by Ken Goodman
According to the American Psychological Association, stress in America is on the rise. In 2010, 73% of parents surveyed reported family “responsibilities” to be the number one reason for stress in their lives. Thirty-two percent of parents reported their individual stress to be extreme and rated their stress level an eight on a scale of one to ten. Yet, in spite of the all this self-awareness, only 32% of parents surveyed reported that they are actually doing a good job of managing their stress.
Your body is unable to recognize the difference between physical and psychological stress triggers. When you experience stress due to busy schedules and increased responsibilities, your body will react in the same way that it will if you experience stress because of a perceived threat.
A balanced amount of stress can help keep you going and keep you motivated, however, chronic stress can lead to many serious health problems. Long-term and chronic stress can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process (yikes!).
Long-term stress leaves you more vulnerable to experience clinical depression, chronic generalized anxiety, less patience, and increased irritability. Long- term stress will make your body ache in almost all areas, especially in your neck and back. Long-term stress can disrupt your sleeping patterns, leaving you fatigued and exhausted, which will eventually lead to increased levels of stress.
Chronic stress may also lead us to engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as increased use of alcohol and improper use of prescription medication. Unhealthy behaviors such as these are dangerous and can cause serious health problems as well as damage our relationships with others.
Stress is experienced differently by every one of us. This means that what is perceived as stressful for one person may not necessarily lead to stress in another person. It is important that you understand your personal limits and triggers to stress so that you can master the art of managing your stress.
If you are able to understand your limits and recognize your triggers you may be more successful at managing your stress during periods of increased stress.
It is not uncommon to have increased stress when experiencing times of increased responsibilities, like during the holidays, when there’s a death or serious illness in the family, or when you’re under a deadline at work. In times of increased stress it is essential that people take some time out of their day to do something for themselves that will help reduce and manage their experienced stress.
I often hear my clients tell me “I don’t have time”. My response is simple: “Make the time”. When you stop taking care of yourself, you are putting yourself at risk for experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms and personal suffering. Try to appreciate and value yourself enough to schedule one or two self-care behaviors into your daily routine.
Here are a few ideas that may help you decrease your stress. Consider incorporating them into your daily routine to help manage stress levels throughout the year.
- Listen to a relaxation exercise or meditate. Not only will you feel relaxed while doing it, but most people also experience a sense of calm that lasts for hours afterwards.
- Exercise or yoga are great for reducing stress, even if it is only for 15 minutes a day.
- Take little breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries. Five or ten minutes every other hour is all it takes.
- Remind yourself of what it is you are grateful for and refocus your mind on the positive.
- Identify what your boundaries are and keep them intact. This will help avoid taking on too much responsibility and experiencing burn out.
- Listen to music.
- Utilize time management skills, such as writing a daily list of things to do and delegating tasks, in order to help manage your day.
- Live within your financial means. Money worries are one of the causes of stress.
- Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Make healthy eating choices. While this may be hard during periods of increased stress (many people overeat as a reaction to stress), keeping a balanced diet helps maintain focus and energy.
- Read a book or make time to engage in any pleasurable activity or hobby. Do something you enjoy or try a new hobby.
- Cook or bake something and share it with others. Chocolate-chip cookies can have amazing healing powers!
- Watch a movie
- Relax. Take a long, hot shower or pour yourself a bubble bath and light some candles.
- Give to others. A little giving, even something as simple as holding the door open for someone or letting someone go in front of you in line, will go a long way.
- Give yourself a pat on the back and recognize your accomplishments for the day. All of us are so good at criticizing ourselves. Try giving yourself a compliment and see if your mood changes.
While these might be good suggestions for you, they will only work if you actually use them. Try one or two per day. My hope is that it will help you feel more at ease and less stressful.
Erika Krueger is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an Anger Management 818 Facilitator who specializes in addictions and anger management.
Sherman Oaks & Tarzana, CA
"I love Stress Free! The exercises are easy to follow, calming, and soothing. I love the tips before and after each exercise. They help reduce anxiety and are essential for an optimal relaxation experience. I offer Stress Free to my clients and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to relax more and stress less."Dr. Ashley, Psy.D., University Professor