STRESS MANAGEMENT:TEN SELF-CARE
Many people don't realize it, but stress is a very natural and
important part of life. Without stress there would be no life at all! We need stress
(eustress), but not too much stress for too long (distress). Our body is designed to react
to both types of stress. Eustress helps keep us alert, motivates us to face challenges,
and drives us to solve problems. These low levels of stress are manageable and can be
thought of as necessary and normal stimulation.
Distress, on the other hand, results when our bodies over-react to
events. It leads to what has been called a "fight or flight" reaction. Such
reactions may have been useful in times long ago when our ancestors were frequently faced
with life or death matters. Nowadays, such occurrences are not usual. Yet, we react to
many daily situations as if they were life or death issues. Our bodies really don't know
the difference between a saber-toothed tiger and an employer correcting our work. It is
how we perceive and interpret the events of life that dictates how our bodies react. If we
think something is very scary or worrisome, our bodies react accordingly.
When we view something as manageable, though, our body doesn't go
haywire; it remains alert, but not alarmed. The activation of our sympathetic nervous
system (a very important part of our general nervous system) mobilizes us for quick
action. The more we sense danger (social or physical), the more our body reacts. Have you
ever been called upon to give an extemporaneous talk and found that your heart pounded so
loudly and your mouth was so dry that you thought you just couldn't do it? That's
Problems can occur when overactivation of the sympathetic system is
unnecessary. If we react too strongly or let the small over-reactions (the daily hassles)
pile up, we may run into physical, as well as psychological, problems. Gastrointestinal
problems (e.g., diarrhea or nausea), depression, or severe headaches can come about from
acute distress. Insomnia, heart disease, and distress habits (e.g., drinking, overeating,
smoking, and using drugs) can result from the accumulation of small distress.
What we all need is to learn approach matters in more realistic and
reasonable ways. Strong reactions are better reserved for serious situations. Manageable
reactions are better for the everyday issues that we all have to face.
ARE YOU A REACTOR OR AN OVER- REACTOR?
Below are situations that cause stress in some and distress in
others. Imagine yourself in each one right now. How are you reacting?
- Driving your car in rush hour
- Getting a last minute work assignment
- Misplacing something in the house
- Having something break while using it
- Dealing with incompetence at work
- Planning your budget
- Being blamed for something
- Waiting in a long line at the grocery store or bank
SOME HEALTHFUL HINTS
Basically, we need to modify our over-reactions to situations.
Rather than seeing situations as psychologically or physically threatening and thereby
activating our sympathetic nervous system, our parasympathetic nervous system (that part
which helps lower physiological arousal) needs to be called into play. The following
suggestions are designed to reduce distress. Try them. They work!
- Learn to Relax. Throughout the day, take "minibreaks."
Sit-down and get comfortable, slowly take a deep breath in, hold it, and then exhale very
slowly. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, smile, and say something
positive like, "I am r-e-l-a-x-e-d." Be sure to get sufficient rest at night.
- Practice Acceptance. Many people get distressed over things they
won't let themselves accept. Often these are things that can't be changed, like someone
else's feelings or beliefs. If something unjust bothers you, that is different. If you act
in a responsible way, the chances are you will manage stress effectively.
- Talk Rationally to Yourself. Ask yourself what real impact the
stressful situation will have on you in a day or a week and see if you can let the
negative thoughts go. think through whether the situation is your problem or the other's.
If it is yours, approach it calmly and firmly; if it is the other's, there is not much you
can do about it. Rather than condemn yourself with hindsight thinking like, "I should
have ...," think about what you can learn from the error and plan for the future.
Watch out for perfectionism - set realistic and attainable goals. Remember, everyone makes
errors. Be careful of procrastination - breaking tasks into smaller units will help and
prioritizing will help get things done.
- Get Organized. Develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that
includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and recreation. Use a daily "thing to
do" list. Improve your physical surroundings by cleaning your house and straightening
up your office. Use your time and energy as efficiently as possible.
- Exercise. Physical activity has always provided relief form stress.
in the past, daily work was largely physical. now that physical exertion is no longer a
requirement for earning a living, we don't get rid of stress so easily while working. It
accumulates very quickly. We need to develop a regular exercise program to help reduce the
effects of working. It accumulates very quickly. We need to develop a regular exercise
program to help reduce the effects of stress before it becomes distress. Try aerobics,
walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, and the like.
- Reduce Time Urgency. If you frequently check your watch or worry
about what you do with your time, learn to take things a bit slower. Allow plenty of time
to get things done. Plan your schedule ahead of time. Recognize that you can only do so
much in a given period. Practice the notion of "pace, not race."
- Disarm Yourself. Every situation in life does not require you to be
competitive. Adjust your approach to an event according to its demands. You don't have to
raise your voice in a simple discussion. Playing tennis with a friend doesn't have to be
an Olympic trial. Leave behind you "weapons" of shutting, have the last worked,
putting someone else down, and blaming.
- Quiet Time. Balance your family, social, and work demands with
special private times. Hobbies are good antidotes for daily pressures. Unwind by taking a
quiet stroll, soaking in a hot bath, watching a sunset, or listening to calming music.
- Watch Your Habits. Eat sensibly - a balanced diet will provide all
the necessary energy you will need during the day. Avoid nonprescription drugs and
minimize your alcohol use - you need to be mentally and physically alert to deal with
stress. Be mindful of the effects of excessive caffeine and sugar on nervousness. Put out
the cigarettes - they restrict blood circulation and affect the stress response.
- Talk to Friends. Friends can be good medicine. Daily doses of
conversation, regular social engagements, and occasional sharing of deep feelings and
thoughts can reduce stress quite nicely.
For more information please go to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State