If you are like most people, you don’t think you are dealing with all that much stress, but think again. Nearly all of us are under a tremendous amount of stress, but we take it in stride because we are so used to the daily pressures, rapid pace, and packed schedules that make up our lives.
How you mentally and emotionally respond to stress directly affects your actual level of stress. Those that let things roll off their backs, don’t try to be all things to all people, and know that you win some and you lose some have less stress than those that aim for perfection, take things personally or have to win at all costs. Consider how you perceive and then respond to stressful events in your life, such as when your day isn’t going the way you planned it, things aren’t going your way, or you are running late for an appointment.
What takes the greatest toll on our health, attitudes and emotions is chronic stress – as opposed to acute stress that only occurs in emergency situations. The day in and day out chronic stress that eats away at us leads to chronic pain, emotional eating, fatigue, insomnia, ulcers, weight gain and a host of other physical symptoms. Worse, it leads to feeling helpless, overwhelmed, agitated, out of control and moody. You just aren’t the person you want to be, which potentially leads to depression, anger and overreaction.
Stress is a red flag that you aren’t taking care of yourself. So the important thing is to recognize the extent to which you are under stress. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no stress, the average person will say they are at a 3, but in fact many of them are really at a 6, 7 or 8. Chronic stress isn’t just caused by the obvious medical conditions, loss of a loved one, change of job, or financial worries. It is also caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices and psychological factors, such as repressed feelings, conflicting priorities, and the way we choose to interpret our situations. Where do you think you really are on the scale? Are you taking good enough care of yourself?
You can start by evaluating your daily routine and lifestyle choices that can create or minimize your stress levels. In the morning are you racing out the door, skipping breakfast, getting caught up in emails, or dealing with anxiety about your upcoming day? Or do you wake up refreshed with enough time to enjoy a balanced breakfast and take some time to relax, exercise and prepare for the day? The way you start your day will impact your level of stress.
During the day, consider if you are taking on too much, getting enough time to eat, easily irritated or feeling out of control. These factors will also add to stress. Is there a way to get grounded, be more relaxed about delays or changes in your schedule, say no to things you really can’t take on or aren’t your responsibility, and make sure your needs are getting met?
In the evening, are you overeating or bingeing, frustrated or upset with what happened during the day, having a few drinks and going to bed late? These, too, add to your stress level. Is there a way to make some time for exercise, visiting with friends, enjoying time with your family, eating a balanced meal and taking some time for yourself?
If you don’t see anyway to make changes in your daily routine that will minimize your stress, then start with a few simple things that will help your body cope with stress better. Stress depletes our bodies of key vitamins, so add a multivitamin each day. Eat breakfast and try to eat whenever you get hungry, so the lack of food isn’t a cause of stress. Choose to relax and take time for yourself if you are delayed in traffic, in a long line or at an appointment. You can daydream, enjoy the scenery, read, listen to music or meditate when you find yourself waiting and feeling irritated. You have choices, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
This month look at what is causing you stress and consider ways to reduce it. Then notice how good that feels.