Feeling Stressed? Here’s How to Simplify Your Life.
What Is Stress?
Stress is the body's way of responding to different internal and external demands. In addition to being caused by demands, stress can also be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people begin to feel overwhelmed by either an internal or external demand their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. Some of these chemicals result in energy and strength. Both of which are good if you are being chased by a lion or if you are in some other less exciting physical danger. Conversely, these chemicals are also released when we are faced with internal stressors. Seeing as the stressors are something emotional, there is no outlet for the extra energy and strength from the chemicals. But let's take the next minute and talk about some different types of stress.
What Causes Stress?
Unfortunately, a lot of different things can cause stress. It can be physical, such as fear of something dangerous, or it can be emotional. Emotional stress can result from worrying about friends, family, work, and life in general. So the first step in decreasing stress is to identify what is causing YOUR stress. Here are some of the most common sources of stress:
You may have heard the phrase "fight or flight" before. This is a common response to danger in all people and animals. This system and stress kick in when you feel physically threatened. Your bodies natural response is to provide additional energy so that you will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). Now the hard thing is when this system fires up when you aren't facing a life-threatening situation. Like we mentioned above, the system provides us with all of this energy but we have nothing to spend it on. By raise of hand, how many of you have had these feelings before taking a test?
Have you ever caught yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all? This is internal stress and it is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. Internal stress is when people stress themselves out. This happens when people worry about things that they can't control. Sometimes they even put themselves in situations they know will cause stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren't stressful.
This is a response to things around you that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help lower your stress level.
Fatigue and Overwork:
This kind of stress builds up over a long time and has a high toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your work, school, or home life. It can also be caused by poor time management and not knowing how or when to relax. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid. Solely due to the fact that these individuals already feel like they have no control over their lives.
There is a whole list of factors that can cause stress, some individual, others more global. But according to a Harvard Medical School publication, there are some stressors that we all face. Here are six of the most common stressors with a few potential solutions on how to manage them.
Being Frequently Late:
- Identify the underlying issue that is causing you to be chronically late. I huge underlying factor to procrastination is a lack of confidence. Are you feeling guilty about having to confront a friend about something so you keep postponing lunch? Once you address the root cause of your tardiness, you’ll feel better.
- Try recruiting the people around you for help. Schedule a huddle with your team (at work) and your family (at home) to visualize your day. Come up with ways to set a solid structure with strong deadlines and clear definitions and roles. The better you can plan and explain, the easier our day and project will be.
Frequently Angry or Frustrated:
- Set boundaries with people. Often anger and frustration stem from feeling a lack of control in interactions with others. Set clear and strong boundaries with those who you frequently interact with.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation, which is the process of tensing, then relaxing, individual muscle groups.
Unsure of Your Ability to do Something:
- Close the confidence gap by identifying and using your strengths. Leveraging what you already do well will help you navigate new territory.
- Increase your self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that you can produce results in your life and accomplish your goals. Research shows that one of the best ways to build your self-efficacy is to leverage small victories, so start by writing down your “wins.” Reflecting on past successes will help you enhance the belief that you can conquer this new challenge.
- Challenge your inner critic. Doing something new or for the first time is prime territory for your brain to start catastrophizing (that downward spiral style of thinking that causes you to stop taking purposeful action toward your goals). You are also more prone to thinking traps – overly rigid patterns of thinking that cause you to miss important information about the situation. Examples of thinking traps are mind reading and jumping to conclusions.
Feelings of Loneliness:
- Notice how your inner critic influences your feelings of loneliness. Ask yourself this question to help you reframe your thinking: “What would I tell a friend, family member, or child if they were experiencing the same issue?”
- Identify groups that connect with your values and strengths and reach out to ask about volunteer opportunities.
- Get curious about other people. Rather than focusing on your feelings of loneliness, reach out to a friend, neighbor or co-worker and invite them to lunch. Showing an interest in another person is a great way to start developing a friendship.
Being Burned Out:
- Take an energy audit. In order to reverse or prevent burnout, it’s important to understand how you’re spending your energy both at work and outside of work.
- Ask yourself whether you’re over-experiencing too many high-intensity positive emotions. Positive emotions have been shown to build your stress resilience, but you can have too much of a good thing. Feeling consistently amped up or pumped can be hard on your body by consistently activating your body’s stress response.
- Get really clear on what you value and ask yourself whether there is a big disconnect between your values (family time, for example) and what is valued where you work. Large values disconnects can be big drivers of burnout at work.
- Having a busy life is great, but busyness needs to be intentional and purposeful in order to be productive. Consider your short-term and long-term goals.
- Understand that “no” can be a complete sentence. Saying “no” and leaving it is really all you need to say in many situations.
- Identify areas where perfectionism is holding you back. If your motto is, “If I want this done right I have to do it myself,” then perfectionism may be preventing you from delegating to others.
Negative Impacts of Being Over-Stressed
Believe it or not, but being stressed can and does affect your health. You may think illness is to blame for that nagging headache, your frequent insomnia or your decreased productivity at work. But stress may actually be the culprit. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms is a great way to assess your lifestyle. Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Here is a quick break down of how stress impacts different body systems.
Common effects of stress on your body:
- A headache
- Muscle tension or pain
- Chest pain
- Change in sex drive
- Stomach upset
- Sleep problems
Common effects of stress on your mood:
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Sadness or depression
Common effects of stress on your behavior:
- Overeating or under-eating
- Angry outbursts
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Tobacco use
- Social withdrawal
- Exercising less often
How to Decrease Stress in General
If you have any of the stress symptoms listed above, you may be over-stressed. To get your calm back, follow some of our general stress management techniques listed below.
- Regular physical activity
- Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
- Keeping a sense of humor
- Socializing with family and friends
- Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music
The overreaching goals of stress management are to find active ways to manage your stress. Inactive approaches to stress management like watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games may actually increase your stress over time. Activity is key to a stress-free life.
Is It Stress or Something Else?
If you're not sure if stress is the cause of your symptoms, see a doctor. Your doctor may want to check for other potential causes. Or, your doctor may also advise you to see a professional counselor or therapist. Both can help you identify sources of YOUR stress and learn new coping strategies.
Red flag warning, if you have chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain radiating into your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately. These may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.
Stress has many shapes and forms and can sneak into anyone's life. It is important to realize that stress is normal, and that being stressed is a normal part of life. But it is also important to note that symptomatic chronic stress is NOT normal. If you have chronic symptoms from the list above, take a minute and access your life. The first step in removing stress is to make the time to realize you are stressed. And since you are reading this, you are probably under some stress. So start right now, shut the computer and take a minute to think about your life and how to simplify.