April is Stress Awareness Month. In Part 1 of this series, sources of stress were identified, perceptions were addressed, and impact on health was illustrated.
In Part 2, Anna Zendell, PhD, MSW, and Carol Shenise, MS, RN of Excelsior College’s School of Health Sciences provide stress reduction strategies, identify stress triggers, and explain personal stress management plans for managing stress before it manages you.
Excelsior Life: Can you provide stress reduction strategies for work and home?
Shenise: There are many strategies available for coping with and reducing stress. Unfortunately, none of them will alleviate stress quickly or overnight. Brian Luke Seaward, a stress management expert, recommends these strategies for work and home:
- Quiet the mind with mindfulness meditation. We are bombarded and overwhelmed with sensory information overload. Consider taking time before your day begins to sit still and focus on your breathing and quieting your mind.
- Set technology boundaries. Technologies are wonderful but remember their main purpose is to provide us with services not enslave us.
- Turn off television. Television shows can be wonderful, offering learning and discovery along with entertainment, but too much of a good thing can drain your energy.
- Relieve muscle tension. Any type of massage helps relax the body and allows for good body posture and function.
- Move and be active. Every day do something that provides regular physical activity to flush out stress hormones such as walking, running, swimming, or biking.
- Eat healthy. Build and keep your immune system healthy by selecting quality foods and nutrients from organic fruits, vegetables, and free-range meats.
- Promote healthy sleep. Turn off lights, technology devices, establish sleep routines, use comfortable bedding, and keep a pen/paper handy to write down ideas or concerns that may prevent quality sleep.
- Embrace nature. Take time to enjoy nature.
- Visit with friends. Try to routinely socialize by hosting dinner parties, gatherings, or any activity providing simple pleasures.
- Add humor. Laughter helps establish balance following stressful events. Look for something funny everyday e.g., cartoons, pictures, or jokes.
- Listen to music. Instrumental music is the best. Research shows it relaxes and soothes you.
- Practice compassion. Practice empathy, acceptance, random acts of kindness, and spend time with people who are important to you. Don’t forget your pets!
- Create a senses relaxation kit. Believe it or not this type of kit works and is fun! Think of items for all five senses. Select essential oils (smell), special pictures (sight), CDs (sound), fur (touch), and chocolates (taste). Keep a kit at the office and one at home. They produce relaxation just thinking about these items!
Excelsior Life: Are there stress triggers we can change vs. those we cannot?
Zendell: Absolutely! Much stress is triggered by how we respond to changes, situations, events, competing demands, and other aspects that move us out of balance in our inner lives. We cannot always change the triggers, but we can change, or modify our responses to these stress triggers.
We need to look at our attitudes and expectations – at how we are interpreting situations in our minds and all of the associated emotions. Stress cannot gain as much of a foothold in our lives when we are thinking positive thoughts and problem-solving effectively to alleviate stressors.
We can also make a conscious effort to change our behaviors in response to triggers. We can use the stress reduction strategies outlined.
Excelsior Life: What is the connection between mind, body, and spirit?
Shenise: Stress management strategies initially addressed the mind and body for achieving total wellness and inner peace. Attention to the spirit has evolved from a connection to religious forms of spirituality. Today stress management techniques offered through complementary medicine practices form a powerful healing circle completing the mind, body, and spirit connection.
Excelsior Life: Each person’s stress management plan will be unique, just as each person is unique. What advice can you share?
Zendell: Stress often makes us question so many aspects of ourselves. Over enough time, we can forget what relaxes us, and what makes us feel fulfilled in life. If you are looking to create a plan that works for you, it’s important to think through your strengths and natural coping mechanisms, and to develop a stress management plan that builds on your innate strengths and personality.
- First, address the source of the stress. Break bigger projects into smaller chunks that you can manage more easily. Though you will not solve your problems in a day, you will make positive strides toward improving your stress. Above all, don’t ignore the stressors.
- Take care of your emotions. This step cannot be over-emphasized. Take some time out for yourself. You may want to just relax, meditate, read a book, or watch some funny YouTube videos. Spending a bit of time in a natural setting or with pets can be very soothing to our emotions. Even a five minute break can be rejuvenating to you emotionally.
- Care for your body. Be sure to feed your body with nutritious food and drink, so you have a good supply of energy. Exercise is a wonderful energizer and the physical activity boosts endorphins for many people, which elevates the mood. Breathe deeply. This oxygenates the brain and body, which has a powerful calming effect. Sleep is crucial to a healthy immune function.
- If you find yourself struggling to find inner harmony or balance, don’t be afraid to seek out help. A family doctor, a therapist, life coach, or religious leader may be able to help you develop a stress management plan that works for you.
Part 1 of this series can be found at Stress Awareness Month: Manage Stress Before It Manages You.
Click to view the Live Chat on this topic with the Troy Record which was held on April 17.