Today I was so fortunate to be speaking at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on Strategies for Managing Stress. In today’s world, you are simply not human if you don’t have stress. Between home, work and family we all have multiple daily responsibilities and must wear many hats.
The simple explanation of stress is that it is the brain’s response to a demand. Each person’s brain tells its body how to respond to stress and therefore we all respond in different ways. Some of us shut down, lose sleep or get sweaty palms while others may get irritable, hyperactive or break out in hives. It is also important to note that not all stress is bad, as any bride planning a wedding can attest. Yet stress is designed to help us get through situations, from fleeing danger to dealing with a difficult boss.
How to Manage Stress
Common causes of stress, according to the American Psychological Association, include (in order): money, work, the economy, relationships, family responsibilities, family health problems, personal health concerns, job stability, housing costs and personal safety.
Why is it Important to Manage Stress?
Stress management is not only vital for our emotional health but it is also vital to our physical health. When you are under stress, your: blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, breathing patterns change, immune system goes down, muscles become tense, digestive system breaks down, sleep patterns are disrupted and any existing health problems can become aggravated.
Over 75% of emergency room visits and 90% of hospitalizations are for disorders that are directly or indirectly caused by stress.
What is the Best Way to Manage Stress?
Ultimately, the causes of stress will not disappear, so stress management is all about finding the tactics that help you manage stress as your best self. The best way to cope with stressful situations is by knowing yourself well enough to recognize your stress triggers and your stress relievers.
Stress triggers are factors that add to our stress levels and prevent us from accomplishing tasks or getting through stressful situations. Stress triggers include everything from email and phone calls to noises and exhaustion. Other common triggers include: lack of time, disorganization, social media, family drama, crowds, odors and even traumatic memories.
The trick, as mentioned, is to define what it is that sets you off. What makes your blood boil? What gives you an inability to concentrate? My three main triggers, for example, are lack of sleep, noise and disorganization. I am a more patient parent when I have had enough sleep, more calm without unnecessary noise and more productive when my desk and files are organized.
Once you have figured out what adds to your stress levels, it is time to figure out how to reduce or eliminate those triggers. In most cases the answers come easy. If noise is a trigger, you can reduce the volume on TV’s and radios, use ear plugs, move to a different location and so on. The most highly recommended relief for stress is exercise. Exercise is absolutely vital to physical and emotional health. Virtually any form of exercise (from yoga to running to weightlifting and dancing) can relieve or reduce stress. Beyond the immediate stress relief, exercise builds up our immune systems, giving our bodies a stronger opportunity to fight illness thus preventing further stress.
Counselors and therapists also highly recommend mindfulness, relaxation techniques and breathing techniques. (Mindfulness, by the way, is the act of becoming aware of your thoughts, thereby reducing negative self-talk.) Other commonly used stress relievers include: silence, solitude, spirituality and religion, date nights, time with friends, creative or visual arts, soothing sights and sounds, making a schedule or to-do list, counseling and more.
There are multitude of people and disciplines that can be helpful with stress management, such as a therapist, social worker, human resources manager or business coach. If you are having difficulty managing stress you should never be ashamed to seek outside help. In addition, if you have physical symptoms that you suspect may be connected to a more serious mental or physical issue, please consult a doctor.
Here are four last tips for helping you to manage stress:
Believe in yourself. Have conviction in your ability to get through stressful situations.
Be Prepared. Know as much as possible about the task ahead of you or the situation you face.
Utilize your network. Delegate work and garner support from friends and family during stressful times.
Utilize available resources. Consider all opportunities to relieve yourself of unnecessary stress triggers.
Now that you know how to manage stress, go on and have a stress-free day!