It is a sad fact that over 8 million Americans said they experienced “serious psychological distress” in 2017 alone.
The World Labor Report, produced by the U.N.’s International Organization, states, “Stress has become one of the most serious health issues of the 20th century and a worldwide epidemic.”
Stress is the perception that too much demands have been put on us. In other words, we stress when we feel overwhelmed, feel that we can’t keep up, feel that we can’t fix problems, or we can’t perform to expectations.
Stress can build up, so it starts as a simmer and builds to a boil before we notice how distressed we’ve become.
In some cases, when we stress about something we think we can’t fix, it can lead to depression.
Living with a high level or constant stress wreaks havoc on your overall health, and throws your hormones out of balance. That leads to all kinds of problems that don’t intuitively seem connected to stress.
Because stress affects every health system—mental, emotional, physical, and hormonal—managing stress is a critical starting point in taking care of ourselves.
The key to dealing with stress is managing it, not trying to avoid it.
The Gale Encyclopaedia of Medicine states that stress management is a “set of techniques and programs intended to help people deal more effectively with stress in their lives by analyzing the specific stressors and taking positive actions to minimize their effects.”
Hans Selye put it right when he said, “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
Let’s focus on how to change our reaction to stress to better manage it.
You can learn many tools for managing stress, such as grounding, meditation, yoga, exercise, and the Four As, which I’ll explain soon.
Once you have a toolbox full of methods, you can pick and use or use several at a time. Knowing that you can manage stress is a huge stress-reliever!
The following stress management tips can help you do that, and we’ll start with some quick fixes to help right in the moment and then move on to more long-term solutions.
Acute stress is when something happens and throws you right off kilter, such as getting fired or into a heated argument.
If you’re under ongoing stress, something small might even trigger acute stress and trigger panic.
When that happens, you can try grounding, which is tapping into your senses to calm yourself.
To start, take a deep, slow breath.
Now notice five things you can see around you.
Next list four things you can hear.
Then notice what you taste.
What can you smell?
Finally, what can you feel or touch?
By grounding yourself in your physical environment, you pull your mind away from what’s stressing you.
Being stressed reduces motivation for physical activity – but getting active can greatly reduce stress in a relatively small amount of time.
The benefits of exercise aren’t there solely to be reaped by athletes or gym regulars either, anyone can enjoy the endorphins that are released when taking part in physical activity.
The mind also tends to focus on demanding tasks like exercise, taking the emphasis away from the causes of your stress.
The optimum amount of time to spend exercising is anything over half an hour, at least semi-regularly. But don’t feel pressured to dive straight in at this, it’s ok to build up slowly.
The smallest changes to your lifestyle can accumulate and get you moving, which is the most important thing.
Some examples of these small changes would be:
Exercising is a great way to reduce stress, but there are plenty of other ways to look after your body which can help build up a resistance to stress.
Grabbing a coffee or guzzling a sugary energy drink might seem like a great way to get some energy and power through a stressful day, but their effects are short and fleeting – and when they end, you crash.
The insulin surge that results from eating or drinking these things can give you mood swings and actually sap your energy, making stress worse.
If you can resist the sugary snacks and cut out the coffee, you’ll really feel the difference.
In a similar way to sugar and caffeine, these substances can be tempting as a method of self-medication.
But like chocolate or a double espresso, a bottle of wine or cigarette is a fleeting escape from stress, and the after effects can only make the situation worse.
Eating a balanced diet with the right amount of fiber, nutrients and vitamins will help your body function better.
Your mind is a part of your body, so how you fuel that body has a direct impact on your brain’s ability to function at its best. So remember to eat a good breakfast and try to eat balanced and healthy meals for the rest of the day.
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
A lack of sleep has devastating effects on your mind and body and can escalate stress. Had a hard day?
Get an early night – switch off your phone, and put your worries to bed, ready to address them on a new day.
Feeling rushed off your feet can be a distraction from something that’s bothering you but be careful not to burn out.
Take some time to stop and chill out. Meditating for five, ten, or fifteen minutes is very effective for busting stress and feeling centered.
Have some fun, organize a game night, take a walk, arrange to have lunch with a friend during the week.
Try to “live in the moment” – training your brain to stop turning over worries that can be saved for work time is a great way to get a work-life balance.
Many will argue that we have more stress than ever. I’ll say again that’s about managing emotions...
And one way to do that is to disconnect.
If you leave work but anyone from work can call, text, or email you, then you aren’t free from work.
The fact is: anyone in your life or even a stranger can reach you at any time.
You might see a tweet that upsets you, or get an email, or a text, or see someone’s Facebook post that bothers you.
We love our phones, but those devices also are an open portal of stress.
When was the last time you had four hours to yourself where no one could throw you off balance or interrupt? What about a full day? Or even a weekend?
When working, if anyone can interrupt you (as in a beep on your phone that you check) then you never get to deep focus. You get less done and it takes longer.
Try this out: take some time at least once a week where you disconnect. Put your phone away.
Or get an app that will turn off notifications except for phone calls so true emergencies can get through. (You can go to settings and swipe a switch to turn off notifications from Facebook and other apps.)
Use that time to take care of yourself.
And I know many people are worried about missing something important or a call they really need to take.
So keep your phone on, and turn down the volume on notifications. Don’t check it at every little noise. Have timed check points, like every hour or half hour when you check for anything important.
During work time or when you want to focus (or disconnect) wait longer in between checks.
That puts the power back in your hands instead of being at the mercy of anyone who wants to reach out to you.
The Mayo Clinic has a “Four A’s” system to manage stress: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, and Accept.
Let’s take a closer look at each and how it can help you manage stress.
The majority of things that stress us out in everyday life can often be simply avoided. You just need to follow a few simple rules.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by events, stop and take stock of what’s going on – and see if there are behaviors you can change.
Some things can’t and won’t change, and instead of railing against the world for the way things are, just accept that some things are beyond your control. In these instances, try the following.
Surrenduring to stress, the “I can’t cope” mentality, is a vicious cycle. Adapting seeks to reevaluate the parameters you use to measure the world around you, and so reduce the stress induced when things don’t meet your expectations.
Managing stress is a huge step forward for your health and balancing your hormones.
Find more information on stress management, how it affects your health, and how your hormones can be a huge help in improving your health as well at www.powerofhormones.com.
The Mayo Clinci
“More Americans suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression, study finds.” 2018.
“Workplace Stress.” 2018