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Manage Your Stress

When I was growing up, my mother’s day was busy. She was a dutiful daughter to my grandmother (something she reminded me about often), a supportive, if not exasperating wife to my father, and a nurturing mother to me. She put breakfast and dinner on the table and we ate as a family every night. She vigorously cleaned the house and did the laundry, managed the household accounts and took care of Pierre, our poodle. She visited with friends and family and was a frequent telephone caller

I strive to be a responsive daughter, wife and mother. Unlike my mother, I work outside the home and have a busy professional life. Unlike my mother who kept her old rotary phone, I have five separate electronic devices that keep me on my toes 24/7.

Many calming niceties of my mother’s life have gone by the wayside. Mine is a family of grab-and-go eaters – takeout dinners are a mainstay. I communicate via email and text throughout the day and evening, always available. I live in my car and I feel like I’m constantly on the run. I barely have downtime. I’m often stressed.

Sound familiar?

Nearly half of all Americans are concerned about the degree of stress in their lives. We’re overscheduled, overworked and harried. We don’t have enough time to nurture our relationships, take long walks, read a book.

We worry about our health. It’s no wonder. Chronic stress weakens the immune system and puts us at risk for a range of illnesses, heart disease and depression among them. Stress causes us to eat too much, sleep too little, forego exercise, and skimp on fun.

Though studies show that small amounts of stress can hone our focus and boost our memory, in this day and age, we’re not talking about “small amounts.” The excessive stress so many of us experience, day after day, can be downright dangerous.

Managing stress is an essential component of wellness. It’s hard work and requires lots of practice. You may have to rethink your schedule, learn to say no, recognize the difference between what is truly important and what is merely seems urgent. Most of all, you may have to learn to value yourself, your time and your energy.

As you countdown to wellness, embrace stress management as a top priority.

EMPOWER YOURSELF + TAKE CHARGE + MAKE CHANGES = LASTING IMPACT

Here are the stress management strategies that work for me and for many others in my life. Embrace some or all of them and your road to wellness will be paved with calmer moments and time to relax.

  • First and foremost, keep your eye on the big picture. Consider how stressful the obstacle or situation really is. Will it matter in a week? A month? Three months? If it is a passing thing, ask yourself if it is worth the stress of the moment. If it’s not, let it go.
  • If you are facing a long term, stress-inducing issue, try to deconstruct it. Describe the problem to yourself and consider what you might do to effect change. Writing it down may help. Brainstorm with a confidant, if you can. List the steps that you must take for a positive outcome. Create an action plan and timetable for implementation.
  • Take charge at work. When you’re overwhelmed by your work schedule, separate your big projects and small tasks and prioritize them. Depending on how you like to work, you may tackle the small tasks first and get them out of the way so you’ll have an immediate sense of completion. Or, you might wrestle the biggest and most complex project to the ground and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s out of the way. Whichever you chose, work from a list and enjoy crossing things off as you go. As the list diminishes, you’ll feel more in control and less stressed.
  • Take charge at home. Organize your daily chores. Attack the most difficult ones when you have the most energy. Save the small tasks for later in the day. Listen to music or a podcast while you’re working.
  • Learn to delegate. This is a big one, particularly for women who tend to do everything themselves. Delegate to co-workers, your spouse, your children, your friends. You’ll be amazed how your outlook will improve and your stress diminishes when you delegate.
  • Take a deep breath, literally and figuratively. Though my mother’s life was relatively calm, at times, she felt that it was too much for her. She’d take a breath, put down whatever she was doing and call a friend or one of her sisters to talk it out. She would take a bubble bath or a short nap. She knew when to take a time out. Chronic stress takes a toll on your body. When every ounce of you is shrieking, “stop, I want to get off” take a short walk. Have a manicure. Do a crossword puzzle. Whatever will distract and relax you for a few minutes. If you can, take a real break – a “mental health” day to replenish. Do only what you want to do. You’ll be amazed how much better and more balanced you’ll feel.
  • Socialize. Sometimes stress makes us want to flee from everything and everyone. Resist the urge. Reach out to a good friend or an empathetic family member – someone from your support system. Simply having a chat can diffuse stress, change your perspective and make you feel more grounded.
  • Watch what you eat. Yes, sweet, salty, rich, fatty foods are particularly comforting in moments of stress. Resist the urge and grab a healthy snack instead. If you can’t resist, take a small bite and move on…one piece of chocolate, a single cookie, a tablespoon of last night’s mashed potatoes. Better yet, make yourself a pot of calming herbal tea or a big glass of sparkling water with slices of orange or lemon.
  • Move your body. Take a short walk. Stretch. Exercise – even a few minutes worth is a great stress reliever. So is sex. If you can’t head for the bedroom in the moment, make a date with your partner for latter. You’ll break the stress cycle and have something fun to anticipate.
  • Breathe. There are many relaxation techniques that relieve stress. If you can’t break for a yoga class, you can quiet your mind and body with a few minutes of meditation. Feel the rhythm of your breath. Think about breathing out tension and breathing in calm. Visualize a peaceful place and stay there for a bit. Recite a mantra or a simple reassuring phrase. Gradually, you’ll regain your equilibrium and continue with your day.
  • Sometimes it is important to “unplug”. While I find Facebook to be great for finding long lost friends, some of the messages are not calming and can be downright offensive. I believe in personal space – physical space and mental space. Over-communication is a drain on our peace-of-mind and our spirit. Take a day or two off from social networking, put your phone on silent and go for a walk…alone!
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