Are you stressed? Is it possible (or would you even want) to reduce stress in your life?
Stress seems to have become a buzzword; one we either gravitate toward, (basically labeling everything we experience as stressful – almost as a badge of honor), OR or we avoid acknowledging it even exists, (assuming we would be seen as weak if we admitted to it).
I. Define Stress
How do you define stress?
There is healthy stress (the drive without which we’d get nothing done); and there is stress that causes distress. Possibly the most common understanding of stress is a physical, mental and emotional strain that exceeds a person’s ability to overcome it.
Let’s talks about what causes distress for the next minutes.
II. Recognize and Acknowledge Stress
Even more important than a working definition is the question: how do you recognize and acknowledge the stressors in your life?
Stress has real causes, and it plays itself out in your life in tangible ways. Your body. Your mind. Your relationships.
According to the American Institute of Stress, stress is the #1 contributor to illness, with 88% of people polled stating they are more stressed today than they were 10 years ago.
Let me state it clearly: stress is real. You hear it from people around you, and it tugs at your personal t-shirt sleeves, too.
How can you know stress is real?
You hear it in your speech:
- I’m going to tear my hair out if things don’t slow down.
- Because things change so drastically and quickly, I can’t identify what is and is not relevant anymore.
- I don’t know what I’ll do if (I lose my job, am diagnosed with ______, lose my health coverage, you fill in the _______)
- I’m constantly afraid for his / her safety.
- I’m so exhausted – I need coffee! (Okay, maybe that’s not stress!)
You can feel stress in your body. It shows up in the form of…
- muscle tension or pain
- chest pain
- drug or alcohol abuse
- stomach upset or change in appetite
- exercising less frequently
- teeth grinding during sleep.
You begin to notice it in your mind and psyche. You experience…
- sudden panic attacks
- anxiety, guilt, nervousness
- angry outbursts, increased frustration
- depression, frequent mood swings
- difficulty concentrating, racing thoughts
- trouble absorbing new information
- forgetfulness, disorganization, confusion
- difficulty making decisions
- excessive defensiveness or suspicion
- social withdrawal and isolation.
And you may begin to notice it spiritually. It may show up as …
- a diminished sense of meaning and purpose
- a loss of compassion
- feeling at sea personally
- a loss of joy in efforts which once energized you
- an inability to focus and meditate
- a crisis of values
- a dissonance between what you hold dear and what you observe in yourself
- feeling distant from God.
Take a minute to look back over the above lists, jotting down those that definitely apply to you. Does this catch you nodding, “yes, that’s me,” when you read it? Then let’s connect. Choosing to wait will delay your progress, waste valuable time, and jeopardize your health, relationships and work.
III. Craft a Plan to Tackle Stress
Like making any change, tackling the stressors in your life will not happen automatically. You will have to come to a place where you know that doing something about stress is your only viable option. Do it before your health fails, relationships crumble, disillusionment overtakes you, life passes you by and you didn’t get out of the life-less place you’re stuck in now. You. Are. Worth. It.
The remarkable thing is: even a tiny tweak can make a dramatic difference. Here is a start:
- scale back the unessential noise and activity in your life. We tend to think that binging on our favorite TV show, for example, will somehow lower our stress. That rarely happens (for reasons way beyond the scope of this post!).
- discover rituals that are life-giving for you. It matters little what they are; it’s the “sameness” of the activity that begins to comfort and heal. A cup of tea before bed; a ten-minute (or longer) walk with the dog immediately upon waking; meditating on a favorite photo or painting for five minutes.
- draw strength from nature whenever you can. It’s wonderful to get to the mountains, to the beach, or to go camping, but a local park, your patio, or even a humble houseplant or your family pet can change your inner equilibrium. It takes your mind away from your frantic pace and brings your focus to something that doesn’t struggle to exist. It simply is.
- cultivate spiritual exercises that connect you to your inner life, to God, to all of nature/creation. Learning to listen to your body, your inner life, to God is a way to reduce the impact stress has on your life. Painting, music or writing can be vital pathways out of debilitating stress and depletion. Reach out here for guidance in these exercises.
- learn to be present this moment. We spend so much time worrying about what ifs or re-playing regrets. There is value in working through regrets, then moving on; equally, there is value in thinking ahead and being prepared. However, both worry and regret utilize vast amounts of energy that should be available for today, burying it in what’s irretrievable, or squandering it on what’s improbable. When you catch yourself stuck in regret or worry, take note and determine to change your course.
IV. Decide to Take Action
You are not on this website by accident. You’re looking for CHANGE.
Do you need someone to help you get started on a stress reduction plan? Let’s connect and work on it together.
Stress is a universal experience. Where do you find yourself on the stress continuum? More stressed than 10 years ago? Less? If you’re concerned about what stress is doing to your life, please reach out so we can talk.
If you need someone to hold you accountable for the plan that you put in place, let’s do it! Reach out here to schedule your complimentary first session.
© Julia Penner-Zook
* some information taken from http://www.stress.org
#1: Nik Shuliahin via http://www.unsplash.com
#2: Allef Vinicius via http://www.unsplash.com
#3: Cole Patrick via http://www.unsplash.com
#4: Alesia Kazantceva via http://www.unsplash.com
#5: Isabela Kronemberger via http://www.unsplash.com