Last week in our blog, we talked about if you are alive and breathing at this moment then you have probably had stress in the last 72 hours in some form. We gave some statistics that The American Psychological Association, American Institute of Stress, New York, has come out with when they completed a survey in April of 2012 of the U.S. population and reported the statistics about stress. In it they revealed that 77% of the population of the US regularly experience stress on an everyday basis and that it costs this country $300 billion in health care annually on issues related to stress.
So what can be done about stress? Isn’t it inevitable?
In “Coping with Stress” by Susan Balla MA from www.learningdynamicsinc.org, November 2012, Susan says that we all experience stress—it’s our natural body response to the demand we might encounter. When it becomes a problem is when we perceive that we don’t have the resources to deal with the demanding situation. That’s when we need to find ways to cope to create balance back in to our life. She says we can find ways to keep stress at “healthy levels” that give us that edge to be better yet keep us functioning. She goes on to list the three areas where stress can show up:
- Physical: fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest pain, muscle spasms and numbing
- Mental: forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, inattention, poor problem solving
- Emotional: anxiety, depression, hopelessness, worry, anger
- Behavioral: isolation, diminished sexual drive, sleeping/eating less or more
She says there are ways to cope:
Tip: Consider turning your cell phone off (or at least put it on silent) when completing any of these activities. It pays to disconnect from the outside world for a while. And remember, anything they are calling you about can wait and if not, others can deal with it. We are not superheros, nor do we need to be.
- Take a time out and take a moment to address the situation. Try leaving the room if you are in an argument or taking a minute at your desk to stop. At this point, focus on your breathing.
- Focus on breathing. Is it slow, calm, and deep or fast and agitated? Taking a moment to slow your breathing down can clear your mind and decrease your stress reaction. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground (or lay down). Close your eyes. Take one slow, deep breath in through your nose. Hold it briefly. Exhale your breath slowly out from your mouth. Repeat this process several times, focusing only on your slow, steady breaths. On your exhales, visualize your muscles relaxing and the tension leaving your body.
- Relax in a quiet and comfortable space to practice visualizations. Close your eyes, relax your breathing, and begin to picture your own personal oasis. Place yourself in this oasis. Develop your surroundings using all five senses. If you are on a beach, focus on how the sand feels under your feet. Is it warm, wet, and soft? Can you hear the waves lapping up against the shore or feel the cool wind? Can you smell the salt water or the fresh air after a rainstorm? The more you practice your visualization, the easier it will be to summon it when you need it most.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Begin in a comfortable position, either lying down or with your feet flat on the ground. Starting at your feet, begin to slowly tense your toes and then slowly relax them. Repeat this process of tensing and relaxing your toes three times. Move to your whole foot next and repeat the tensing and relaxing pattern again for three times. Slowly move up your body, stopping at each location that you are able to tense.
- Consider keeping a stress journal to help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Make sure to track what caused the stress, how you felt physically and emotionally, how you responded, what you did to make yourself feel better.
- Go to sleep. Your body rejuvenates during sleeping hours making you healthier and more equipped to start a new day. Consider keeping your bed and bedroom an intimacy and sleep sanctuary. If you have trouble sleeping, try eliminating everything you do in your bed other than sleep and sex. Things like watching television or reading can impede upon your sleep cycle. Teach your body that when you enter your bed, it is time to sleep.
- Exercise! When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins that create a natural high. Exercise helps regulate sleep, decrease tension, decrease depression, and increase your immune system. If you don’t feel like hitting the gym, try yoga to help stretch your muscles and improve your breathing. Simple stretches can also benefit your body since many people experience stress in their bodies. Try taking a few moments during the day to roll your head, stretch your neck muscles, roll your shoulders, and stretch your body.
- More than just walking the dog, animals have therapeutic influences on their human companions. Petting an animal can decrease your blood pressure and help you live a longer life. Take a moment to care for and love a creature that will love you back unconditionally.
- Laughter is truly one of the best medicines. Watch a comedy or spend time with your favorite funny friend.
- Depending on your religious preferences, prayer can help you reflect, gain perspective, relieve pressure, and find hope and support.
- Sometimes, spending time with friends is all we need to alleviate some tension. Having a conversation can add different perspectives, allow our frustration to vent, and give us a feeling of community instead of isolation. When faced with a stressful situation, it is important to remember that you are not alone, many others face similar hardships, and there are several resources you can pull from to be successful.
- Try meditation. Start in a relaxing position and begin to empty your mind of anxiety provoking thoughts. Try repeating a word that has no emotional connection, to aid in clearing your mind. The more you practice, the easier this exercise will become.
- If reading relaxes you, schedule time during the week for a quiet hour in the most comfortable part of your home. Curl up on the couch, in the bath, or in your favorite nook and transport yourself with a good book. Make sure to pick a time when the house is quiet or you know that someone else in the house can handle anything that arises.
- Everyone needs a little indulgence once in a while. Take the time to slow down and pamper yourself. Try taking a warm bath with scented candles or going to the spa, these are wonderful ways to ease muscle tension and leave your stressors at the door.
- Activities such as cooking, listening to music, cleaning, going for a car ride, gardening, dancing, or sitting at the local park are all wonderful coping strategies if they work well for you.
Remember: Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act. If we are well, than it is easier to give freely to others around us. If we are depleted from worry, depression, or fatigue, we are less equipped to deal with everyday stressors for both our families and ourselves. Giving back to yourself will not only replenish your resources it also reminds us that we are worth it.
Do any of these ways of coping resonate with you? How do you cope with stress?