Experiencing some stress in our lives can be shielding and adaptive. The way we respond to stress helps our minds and bodies prepare for tough challenges, and to react appropriately in times of crisis. Actually, a certain amount of stress is essential to help us perform at our best and entice us to move beyond stagnation. In other words, stress can motivate us!
- Environmental factors such as natural disasters, pollution, traffic problems, uncomfortable living or working spaces, and excessive noise.
- Social factors like financial problems, demands on time, conflicts with family, loss of a loved one, disagreements, and balancing responsibilities.
- Physiological factors including illness, accidents, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, alcohol or drug abuse, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, headaches, or upset stomach.
- Thoughts such as being a perfectionist, being competitive, expecting too much from ourselves or others, worrying, being self-critical, making assumptions, and having a pessimistic attitude.
Ignoring stress signals and allowing it to continue unchallenged can cancel out any positive benefits it may provide. Being exposed to excessive stress, over a period of time, can severely affect our physical and mental well being. Uncontrolled stress can interfere with normal daily living, impair relationships, and diminish self-esteem. It can lead to burn-out, self-doubt, and possibly lead to becoming clinically anxious or depressed.
Stress is not created by the above factors: it originates with our own perceptions of things. The way we view our lives and react to events determines how much stress we will experience.
Recognizing symptoms of stress allows you to be aware and take action before it gets out of hand. Let’s look at some of the ways stress affects us:
- Physical symptoms include headaches, back pain, indigestion, racing heart, shallow breathing, muscle tension, constipation, diarrhea, and easily fatigued.
- Behavioral symptoms can be overuse of alcohol, excessive smoking, changes in eating habits, driving too fast, nail biting, procrastination, short-temper, changes in sleeping habits, and a critical attitude of others.
- Emotional symptoms such as crying easily, irritability, anger, moodiness, feeling helpless, overwhelming pressure, unhappiness, depression, nervousness and anxiety.
- Cognitive symptoms including constant worry, loss of humor, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, trouble thinking clearly, and inability to make decisions.
So, what can we do to reduce stress in our lives? It’s important that we first learn to recognize stress signals and be aware of how we’re feeling. There are many ways to reduce stress and use it to our benefit, instead of allowing it to control us. We’ll take a look at some suggestions for reducing stress, but remember this list is not exhaustive. If you find something that works for you and it’s not harmful to yourself or others, go for it!
- Find a support system – this could include a counselor or therapist, friends, family, a minister, or anyone you feel comfortable talking with about your feelings and experiences. Sometimes just saying it out loud to someone who will listen will allow us to feel supported and figure out answers.
- Change your attitude – talk to yourself positively and try to find other ways to think about what you’re going through. It’s also important to recognize that we must accept some circumstances – we can’t control everything in our lives.
- Be realistic – develop realistic expectations of yourself and others. We all have limits and when we accept this fact we can let go of unrealistic expectations.
- Get organized and take charge – poor planning and disorganization can lead to frustration or crisis situations that can be avoided if we prepare in advance. Take responsibility for your life.
- Take breaks and give yourself “time-outs” – taking time for you to relax and rejuvenate is important in keeping stress levels reasonable. Move yourself up on your priority list to give you more energy and health to take care your other responsibilities in life.
- Take care of yourself – self-care should be your top priority. If you don’t focus on your own needs, you won’t be able to care for anyone else. Eat healthy foods, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. Make time to do something you love everyday!
- Learn to say “NO” – Remember that “NO” is a complete sentence. It’s okay to decline an invitation or request if you feel that saying no is in your best interest. No explanation is needed. Protect your health and reduce your stress by refusing to take on more than you should. Overextending ourselves can create tremendous stress.
- Learn relaxation techniques – there are many ways to practice daily stress reduction which will keep us healthy. Meditation, yoga, or enjoying peaceful music, for example, can prepare you for difficult times.
Stress is present in every person’s life – remember the purpose of stress and take action to reduce negative effects.