Stressing About Stress Management

I consider myself a rather relaxed person who can stay calm and collected in most situations.  I’ve always considered myself good, or at least decent at managing stress, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I need a stress management upgrade.  The early onslaught of homework and class assignments this semester has certainly been a surprise, and the early paperwork to prepare for my upcoming student teaching placement(s) in the spring shows that there won’t be a reprieve from work.  In addition, I’m busy balancing training clients, teaching drum lessons, and a rather hectic personal life.  It’s becoming pretty stressful, but I’m focusing on managing my stressors instead of eliminating them.

She certainly didn’t intend to add to my stress, but the absolutely awesome health teacher I’m working with at a local high school asked me to teach my first lesson this Friday, on the topic of Stress Management.  I’ve chuckled at the irony in that, but I’d like to share a few of my own thoughts on stress and stress management with you.

Let’s cover the basics.  The following words come directly from the Mayo Clinic website, which you can find HERE.

“Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever increasing demands of life. Surveys show that most Americans experience challenges with stress at some point during the year. In looking at the causes of stress, remember that your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the “fight-or-flight” response. Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop stress of modern life means that your alarm system rarely shuts off.

That’s why stress management is so important. Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your alarm system. Without stress management, all too often your body is always on high alert. Over time, high levels of stress lead to serious health problems. Don’t wait until stress has a negative impact on your health, relationships or quality of life. Start practicing a range of stress management techniques today.”

Check out this model of stress, from The Post Institute:

If you’re constantly running in stress-induced overdrive, you’re not going to last very long.  While stress can come in many shapes and forms, the long term physiological effects of chronic mental stress are probably the most significant.  After all, how often have you heard about someone who’s stressed out all the time having a heart attack?  It’s a common anecdote, isn’t it.  During my first day of health observations this past Friday, students were sharing currrent events related to health, and a 10th grade girl reviewed a a study correlationg post 9/11 PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with an increased prevalence of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).  I’ve hunted down an article detailing this correlation HERE.  This recent research is a chilling reinforcement of the influences between mental and physical health.

When it comes to managing stress, it’s important to first identify stressors and make emotional and physical changes.  I’d recommend referring to THIS list, which is the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory.  The link allows you to assess your own levels of stress, or you can refer to the chart below and keep track on your own.

Life event↓ Life change units↓
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: At risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Risk of illness is moderate (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only have a slight risk of illness.

What’s your score?

When it comes to managing stress, it’s important to clarify between stress management and stress reduction.  It’s next to impossible to totally eliminate stress from your life.  If you can successfully eliminate stress, then you’re probably leading a rather boring life.  Instead, manage your stress.  If it’s possible to eliminate major stressors, then do so.  Does a communiting 2 hours back and forth to work each day cause you stress?  Probably.  If it’s possible to find a closer job or move to a location closer to your job, that may be a solution.  If not, plan appropriately for the trip, and take advantage of the driving time; do you have any audio to listen to or phone calls to make for work while you’re in the car?  Take advantage of that time.  Maybe your significant other is stressing you out, and it’s become overwhelming.  Married folks aren’t going to be as likely to throw away their relationship, but perhaps you may some time apart while you balance your stress levels, or you need to communicate together ways to deal with the increasingly stressful situations.  This could mean that you plan a way to manage stress without relying on each other, or planning time to spend together away from stressful situations.  Maybe you’ll need to spend some time away from the relationship to focus on important professional or personal obligations, and then develop a plan to build a stronger relationship from where you left off.  It’s probably not the person that’s causing you stress, but specific situations and communication issues.

I know that for myself exercise can be a great stress reliever as well as a big cause of stress.  Have you ever walked into the gym calm, had a poor workout, and then stressed about that?  It happens to me on occasion.  To remedy this, try to vary your workouts around how you’re feeling for a given day, based on your stress levels, rest, and attitude.  It sounds rather logical, but there’s scientific research which notes the importance of cyberkinetic periodization.  If you’re interested in more reading, check out THIS link.

If you understand what’s stressing you out, and would like to make a change, you’ll likely need your own stress management plan.  The list below is from National Institute of Health’s Medline website, and includes ideas to help you find positive in each situation, plan fun activities that lead to relaxation, and encourage you to take regular breaks from stressful activities.

Physical activity:

  • Start a physical activity program. Most experts recommend 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week.
  • Decide on a specific type, amount, and level of physical activity. Fit this into your schedule so it can be part of your routine.
  • Find a buddy to exercise with — it is more fun and it will encourage you to stick with your routine.
  • You do not have to join a gym — 20 minutes of brisk walking outdoors is enough.

Nutrition:

  • Eat foods that improve your health and well-being. For example, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat.
  • Use the food guide plate to help you make healthy food choices.
  • Eat normal-sized portions on a regular schedule.

Social support:

  • Make an effort to socialize. Even though you may feel tempted to avoid people when you feel stressed, meeting friends usually helps people feel less stressed.
  • Be good to yourself and others.

Relaxation:

  • Learn about and try using relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation. With some practice, these techniques should work for you.
  • Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
  • Make sure to get enough sleep. Good sleep habits are one of the best ways to manage stress.
  • Take time for personal interests and hobbies.

Ideally, you’re going to figure out a host of management techniques that can work the best for you.  It may be taking a break to listen to music, going for a walk, venting to a friend, or creating some type of artwork.  For myself, I find that music and exercise seem to work the best, and I’m fortunate to be able to combine them as a drummer.  It’s important to be able to ‘turn off’ your brain from analysis and thought, clear your mind, and relax.  I’ll share a great website I stumbled upon the other day, called “Do Nothing for 2 Minutes“.  See if you can spend 120 seconds doing nothing.  You’ll be happy you did.

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