Everybody faces stress at one point or another during their life. However, the frequency and intensity of stress varies with each person. Maybe you’re stressed during certain weeks of the year, like when your Christmas shopping isn’t done, during your hectic week of midterms, or more spontaneously, like when your child gets the flu and you have the extra task of being Dr. Mom/Dad. Most of us can think of times within our lives when we didn’t cope with stress as well as we maybe could have.
Before we consider strategies to help manage stress, it’s important to know that stress can also play an important positive role in our lives. Stress can act as an energy booster, helping motivate us to stay on task and accomplish things more efficiently. There are also noted health benefits associated with a bit of stress.
On the other hand, too much stress can be detrimental. While stress is often experienced regularly, it can be debilitating if it’s not managed in a healthy and effective way. When people are overly stressed for long periods of time, or consider themselves to be a constant worrier, this can deplete the body’s reserves and leave you feeling overwhelmed. Along with reduced well-being are a number of physical side effects associated with ongoing stress. For example, heart disease is commonly linked to stress, as is high blood pressure, fatigue and weaker immune systems.
So how much stress is too much? Well, our body has ways of signaling us when stress is becoming too much. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that you’re struggling too much with stress. These warning signs can include: feeling fatigued and lethargic, having body aches, low mood, frequent colds, irritability, trouble sleeping and memory problems.
Dealing with stress has to do with taking care of yourself and making sure that you’re a priority in your own life. Here are some ways to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself even in the midst of ongoing life pressure:
Know your Stress Triggers- Is there a specific cause for much of your stress? Look for patterns in when you’re most stressed, and try to avoid these stressors where possible. If you can, avoid people that stress you out and learn to say no when you need to.
Spend Time Being Active- Even a bit of exercise can help to de-stress your mind and body and this will make you better prepared to handle stress. This can simply be adding a 10-minute walk to your daily routine.
Get Enough Sleep- This is such an important aspect needed to regulate and recharge your body. Getting enough hours of sleep can also help ensure that you’re being as productive as possible while you’re awake. The exact number of hours of sleep that you need is different for everyone and only you know yourself best. The number of hours you need to function your best is what you want to aim for. A good place to start is with the recommended average hours of sleep which is 7-8 hours per night.
Spend Time with Friends and Family- Eating family meals or taking walks with your friends can help to reduce overall stress. Ensuring that you have a positive social network is a healthy way to manage your feelings of stress and maintain ties to those who are important sources of support in your life.
Relaxation Techniques- Breathing and relaxation exercises can help people to manage their worry. Many short clips on youtube (even just 3 minutes long!) are available that show guided relaxation techniques for a quick mid-day recharge of the mind and help calm feelings of stress. Even if you haven’t tried these types of techniques before, test one out and see how you feel. Meditation and yoga are other practices that have been shown to work well in reducing feelings of stress.
Be Realistic- When you feel your body warning you that you’re overdoing it, don’t take on extra tasks. Try to be realistic in how much you agree to do when you’re overwhelmed with work, school, home life and/or extracurricular activities. Rid yourself of activities that you don’t enjoy and don’t need to do. You hate grocery shopping? Order your food online and have it delivered to your doorstep whenever possible (e.g. meat subscription and subsequent delivery).
Strive to do your best rather than being perfect and replace negative thoughts with positive ones wherever possible. While this may be easier said than done, it can help ensure you’re not causing extra unnecessary stress to yourself!