April Is Stress Awareness Month! Celebrate By Understanding And Managing Your Stress
During April, there is a focus on learning what stress is, how it affects us, and how we can better manage stress. This month is a perfect opportunity to highlight facts about stress and tips to help manage stress.
A big part of stress management is awareness. Knowing, or being able to recognize, when our stress levels are high helps us learn how to cope more effectively. Are you aware of what the typical signs of stress are? Many people would say yes to this question, but in my work, most of us are oblivious to when we are personally affected by stress. As always, seeing things outside ourselves is much easier than seeing things within ourselves. Stress Awareness Month is a beautiful opportunity for all of us to check in and see where we're at personally.
First, let's go over some signs that indicate that we are stressed:
Memory Problems Physical
Poor Judgement Chest Pain
Inability to Concentrate Rapid Heartbeat
'Brain Fog' Aches & Pains
Indecision Frequent colds
Starting many tasks but achieving little Skin Complaints
High Blood Pressure
Moodiness Increased intake of alcohol, nicotine, & caffeine
Irritability Isolating yourself from others
Feeling helpless and/or hopeless Sleeping too little or too much
Cynicism Loss of sense of humor
Next, let's learn how to become aware of stress.
I help clients do this with the emotional account analogy. In this analogy, we track our emotional money, time, energy, and effort. Our emotional accounts work very much like our bank accounts. For example, you would only go out and spend large amounts of money if you checked your account online and saw if money is available, would you? Once you check it and realize you have some money but need more to make a specific purchase, you may decide to save your money. The goal of checking our bank account is to be sure we have the funds needed for everything we need and want and to save for wants and necessities. Before we give anyone or anything our time, energy, or effort, it's good practice to check in with ourselves and maybe think through the signs of stress that already may be present within us, such as have you been moody or irritable lately, have you been having aches and pains or headaches that are not attributable to a physical illness, do you have increased frustration or are you easily irritated, have you noticed issues with your sleep such as trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much? If you've seen any of these things, check your emotional account track to see where your time, energy, and effort went. Have you been using your time, energy, and effort wisely? Do you use it in some way daily to give back to yourself? Do you give yourself time and effort daily? Do you save or conserve your energy for yourself? The point of this analogy is that the way we might track other things in our lives, like our money, water intake, or food, it is beneficial to track our emotional accounts the same way. Want to learn more about the emotional account? Click HERE!
Finally, let's review some ways that you can practice managing your stress:
Adopt a Positive Mind Set: Life is challenging! But that doesn't mean it isn't good! When stressed, it isn't easy to be optimistic about anything. But if you notice consistent negativity creeping in, ask yourself this question is there another way that I can think about this situation or this person? People challenge me with this question and say, "NO! there isn't any other way I can think about this!" But the honest answer is they don't want to think about it differently because they're stressed, and when you're stressed, it's hard to see any options or alternatives, but rest assured they're there. Sometimes the choices are not our first option or not what we want to happen, but sometimes allowing ourselves to let go of something or think about something differently may be the thing we need to relieve even an ounce of stress.
Don't become dependent on technology: I start each day without screens. Doing this took a lot of work to implement! It meant the first several hours of my day were in silence. I need that short time to get myself together, keep my head clear, and prepare for my day. Now that it's a habit, I realize how much being a slave to tech 24/7 interfered with my time management, mood, and mindset! Managing screen time is a game changer with stress and mood in general! Check-in with yourself. Track how much screen time you rack up in a day. Bonus, track how much you are scrolling on social media platforms or engaging with social media in any way. Challenge, find ways to decrease screen time, especially on social media, then note the change in your mindset and mood. You might be surprised at what you notice!
Eat for Wellbeing: Food is fuel. It's like a recharge for the body. Without it, the brain and the body will not function and perform to the best of their ability. Take time out of your day to feed yourself in the healthiest way accessible to you.
Get a Good Night's Sleep: Sleep is another one of those basic recharge activities that the body needs. Sleep to the body is like a charge to your cell phone. Have you ever let your cell phone get to 10% or less? What happens when it gets that low? Many of the functions are not available. The phone is on, and you can make a call, but you won't be able to do all the specialized functions that make a smartphone smart. This applies to humans as well. Sleep is the charge we all need to make all our highly specialized functions work as they need to. If you're having trouble sleeping, work on implementing sleep hygiene, such as regular bedtime, a time to turn off screens, and a time to let your mind wind down. If none of these work for you, seeing your doctor and talking to them about it is a good idea. Do not minimize or ignore persistent issues with sleep. The body will not continue to function well without it.
Get Moving to Combat Stress: Just like sleeping and eating are a big part of the body's charge, so is movement. I'm not talking about hulking out four times a week. I'm simply talking about moving your body daily. Research and data prove that people with a largely sedentary lifestyle are more likely to have short, shorter lifespans. The body needs movement just like it needs rest and food. How can you get movement in if you have a sedentary job or don't like exercise? Consider walking more often; this doesn't mean you have to make a big deal out of it, but make sure that you are getting your steps in every day, take time to stand and to stretch, and that you have at least 30 minutes every day where you're moving. Examples: walking around the grocery store, parking farther away from a store, taking the stairs, or walking your dog. Be creative! Movement can happen in so many ways that are doable for us all.
Learn to Say No: No is a complete sentence. Managing stress can be as easy and as complex as saying no. Most of us want to accommodate family and friends, but our emotional account may need more funds to support saying yes to everything. Check your emotional account to understand where you spend your time, energy, and effort. Know when, where, and how you want to spend your time, energy, and effort, and then behave accordingly. Once you've decided what to say no to, practice explaining yourself less. You do not have to say no to everything. It just means learning when to say no and what that looks like.
Master Your Time: If you go back and look at the information under Don't become dependent on technology, you can read that I implemented having silence in the first few hours of my day. The main reason I did this wasn't to minimize my screen time; it began as a way to feel more in control of my time. Time management has always been a struggle for me. I've never been good at it, but implementing silence to get my day started helps me get out the door promptly and without rushing and the added anxiety hurrying brings. Also, checking your emotional account can help you master your time.
Look at your emotional account and see where your time is going. Often, we are not honest with ourselves. We might think, "Oh, I'm only on my screens an hour a day." But if we were really tracking honestly, we might notice that our screen time has gotten away from us. It's just like that subscription you thought you would cancel and then forgot about, and you realize you've been paying $5.99 a month for a year for something you don't even use. Take time to notice and ask yourself what's called for now.
Practice Deep Breathing: Breath is life. We need sufficient oxygen to feed our bodies, just as we need food, rest, and sleep. Breathing is another excellent charge for the body. I ask my clients to check in with themselves and ask, "Have I taken a deep breath today?" I have to ask myself this question several times daily to ensure I give my body the oxygen it needs. When the body and the mind do not have sufficient oxygen, it's easy to have brain fog, concentration issues, and increased anxiety. Many people say deep breathing doesn't work for them. I get that. But the point of this is not to sit in meditation for 10, 15, or 30 minutes. The point is to check in with yourself each day and take a few deep breaths to give yourself that quick recharge we all know the brain and body needs.
Happy Stress Awareness Month!
The Stress Management Society. (2022, June 14). The Stress Management Society - From Distress to De-Stress. https://www.stress.org.uk/