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Stress Management #101

stressmanagementThe morning begins with the usual rush to get the three adults living in my home ready to begin the day.   My husband kisses me good-bye and reminds me that the car needs to get picked up from the dealership. I remind him that we have our last open house at our daughter’s school tonight. I wonder if I will have enough time to stop at the grocery store to fill our very bare refrigerator, or will we have to resort to having cereal for dinner.   Wasn’t life supposed to get easier as the children got older?   Gone are those long nights up with a crying baby.   I am only responsible for coordinating three schedules instead of five and I have not worked a school bake sale in years.   So what is with all the stress?

Changing Face of Stress

As I age I have come to the realization that each stage of life brings with it its own set of worries. While I may not lose sleep at night wondering if we have enough money to pay for diapers, I do become preoccupied with concerns over retirement.   My heart no longer breaks when my little girl falls on the playground, but it aches as I wave good-bye to her as she heads off to college.  And, like so many of my peers, just as our children embark on their own lives, we become caretakers of our parents.    We have been blessed to have both sets of our parents living nearby, involved in our children’s lives, but this summer each of them experienced their own health crisis requiring us to coordinate their care.

We all have our own stress stories.   Some days, weeks, and years are better than others.   We have all had that day when we should have just stayed in bed.  Stress comes in all different forms.   There is the daily routine of our lives that can cause stress. We may not even recognize it as stress – “it’s just life” we tell ourselves.   Then there are those defining moments of intense stress that have a profound effect on our ability to manage that daily routine. Illness, divorce, loss of a job, and death stop us in our tracks, searching for ways to deal with feelings of fear, loss of control, depression, and anxiety.

From Tigers to Traffic Jams – The Result is the Same

Our bodies were designed perfectly to deal with extreme stress.   Think for a moment. Before the days of grocery stores, cars, and modern appliances we would have had to hunt for food and search for healthy water in order to survive.   The human body was designed to react to moments of extreme danger for survival purposes.   Hormones are released that increase the heart rate to help us breathe as we run from prey. Blood moves from inactive tasks such as digestion to feed muscles and brain preparing us for the fight or flight reaction.   Once the imminent danger is resolved, our body then returns to a state of relaxation.   But what happens when we are chronically stressed?   We are no longer being chased by that Bengal tiger, but the low hum of everyday stress has the same effect on our body.   The result is usually sleeplessness, weight gain, stomach disorders, anxiety, anger, low libido and physical illness.

So what is the answer?   We live in a face paced world full of challenges great and small.   We must work at helping our bodies return to homeostasis.   Some basic ideas for stress management are:

  • Exercise – You do not need to belong to a gym or possess a variety of equipment in your basement to reap the restorative benefits of exercise.  You can quickly reduce stress with just a 10 minute walk around your office.  Be creative in your exercise routine.  The point is simply to move your body.
  • Eat a balanced diet – Keeping your blood sugar even and avoiding long periods of fasting will keep your energy level and keep your brain sharp.  Consider packing your own lunch to avoid fast food in your car.   Eat high protein snacks such as nuts or low fat cheese in between meals to hold you over until the next meal.
  • Get plenty of rest – We are a nation that is sleep deprived.   Our bodies need at least 6-7 hours of rest each night to regenerate tissue.  Be sure to limit screen time before going to bed.   Set a nightly routine and avoid eating before going to bed.
  • Drink plenty of water – Being properly hydrated improves every system in the body.   It helps flush out toxins, improves fatigue, and limits mindless eating.   If you are drinking the recommended 8 glasses of water per day you have the added benefit of built in breaks as well!
  • Share your pain – Studies show that stress levels decrease when we share our emotions with a family member, friend, clergy member, or counselor.   Joining a support group, walking with a friend, or even writing your thoughts down in a journal can improve feelings of anxiety and depression caused by stress.

Stress is unavoidable in today’s overly connected world.   With all the advancements in technology there is very little down time in our day.   In order to combat uncomfortable and potentially dangerous stress symptoms we must put ourselves on the “to do” list.   Take that yoga class, learn to play an instrument, take a walk in the woods – the list is endless.   Whatever you choose, the important thing is to be consistent in order to avoid stress symptoms before they occur. Look for more stress management techniques in upcoming posts.

Next post – The Costs and Benefits of Social Media in Coping with Stress

By: Susan Orlando, LLPC, NCC