Am I out of touch with reality or are savvy merchandisers getting more aggressive about extending the winter holiday season? Life has enough pressures without the too early reminders that the season won't be joyful unless we buy, buy, buy and party, party, party. Even the healthiest of individuals are certain to feel the stress.
When we have a stressful experience-whether it's good, like the return of a family member who was deployed to a foreign land or not so good, like hours cut back at work, we trigger a natural physiological reaction described as the "fight or flight" response. Our heart rate and breathing quickens, we start to perspire and our pupils dilate. Too much of this can predispose us to physical and emotional illness.
Determine Your Stress Level
I've found it useful to attempt to measure my level of stress. Once I have a gauge of how events are affecting me, I can take advantage of one or more of the six strategies that follow to bring more balance to a day of ups and downs.
To start, rate the amount of stress in your life on a scale of one (1) for no stress to ten (10) for extreme stress by asking the following questions (or create your own) then totaling your assessment score.
If you gave yourself a total rating from 1-14, congratulations! You have a healthy understanding and appreciation for managing the stress in your life. Keep it up!
If you gave yourself a rating from 15-42, Although your stress level is average, consider ways you can decrease your score in ways that improve your life.
If your rating is over 43, your stress level is too high. You may be in a constant state of anxiety that can wreak havoc on your body, mind, and spirit. It's important to seek and use strategies to make positive change. If you can't do it on your own, consider asking for professional help.
Here are some suggestions that can decrease stress levels:
1. Get organized
Stress is often due to a lack of organization. Make time to bring more structure to your life so you are better prepared to handle multiple responsibilities with ease. For example, organize your closet. Knowing where you can find your favorite shoes, sweaters, and workout gear will allow you to start your day without feeling panicked.
2. Find different solutions to everyday stresses
Although there are many events that we can control, there are always unmanageable situations. When you encounter broken photocopiers at work, traffic jams, or arguing with kids in ways that snowball into major annoyances, it's time to change the way you react. When these events occur, consciously make time to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. Take five minutes to walk around the block, listen to soothing music, or simply wash your face and hands. In time, this response (vs. reaction) will be more automatic.
3. Control your work or home environment the best you can
When pressures from your boss and looming deadlines get to you, consider the "under promise-over deliver" strategy. Since uninterrupted work time is more productive, choose a few times each week to close your door, turn off your phone and ignore your email. If you have too much to handle and your workload keeps piling up, instead of complaining come up with a few alternatives and schedule a sit down talk with your boss. Explain your needs, offer your suggestions for more realistic deadlines, and ask for help solving your problem. You may discover a mutual solution is easier than you expected. One of the most effective ways to refresh your body and mind is to get moving. Step outside for a walk. Climb your office stairs until you get breathless then repeat it again. Take a 15-minute stretch breaks. You can be revitalized and be ready to work.
4. Work to manage major stresses
Don't try to fight the reality of a sressful situation. Instead, gain skills to manage it. Spend time with those who are important to you. Sharing experiences with supportive family members or friends or a structured group of people who have gone through similar situations can be helpful. Focus on the things that you can do rather than the things that you have no control over.
5. Exercise daily
Exercise remains the best way to deal with all kinds of stress. Exercise boosts the immune system, improves sleep, increases serotonin (a feel good hormone), and helps you deal with the normal ups and downs of life. Whether you are dealing with a serious loss like a death in the family or change in a relationship, exercise can help you cope and deal with the pain when nothing else seems to work.
6. Get proper rest
Multiple research studies have shown that people who sleep 7-8 hours a night are better equipped to manage stress. Stress producing chemicals, including the stress hormone, cortisol, that triggers the fat-storing hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are more prevalent in sleep-deprived individuals.
This year, I'm going to continue to practice what I preach. If you do too, chances are the holidays won't get you down.
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