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When the “S” Word Happens To You: Stress

Updated: Apr 24

Hey Lovelies,

In my conversation with numerous women, a common thread has emerged: the effect of stressors on their mental health, physical health, and overall wellness.


These women are exemplary leaders in their field who always seem so calm and collected in my mind. Then one day stress happens and suddenly they are thrown off track.


I thought what better time to discuss stress, what causes it, and how to develop a stress management plan to combat stress than during April which is National Stress Awareness Month!


According to the World Health Organization, Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives.


Common stressors can include facing health problems such as chronic illness or injury, relationships issues such as arguments with family, friends, roommates, or romantic partners, as well as financial troubles such as saving for retirement, college tuition, housing costs, or vacations. Other stressors can be facing anniversary dates of those who passed away, birthdays, holidays, and work related such as job pressure, conflicts with coworkers, bosses, or work overload.


Most people also face daily stressors that are more predictable such as caring for a child, or unexpected events, such as a malfunctioning home appliance, an unexpected work deadline, or even a sudden traffic jam.


One main stressor I experienced this month was going to the ER for a health issue. I am more comfortable talking about it now that I’ve met with a specialist. But as much as I talk about and promote wellness to others I never expected to experience something so stressful at such a young age.


I had to take some time to reflect on other things that were causing me stress in my life and how to combat them to improve my health and well-being.


Some common signs that you are stressed can involve:

  • Having trouble relaxing

  • Feeling irritable

  • Feeling anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Headaches or body aches

  • Upset stomach

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Loss of appetite or eating more than usual

  • Increase use of alcohol or other substances


Stressful circumstances can also lead to or worsen mental health issues, the most frequent of which are anxiety and depression, which call for medical attention. When we experience mental health issues, it could be because our stress symptoms have gotten worse and are interfering with our day-to-day activities, such as going to work or school.


It is important to acknowledge that everyone reacts differently to stressors and stressful situations. With this in mind, it is important to tailor your stress management plan to your personal needs and goals you wish to accomplish.


While stress can have negative implications on our health and well-being, there are also benefits to stress that we might not have thought of and want to take into account as we create our own stress management plans.


Stress in shorts amounts can help people meet deadlines, be prepared for presentations, be productive, and arrive on time for important events. Stress can also boost job performance while increasing alertness. 


Some benefits of moderate, short-lived stress include:

  • Improved alertness and performance

  • Boosted memory

  • Increased immunity

  • Increased resilience

  • Motivated to succeed


The stress response is designed to help us react when something potentially threatening happens, to help us deal with it, and learn from it. When the body responds to stress, it prepares itself for the possibility of injury or infection by producing extra interleukins, which help regulate the immune system. 


Stress can also help with physical recovery and immunity. For example, research at Stanford has indicated that stress before knee surgery actually helped patients heal significantly faster.


Now that we’ve covered the basics about stress let’s dive into the benefits of developing a stress management plan and some tools you can implement into your daily routine.


“5 A’s” to create a Stress Management Plan

Use these 5 Action steps to plan a response to stress rather than reacting.


Avoid

  • Certain types of stress, such those brought on by illness, injury, or death, cannot be avoided. It is preventable to avoid further stress brought on by negligence or delay. An issue or duty needs to be addressed as soon as it arises. An necessary task may become urgent if it is put off, which will make you feel more stressed. Setting priorities for important chores helps you prevent stress.

  • Give yourself the space to grieve, spend quality time with family and loved ones and invite them for dinner, go to grave site and leave new flowers, and use distress tolerance techniques. When it comes to disease, it’s important to get all the facts first from your doctor and medical team, create a plan, and try to practice mindfulness techniques, deep breathing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to respond to stress.

Alter

  • Events that you deal with on a daily basis may be the source of stress. For instance, your schedule changes at the last minute. On the other hand, circumstances in which you get stuck in a traffic jam or have noisy neighbors when you are trying to concentrate on tasks for work or homework can make you feel more stressed.

  • Instead of getting worked up, look for factors that can be changed to make a difference, like moving one appointment, taking an alternative route home and listening to music, or talking to your neighbors about keeping the noise down, or postponing one meeting. When the level of stress exceeds your ability to cope, you enter a state called burnout. The reasons could be you want to accomplish so much in a short amount of time, or try to manage something that is out of your control. To combat this make a detailed schedule for your day and make it well-balanced with work, family, pleasure, and some solo activities. Make sure to take care of your hygiene, getting proper sleep, getting up earlier, eating a nourishing meal, getting out into nature. It also can make a difference when you express your feelings rather than bottle them up and stressing yourself out. When you need a moment to yourself let others know something along the lines of “my battery is low” and give yourself time to recharge. Also if you are having negative thoughts, remember the phrase “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all,” try to mute the other person and if they notice you being silent just say “I’m observing.”


Adapt

  • Recognize that things happen for a reason and emergencies can occur. Take some deep breaths, try to remain calm, and respond using the techniques in your stress management plan. If a stressor cannot be avoided or changed, adjust as best as you can and continue to move forward regardless of the circumstances.

  • Adapting to stressful conditions can help you gain control of the situation. I often use this technique for anger management but it also works for stress which is the 5-5-5 rule. So when you become stressed, wait for 5 minutes and consider whether it will matter to you in the future 5 years from now. Do not waste another 5 minutes if your answer is “no.” Sometimes, you may need to compromise or change your perspective. While your feelings of stress is valid maybe it’s worth taking accountability and adjusting to the way you see the situation, you may get a different perspective on the circumstance. You will undoubtedly feel less frustrated and more joyful and content in each stressful situation if you take these action steps.

Accept

  • You must be ready and willing to accept mindfully that you may experience stress from any source or situation. Instead of opposing or getting affected by an unchangeable situation, accept it and take steps to overcome it.

  • The following are some measures that can help you become more accepting. When you feel powerless understand what you have control over and what you don’t. Take care of the things that are within your control like getting enough sleep, your hygiene routine, eating a nourishing meal, and let go of the things you can’t control like emergencies, getting stuck in a traffic jam, or any other stressor. Take the time to look for opportunities to have a growth mindset. Instead of looking at a stressor as an inconvenience think of it as a learning opportunity. Be open to forgiveness and think of what you need to do to make amends. Oftentimes when we are stressed, the ones who are closest to us end up feeling the impact of our stress whether we realize it or not. It can be liberating to forgive and let go of all the negative energy. Remember that this too shall pass and it’s only temporary. Letting go of the stress in the long run will help you will feel lighter and kinder.

Active

  • Like anything else, your brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised.   Being active enhances your memory, mood, and sleep and reduces tension and worry. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain.

  • Even something as simple as going for a walk for 10 minutes on your break at work or in between classes may release endorphins, which reduce stress. Other strategies to stay active and boost cognitive processes include meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, taking a walk, dancing, singing, listening to or playing music, playing cards, puzzles, and board games, and attempting to learn something new like a new language.


Remember to assess your capacity day by day because you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure to prioritize your mental health and well-being first before anything else.


Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. For more support and guidance you can download the Mental Health Resource Guide on our resources page.


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