Finding Balance to Manage Stress
We all know how it feels to be overwhelmed, but it is difficult to define stress. Certain situations and events are stressful by their nature while others are more personal. Something that provokes high stress in you may not bother someone else. One explanation of stress says it is a combination of our perception of how difficult the stressor is and the resources we have to deal with it. In other words, the more difficult we view the situation to be and the more limited we feel our ability to manage or handle it, the higher degree of stress we will have.
In a hectic world, stress may seem unavoidable. Bills, politics, work demands, relationship issues, health problems, and other concerns can seem like insurmountable challenges at times. The toll of unaddressed stress is significant. As many as one million Americans daily are estimated to miss work due to stress and 15 to 20% of the US workforce report high levels of stress. Stress negatively impacts heart health, diabetes, blood pressure and other medical concerns. When left unchecked, stress contributes to or worsens mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Recent research found people under stress have twice the risk of suffering a heart attack. Stress is associated with reducing the body’s ability to regulate inflammation and with increasing chronic pain. Although stress is a factor in 60 to 80% of all primary health care visits, doctors often only discuss stress’ role in health with their most chronically ill patients.
Despite overwhelming evidence stress can negatively affect physical and emotional health, the scientific community also abounds with hope-affirming research that individuals can overcome the negative effects of stress. Studies show stress management skills given early in breast cancer treatment increase women’s rates of survival and of disease reoccurrence. In the 1 in 6 American men who will battle prostate cancer, stress management along with diet has been found to slow disease progression. When stress management is added to cardiac rehabilitation, the risk of future heart attacks is cut in half. Anxious third graders given stress management training reported less worry and more contentment.
May is Mental Health Month’s focus on whole health for mind and for body urges mental health professionals like myself to share wellness and longevity skills like stress management. Maintaining health before serious mind-body problems develop or 'before stage 4' is the best solution for well-being. When stress is too severe, frequent or chronic, a person's entire life can feel as out of balance. The most effective stress management skills either work to remove or lighten the heavy load (problem-solving skills) or to promote resiliency in dealing with stressors (emotional coping skills). To decrease external stressors or reduce their negative impact when possible, problem-solving strategies include:
being appropriately assertive to meet needs;
sticking to prioritizes;
communicating effectively with others;
reaching out for support when needed;
saying no without feeling guilty;
avoiding damaging people or situations when possible;
setting realistic goals and steps to achieve them;
taking a stand against over-scheduling.
Emotional coping skills to handle stressors better, to bounce back from stressful circumstances and to decrease vulnerability to stress are:
having positive nutrition, exercise and sleep habits;
taking personal time to rest and re-energize;
cultivating an optimistic outlook;
practicing gratitude (looking for what is going right);
nurturing a positive view of self;
accepting things that cannot be changed;
relaxing or meditating;
finding and expressing humor;
investing more in interpersonal relationships;
engaging in positive recreational activities;
seeking professional support when needed.
As the Clinical Director of the Mental Health Association’s Walk-In and Counseling Center (MHA), I know managing stress more effectively helps to put life back into balance even in the most challenging circumstances. We offer walk-in mental health screenings at no cost to Indian River County residents. Our Mindfulness Class (starting 6/14/18) is another way to build stress management skills. If you are struggling with stress, please reach out to start the path of a healthier life. It's okay to get help!