- Jennifer Eaton
Stress: what are the symptoms and how do you manage it?
Even better, how do you reduce it?
Everyone seems more stressed than in the past. It’s just the “American way.” Or is it?
Stress starts with having too much on your plate. Things can pile on slowly and you may not realize you are overwhelmed until the pile topples over and stress hits you like a ton of bricks.
It can cause
irritability and seen by others as being short or snippy with them - especially those who are closest to you
fatigue felt by dragging yourself through every task with each task seeming more effortful and being a step behind physically and mentally
forgetfulness and “foggy brain” experienced by losing track of what you are saying, losing items like keys and cell phone, planned tasks you normally remember, thinking you are losing your mind
dreading that next “thing”
experiencing emotions more intensely and reacting in a more extreme manner than usual
Did your job get bigger? Are you working more hours to keep doing the job to the level you want?
Are you applying to college? How many times do you think “will they accept me?” or feel overwhelmed with the cost and applying to scholarships?
Are there more demands outside of work? Do you have less time to complete the same errands and chores on your plate?
Are your loved ones struggling? Do you now care for others like your parents?
Kids come with a set of stress too as parents know. Do you ask yourself if you are doing a good job parenting? Are your children experiencing difficulties like trouble in school or issues with friends? Do they have anxiety that warrants therapy? Parents take on their children’s stress.
And we just experienced daylight savings time which has quite an effect on many. Then we have the holidays approaching, more social events, pressure to buy presents and bake, finals coming for students, school breaks for parents... there’s a lot that can increase our stress. Good stress can still be taxing on the body.
The American attitude is “pick yourself up and deal with it”. There is some truth there…you need to work on your stress and others can only help so much. And it’s not easy to add more tasks to an overloaded list of “stuff.”
* Get a therapist…I know “An added task. Who has time for one more appointment?”
Therapy can be such a game changer as it’s a neutral person to help reorganize your life without judgment. You might not need as much therapy as you think. And you might find it helps manage and reduce your stress. I’ve had some keep coming to therapy long after it is “needed” because it was so helpful.
* Meditate…I know “Great, another task. Who had time to sit around?”
It doesn’t have to be a retreat. A few minutes here, a few minutes there….and there are apps for that!
Some favorites are: Calm and Headspace. My favorite is Insight Timer.
You can do it for a minute before opening your email, as a mental pause while you wait for others to arrive to a meeting, or as a mental moment before starting your homework. I recently was asked the question, “what if I do it too long?” I don’t hear that much but you can always set an alarm to tell you a minute is up and get back to work!
* Sit down and simply enjoy a cup of tea, do something relaxing. And I know, “When? Just drink tea, really? How about drink tea, check email, pet the cat, and listen to a self-help podcast at the same time! AAAHHHH!”
Try to do one task at a time. Seriously. You get more done and it takes less time. Sip your coffee for a few moments breathing in the lovely scent and then check your email.
I do meditate…with my cat. As soon as I sit in a chair, she jumps on my lap. She loves to meditate with so after a few pets, she settles down and we meditate together. That is two tasks at once that aligns together.
You can give yourself a moment to do one thing and it doesn’t have to be often. Maybe enjoy one cup of coffee or tea on a Saturday and don’t stress when you can’t do it. I try to give myself coffee first before doing anything productive except make breakfast on Saturday. Don’t be stressed about destressing!
And this is serious. Stress is the #1 diagnosis primary care physicians would diagnose if it was a diagnosis. I suspect that’s coming and could be an argument as they discuss the next edition of the big book of diagnoses. Currently stress falls under ulcers, more frequent head colds, headaches, and in the book of mental health diagnoses, the DSM, “adjustment disorder” which simply means trouble adjusting to something and it isn’t a mental health diagnosis but that someone is having. How about adjusting to a more stressful life? Therapists see that although often by the time the person shows up to a therapy appointment, it has become an anxiety disorder or depression.
Back to the doctor. You make think:
Why can they “fix” my stomach issues? And my bowel problems? It’s so embarrassing! Where the hell did this come from???
What? My blood pressure is high? How come? Cardiac referral? What??? And the heart doc says I’m fine and to consider meditation or yoga to destress and reduce the risk of heart disease. Seriously? That’s the medical recommendation? That’s it? Actually yes, cardiac doctors refer people to various mindfulness activities due to all the research that it can help with stress. These recommendations come after tons of research.
And these headaches….what is wrong with me???? Why aren’t they worried about my brain??? I can’t remember things or find my keys! Is this dementia? Those doctors say “it’s normal with added stress”. Really? Is it? They said the brain scans and neurology referral isn’t necessary.
And then they stamp the non-diagnosis of stress as the diagnosis.
“Have you thought about therapy?”
“What can you do to simplify your life?”
“Is there anything you can take off your plate?”
“Have you thought about taking a yoga class?”
“Have you considered meditation?”
And now the PCP is trying to help as you still think about your GI issues, blood pressure, headaches and memory problems. And the emotion dysregulation spikes and because of your stress you bark at your beloved PCP, “Thanks a lot. I wish you took my issues seriously! Ugh!” and then you leave…forgetting your keys.
You have to reduce your stress. Chronic stress can lead to serious physical problems which means more doctors and potential long term conditions. And burnout is around the corner which is even worse. Targeting your stress can reduce and prevent burnout. Already burned out? Don’t stress too much waiting for the next email and blog.
Other practical things to consider to reduce your stress:
1. Improve your time management
Chunk ongoing tasks and get more done
Email: Consider doing it once in the morning then again before lunch. Don’t worry, they will stay in your inbox. Turn the “ding” sound off so you don’t hear each one come in while you do other work tasks. Before wrapping up your workday take a final check and do the replies that are time sensitive then make a to-do list for the next day.
Enjoy your lunch talking about pleasant things with coworkers (don’t bitch as it is proven to not help anyone feel better)
If you are solo, read something enjoyable and nonwork related.
I confess, I am actively working on this and it can be challenging as checking email can be a brain break from something else. I also watch YouTube videos by Marsha Linehan and other DBT experts for “fun” but then again, I am a DBT geek and proud of it!
Put time limits on time suckers that you don’t want to give up
Facebook: set an alarm for a self-selected time and once the bell rings, get off! And…don’t go back until your next allowed time, maybe the next day. This will seriously reduce the typical thought after scrolling “It’s already __ time? I have so much to do!”
Consider moving those magnetizing social media apps off the home screen of your smart phone
Have an alarm that signals to turn off the TV
2. Now, compartmentalize. Leave work at work. Time to put your brain into the reason why you work – your family, friends, and hobbies.
Are you expected to work outside of work? Not uncommon these days. That doesn’t mean you have to toss your dinner plate and jump to grab your phone right when it rings. Work on your terms as technically you aren’t working. At least finish your dinner while it’s hot!
Observe your limits. This is a DBT concept. Sometimes you need to extend your limits if you have a major deadline and know when to say when. Can it really wait, be honest. Leave as much work at work as you can.
Schedule this and don’t blow it off
Put that yoga class in your calendar, put your mat and yoga clothes in your car and don’t go home! If you go in the morning, have those close ready to toss on and the rest in the car ready to go. Make going easy.
Seriously, pick something you want to do that is taking care of you and only you.
Change that mindset of “it’s selfish.” You are putting on your oxygen mask first. This makes you a better friend, lover, parent, and employee
Have a book sitting by your favorite chair and read for a chunk of time and yes schedule it
4. BE “selfish” by putting yourself first and respecting yourself as you deserve and need to care for yourself. Challenge the thought “but they need me”. Maybe sometimes and not as much as you think.
Say NO! Is it too hard? It can be for many. I hear “I don’t want to be rude.” To say no is rude? What about how rude it is to yourself? Time is precious so spend it wisely. You can say no and still be a good friend, partner, parent, and employee.
e.g. “I’m sorry, we can’t come over to visit this weekend. We are busy.” Busy IS going to that yoga class or sitting in front of you TV. You are busy rejuvenating and respecting yourself. Do it without guilt. Taking time for yourself is not a behavior that justifies guilt as you didn’t do anything wrong.
e.g. “I totally want to help you with that project! I need to finish up this current one first. I’ll let you know as soon as I get it done.” Then stand true to your word. If both are required, ask your boss, which is more important then give the estimated and realistic deadline for both.
e.g. “You can go with your friend to the movies. I will drive you and your friend one way. You will need to find a ride to or from.”
e.g. “Sorry I can’t work that extra shift. I have plans.” No is okay. You might need the money and you’ll start to lose money of you don’t perform as usual because you are stressed.
Be mindful, if saying no is new, those around you will push back as they aren’t used to it. Stand strong and tall. You can train everyone you mean it and they will begin accepting your no.
Ask for help. Do you have judgments about this? That whole American way…we are humans, we are pack animals. We do things together. Like saying no, it just takes practice.
e.g. Be strategic. Reward your kids for doing a chore on the list. Let them fight over which chores they want to do. It’s good negotiation practice. 😉
e.g. Are you hosting yet another birthday party? Ugh! The house is a mess! Ask a good friend to help clean your kitchen. It’s more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen, it’s company for both of you, and takes less time! Then how about that cup of tea?
All of this is so essential because burnout is around the corner and serious. That is a topic for another email. First, let’s move toward avoiding it by managing stress.
Time to implement your plan to reduce stress:
Pick ONE goal to help target your stress.
Make it very doable so you have success quickly. Consider some of the ideas previously listed or identify your own.
Make a strategic plan to actually do it and stick to it for 2 months. Give it a solid effort. Be kind to yourself for slipups and make slipups not give ups. Get right back to your goal.
Observe how it changes you.
Here’s mine: I went hard core. My goal: Facebook vacation.
I deleted the facebook app right off my phone. It was a time sucker, well I made it one. It led to me disengaging from conversation when my husband drove. I went into my own world. After all, I was just sitting there, right. I noticed myself grabbing my phone when I had idle time When he commented, “What are you reading?” I replied with something like “an article on mindfulness” or something else. When he said “You could talk to me.” Whoa. Yep, I’m not doing nothing and just sitting there. So phone down and I talked. This is what led to my Facebook vacation.
What I observed:
I started getting more done and found I wasn’t as interested in what people ate or did. I didn’t need to see the picture of someone at whatever restaurant or the random vacation photo or latest rant. After a while, I didn’t find myself wondering.
I did miss reading mindfulness articles…I could always check on my computer. I didn’t. I don’t think I’ve become less intelligent.
I wasn’t wasting valuable time. I noticed I felt a bit less stressed.
I did jump on it once via my computer as I felt I ought to say thank-you to all the happy birthday comments. Isn’t that what we do? Who gets actual cards?
I did do it a month later and declared I had taken a Facebook vacation. Hopefully everyone “forgave me” for not writing the big “thank-you” within a day. Most likely it was long forgotten. I did spend a short amount of time scrolling and did a few “likes.” Then I was off and without setting an alarm!
I haven’t reinstalled it yet! I grab my phone less. I do research on things while my husband is driving using my phone. And it is based on what we are talking about not what I was interested. I stayed connected. “What was that campsite we went to last year?” And yes, I look it right up! “Let’s book it!”
I’m almost at two months and I think I’ll stick to it.
I hope this is helpful. Now go set your goal.