Signs your stress level is too high:
- Racing heart beat for no apparent reason
- Difficulties falling asleep or maintaining sleep throughout the night
- Significant increase in anxiety on Sunday nights (for those whose work/school weeks begin on Monday)
- Mindless eating of junk food or binge eating unhealthy snacks
- Increased irritability
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Decreased energy level (i.e., watching t.v. or sleeping more than what is normal for you)
Exercise. I cannot emphasize the importance of exercise enough. It helps manage mood and anxiety, as well as decrease feelings of stress. Exercise may mean going to the gym, walking your dog, skateboarding, or yoga class. The most important thing is that you are doing 30-45 minutes of moderate exercise 4 times per week. For me, I notice a significant decrease in stress after I exercise. In fact, it is so significant that on mornings when I feel particularly overwhelmed with obligations, I tell myself that I cannot think about them until after I've been to the gym. Once I've exercised, I am able to organize and prioritize in a more rational manner and feel that things are much more manageable.
Get outside for fresh air and sunshine. Even if this only means that you go for a quick walk after lunch, being outside significantly improves our overall psychological well-being. It offers us a fresh perspective and makes us feel rejuvenated. It also provides a break in the day, especially for those who are confined to a desk, resulting in increased energy and productivity for the remainder of the day. Going for a walk before or after work also helps us mentally transition from home to work or from work to home.
Decrease time spent on social media sites. It is so easy to quickly check your Facebook account at the red light or while waiting in line, but doing so actually makes us feel worse (I am working on another blog post about Facebook usage where this will be addressed further). It also makes us feel even more overwhelmed as we try to get through our feed and catch up on others' daily activities. Before looking at your Facebook feed, ask yourself the following questions: Do I really need to know what my friends and family are doing right now? Will that make me feel more or less stressed? Could my time be better spent doing something else? Eliminating social media from the day provides us with time to listen to music, do deep breathing, or plan and organize the day so that we feel less stressed. Each week, take a day or two completely off from social media and see if you notice a difference in how you feel.
Spend time only with those who you love or truly enjoy being around. We all have people in our lives who drain us: they complain about everything, always have a problem to vent about, or who are so anxious that you feel your own stress level increase whenever you talk to them. These are not the people to reach out to during times of stress. Instead, spend your time with people you genuinely enjoy and care about, the ones who do not add to your stress.
Come up with your own mantra or positive self-talk statement. If you don't already have your go-to phrase that puts things in perspective immediately, then come up with one now! We all need something that we can internally repeat over and over during times of stress. Some people use statements as simple as "I will survive," while others use ones that are more specific to their own lives and experiences. I personally like the saying, "One frost does not make a winter," and I repeat this to myself whenever I encounter something overwhelming in my own life.
Set boundaries. Maybe stress is piling up because you keep taking on additional work or saying yes to others when you really should be saying no. Recognize the essential responsibilities of your job, school, relationship, or family and stick to those. If you find that you are becoming overwhelmed by the nonessential aspects, eliminate those areas by delegating or setting limits on what you can do. Be prepared that people will get mad at you for setting limits (especially if they are used to going to you for everything) and be OK with it. There is nothing wrong with recognizing when you have taken on too much and doing something about it. If people are unable to understand, that's their own issue, not yours.
Stay on top of daily responsibilities. When we are overwhelmed, it is too easy to forget about or ignore our daily duties, like washing dishes or doing laundry. However, ignoring these tasks makes us feel even more overwhelmed. It is essential that we take that extra 15 to 30 minutes in the morning or as soon as we return from work to load the dishwasher, empty the dryer, sort the mail, straighten up the living room, and take out the recycling. We get to see immediate results for our work, which can be gratifying when other things appear to be never ending, and it prevents us from feeling stressed from seeing a sink full of dirty dishes or piles of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor.
Take time to do something relaxing or that you enjoy. It's unfortunate that when we are stressed or overwhelmed, the first things we neglect are the things we enjoy the most. But instead of turning on the t.v. or logging into Facebook, pick up the guitar you haven't played in weeks or the book you started two months ago.
Schedule a day off here and there. Take a mental health day to give yourself a three day weekend. Or schedule a day off in the middle of the week to break it up a little. Scheduling days off in advance prevents us from calling in sick at the last minute, which may make some feel guilty or even more overwhelmed as you imagine your in-box filling up throughout the day. Planning ahead allows you to let others know that you'll be out and prevents you from inadvertently missing important deadlines or meetings. By scheduling days off here and there, you are proactively avoiding taking sick days. And then use your day off to do some of the above recommendations.
If you find that these suggestions are not enough to help you with your stress management, or that you are experiencing symptoms more severe than the ones listed for high stress levels, it may be time to seek help. Contact me by clicking on the link below and we can begin working on lowering your stress.