Stress management... at first glance may seem like one more difficult task requiring your time and energy... one more thing on your to-do list... but the fact is that stress management doesn’t need to be difficult, nor does it require a major time commitment. In fact, I believe that stress management is not work at all...
To be clear, the stressors that I am referring to here are not the extraordinary stressors that we face as a result of major events in our lives such as serious illness, loss of a loved one, or other major crises in life... rather, I am referring to the everyday stressors that we all have in common. Managing our personal lives and family needs, our responsibilities at work, and financial stressors which have been unusually difficult in recent times…
The everyday “happenings” of life can be and are stressful for many of us.... so how is it that some of us are so much better at managing these than others?
When a patient comes to me for help because they are feeling stressed and anxious, and they have described to me the circumstances in which they find themselves, I will always ask these same basic questions?
1. How is your sleep?
2. Are you eating regularly?
3. Are you getting any exercise?
4. Tell me about some of the things that bring you joy?
As obvious as it is to all of us, that these four basic things are crucial to our mental and physical well-being, when we are very busy or stressed, these are the first things that we stop paying attention to... the very things that help us become resilient... are the things we stop spending time on.
Forgetting to pay attention to our own needs is the surest way to not being able to manage in stressful times... people who manage stress better are very good at recognizing and seeing to their own needs... they make this as much a priority as everything else they must manage in life...
Another big difference between managing well and managing poorly in stressful times is “attitude” or one’s outlook... the glass full or glass empty mentality.
I have seen patients under the most difficult of circumstances be able to remain resilient by finding what is still good and beautiful. I have seen them feel hope when the situation would look hopeless to most… On the other hand, I have seen people fall apart and give up hope in situations that most might consider insignificant and harmless...
A positive attitude can make all the difference... when you look for the negative you will always find it... but if you look for the positive you can also always find it.
- Focus on the moment you are in... not the moments coming up. Be present and aware of what is happening now as opposed to worrying about what might happen... worrying about a future you don’t know is a needless waste of your energy.
- Challenge yourself to find the good in the difficult times... as small and insignificant as they might seem to you.
- Remember and look for the little things that bring you joy... incorporate them into your daily routine... listening to your favourite song. Read a favourite book... have that hot cup of coffee when it’s still hot... or that afternoon tea... and under no circumstances give that little bit of joy up in your busy day.
- When you find yourself thinking about the things that make you unhappy... stop and watch this (videos of laughter or bloops) or go to 3.
- Plan rewards for yourself on a regular basis... a weekend away once every few months, a massage or manicure every month or two... it’s difficult to have a positive outlook when you see no end to the challenging times... by rewarding yourself regularly, you are giving yourself an end and a break... something to look forward to.
- Surround yourself with as many positive people as you can... although sharing your story with someone in a similar situation is helpful, it is also helpful to connect people who may have a different outlook than you.
Self-care does not have to be complex or time-consuming, but it DOES need to be part of your day, every day. You must believe that your physical and mental well-being is just as important as all your other priorities.
- Breathe... when a person feels stressed, they either forget to breathe or they actually hyperventilate. Taking a minute and taking deep full breaths is a very effective way of shutting down those stress hormones going wild.
- Divide your day up by taking two small breaks in your day... one in the morning and one in the afternoon.... go for a 10-minute walk or sit somewhere quiet and relax/ breathe... listen to your music... don’t think about anything other than relaxing.
- Eat regularly. Don’t skip meals... have you ever known anyone who functions well when hungry? Of course, the healthier you eat, the better you will feel... eating foods loaded with sugar will leave you sluggish and less able to tackle your tasks.
- Sleep a minimum of 6 hours per night... go to bed at the same time and wake up every day at the same time.
Add regular physical activity to your day... exercising regularly is a great stress buster... if you’re new to exercise start with a 10-minute walk around the block... combine your deep breathing with your walk... then slowly work up to 30 minutes a day... before you know it you will be hooked.
Stress isn’t something that can be avoided... stress is an expected part of the busy lives we lead... stress cannot be avoided... what we can do when it comes to stress... is to be more resilient to it and not allow it to become a negative force in our lives which high jacks our happiness and health.
Developing a positive attitude and caring for yourself daily will give you the resilience you need to handle stresses you may have not been able to in the past.
For some of us, the basics are not enough and there may be a clinical condition that needs treatment.
See your physician... people suffering from depression, anxiety or other psychological disorders don’t manage stress as well as those without these conditions.
Through my carrier I’ve had the opportunity to see people’s lives transformed when they have sought out and received the right kind of help... you’re not alone in how you feel... in North America as many as 70% of women and 60% of men suffer anxiety or depression.
Our long workdays, our limited time for social activities and social supports in general, are some of the reasons we are more prone to stress.
At this time of year, with Christmas just around the corner... anxiety and depression tend to be on the rise... seasonal affective disorder is very common, with shorter days and less exposure to sunlight... and ordinary life stressors can have more of an impact than other times of the year.
Therefore, it’s even more important to practice self-care and optimism at this time of year... don’t wait until the New Year to start taking better care of yourself.
The task of gift buying for family and friends can be a daunting task... especially when finances are stretched...
Gift-giving should be a joyful task... if you find that this does not bring you joy, for whatever reasons there may be... you need to stop and consider the reasons why you are giving... think about what you can do to make this more joyful for yourself as opposed to stressful.
Perhaps you need to communicate openly with your family and suggest that instead of purchasing gifts for each other, you come up with an alternative... perhaps getting together for an activity or experience that will allow you to spend time instead of money... you could forgo exchanging gifts altogether... you can bet that others are thinking the same and will appreciate this.
Some of the best gifts I have ever received from family and friends have been gifts that did not involve a purchase... a night of babysitting, a hand car wash... home-baked cookies, a movie night out... think outside the box.