How many times have you been to a doctor’s appointment and been told to reduce your stress level? If you’re like me, probably more than once, and you probably leave their office thinking “Okay, how am I supposed to do that, I have to work and I have obligations to uphold.” This is a very common response! What we must realize is that stress management has a lot to do with choice.
Stress can wreak havoc on our physical and mental well-being if we do not process and manage it properly. It is a silent killer, defined as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can be internal (caused by medical illness or procedures), or external (caused by environmental factors including sociological factors). The snowball effect of internalizing stress and not managing it effectively can lead to a wide array of physical symptoms, literally draining your body and ultimately affecting your immune system.
A few major physical responses to stress include (but are certainly not limited to):
- High Blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
- Digestive distress
- Migraine or tension headaches
- Hormonal imbalance
- Blood sugar levels
- Nerve problems
- Cardiovascular risks
For optimal health, we must effectively manage our stress. We usually cannot completely remove it from our lives, so we must find effective coping mechanisms.
There are two different ways to process stress: internally and externally. When we attempt to manage stress internally, we generally sweep issues under the rug, accept that the stressor is just part of life, and do not talk about it or “get it out.” To externalize our stress, we need to adopt methods of release. These can include:
- A regular exercise regimen. Try to exercise at least three times per week. Make sure the exercise is something you can enjoy and feel relief from.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Make sure to get the nutrition your body needs to stay healthy and fight infection. This includes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water!
- Get an appropriate amount of rest. Your body needs time to recuperate and refuel each day. Some people require a full eight hours of sleep each night while some may only require six. Listen to your body and give it what it needs!
- Stop worrying. This comes from the queen of worrying. I know it is easier said than done. But, trust me when I say, it is not worth it to sit and worry. Ask yourself if you have control over what you’re worrying about. If you do not, you’re wasting your time, energy, and health.
- Learn to meditate. Research shows that fifteen to twenty minutes of meditation each day provides time to gather your thoughts and refuel. Meditate in a quiet place where there will not be interruptions. Turn your cell phones off and be alone with your thoughts.
- Manage your time effectively. Having to rush constantly is stressful. If you are always finding yourself in a rush, you need to plan your time more appropriately. This may mean getting up ten or fifteen minutes earlier so that you don’t have to rush getting ready in the morning. Once you get a late start, you’re usually late the rest of the day!
- Leave work at work. This is one that I struggled with for many years. I finally realized, it is going to be there when I get back in the morning! I do the very best to achieve all I can during my 40-50 hour work week, but it needs to be left at the door when we leave work. If you carry it home with you, you’re not getting any time off mentally.
- The unsent letter. How often does someone hurt you or anger you and you hold your head high and do not let them know it? Sometimes it is very effective to write that person a letter. Who said you have to send it? You are still addressing the feelings and getting your thoughts out. This is an effective tool in forgiveness. When someone hurts us, we tend to carry that around and stew over it. As yourself, is it going to matter in 6 months? 6 years? If not, it’s not worth stressing over. Get it out and move on. Write it off as a bad debt.
- Laugh and do more of the things you ENJOY! Make time for yourself and your loved ones!! Live each day like it’s your last but dream as if you’ll live forever. Make time to do the things you enjoy with your loved ones, and actually enjoy doing them! Set time aside for yourself as well as your loved ones. This can include implementing little changes like not having cell phones or televisions on during dinner, and not being so “connected” all the time. Don’t find yourself looking back at your life wishing you had paid more attention to someone instead of having your face in your cell phone or iPad so much. Log out of Facebook, Twitter, and your e-mail accounts occasionally. Look at who is right in front of you and enjoy your time with them!
Only look back to see how far you’ve come!
Think back to high school. Can you remember the specifics of what you were stressing over? Probably senseless drama that is in no way affecting your life today. That boy or girl who didn’t like you, or teased you, simply does not matter today. How much time did you waste stressing?
Think back to two years ago. Do you remember the specifics of that stress? Maybe, maybe not. Are you still carrying it with you? Is there someone you have not forgiven for hurting you? Who is paying the ultimate price for that – you or them? They are living rent free in your mind. Only you can evict them. How much time did you waste stressing?
If you think about all of that time wasted stressing, and think about the health issues you may have experienced during that same time frame, the connection is quite sobering. Let’s not do that anymore!
We should only look back in life to realize and appreciate how far we have come. The past made you who you are today, so do not regret it. Look at each stressor and hard time as a lesson rather than a mistake. I’m not saying go out and make it again, because then it is a choice! I’m saying learn from it, move on, and live your life!
Imagine the positive things that you could be focusing on while you are stressing. A very valuable lesson I have had to learn is not to sit around and worry. If we can’t change it, there is no sense in worrying about it. If we can change it, well, do! Separate the stressors you have control over and those that you do not. Implement whatever changes are necessary to address the ones you can control and find peace with the ones you cannot.