotional, and mental problems. It can increase heart disease risk, cause digestive issues, and lead to chronic headaches, backaches, and fibromyalgia, to name a few. It leads to depression, anxiety, and burnout. Who needs that?
The best thing to do is stop it before it becomes chronic.
Consider the source: Identify whether the source of your stress is situational and temporary, like an Easter dinner at your house this year, or an external situation that is out of your control, like world peace. At some point, you must let go of what you cannot control. For most of us, it is a non-stop succession of situational stressors related to career, family, finances, health issues, and aging parents that lead to a chronic condition. But once you know what’s causing the stress you can take steps to manage and reduce it.
- Gain some stress-busting skills:
Prioritize self-care. Take time for yourself. Recharge and engage in activities you enjoy. Pamper yourself or lose yourself in a favorite hobby. Take up pickleball or bird watching. Do something you love to do and don’t apologize for it.
- Set Boundaries. Keep a clear boundary between work and personal life. Be careful with commitments and make sure you leave some room in your schedule for play and downtime. Regulate your waking and bedtimes to get plenty of sleep. And with relationships, like a disagreeable uncle, set limits on visits or conversation topics.
- Learn to say “No.” You don’t have to do everything others ask of you. Or expect of you. Or that you’ve always done. You don’t have to do everything you want to do, either. Just say no. It gets easier with practice. One way to say no is to cushion your response with a recommendation that gets the need met. For instance, you could say “I’m sorry I can’t run the spring potluck this year, but you might contact…” and then recommend someone who might be willing to take it on. You can also delegate. Ask family members or others to take over a task. Give up on the micromanagement though, ’cause that will defeat the purpose and stress out everyone.
- Get moving. Since stress is the natural “fight or flight” response, taking a brisk walk will dissipate the adrenalin and oxygenate your system. It will do you good and your dog will love you even more. Regular exercise and physical activity can reduce stress and boost your mood. It can improve your health and resilience.
- Get social. Build a positive social network of friends, colleagues, and family members who can provide emotional and practical assistance. Also, mind the company you keep by getting rid of toxic friends. You know the ones. Somehow, they get under your skin, cause offense, and in one way or another make you feel bad. You don’t have to remain in that relationship. It can end and you’re not a selfish person for it.
- Get Help. Self-awareness and self-care can go a long way but if it gets to be too much to bear, seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals can help in managing stress.
Effective stress management requires ongoing effort and some experimentation. Remember that what works for one person may not work for another. Try some different techniques until you find what works best for you.