In the unpredictable (or predictably unpredictable) landscape of today’s society, stress management is no less than a necessity. Stress and anxiety can often play an outsized role in our lives, challenging our well-being and peace. Although stress is largely caused by external forces outside of our control, how we respond is key in protecting our peace and our sanity. The goal for this post is to help you explore a better understanding of stress, anxiety, and stress management strategies. You’ll also be introduced to the Holmes-Rahe Stressful Life Events Survey and learn how to assess your stress level. I end this post with an interesting look at the relationship between stress and addiction.
Stress vs. Anxiety: Know the Difference
Before we delve into stress management strategies, let’s make a distinction between stress and anxiety. Stress is usually a response to an external cause, such as meeting a tight deadline or managing a demanding situation. It typically subsides once the situation is resolved. However, when stress becomes frequent or intense and lasts for extended periods, it evolves into chronic stress. Chronic stress can severely impact physical and mental health, often leading to conditions like depression, heart disease, and obesity.
On the other hand, anxiety persists even in the absence of a direct stressor. It’s an internal response characterized by persistent worrying, fear, and uneasiness. It’s normal to feel both, but if you feel as though it’s starting to become unmanageable on your own or chronic, therapy is most beneficial.
Here we look at mindfulness and how it can help reduce stress. I typically get a lot of eye-rolls whenever I bring up mindfulness, but it’s truly a big help in so many areas of our lives. It does take practice and patience but ultimately mindfulness can give you a little safe-haven amid the turbulence of life’s stressors. It entails living in the present moment non-judgmentally, fostering peace and clarity. You can begin to practice mindfulness just by calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Just by doing that you are building awareness, which helps you identify and observe your reactions to stress. The more curious you are about your habit patterns, automatic thoughts, and triggers, the easier it will be to problem-solve. Below are some helpful links for you to check out.
Mindfulness exercises – Mayo Clinic: This resource provides a variety of mindfulness exercises involving breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind, helping to reduce stress.
How to Manage Stress with Mindfulness and Meditation – Mindful: This article from Mindful.org offers insights on managing stress through mindfulness and meditation. It also includes a guided meditation to train moment-to-moment awareness.
16 Effective Stress-Management Activities and Worksheets: PositivePsychology.com provides a range of stress-management activities and worksheets, including a free Mindfulness Exercises Pack.
Emotional Wellness Toolkit | National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH’s Emotional Wellness Toolkit offers resources on how emotional wellness can help handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.
Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress – APA: The American Psychological Association provides information on Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a therapeutic intervention that involves weekly group classes and daily mindfulness exercises to practice at home over an 8-week period.
Nurturing Relationships and Setting Boundaries
Healthy relationships provide immense support and love, but without clear boundaries they can be a source of stress. You don’t need to announce to your loved ones that you are trying to establish boundaries, but you can certainly be mindful about how you communicate your needs (ask for what you want) and learn when to say no.
Communicate Openly: Share your thoughts, feelings, and needs with those close to you. Encourage them to do the same. This forms a mutual understanding and respect.
Set Healthy Boundaries: Make clear what behavior you find acceptable and what you don’t. This protects your energy and wellbeing.
Expressive Writing: It helps you communicate more effectively and strengthens your relationships. Regularly write down your thoughts and feelings about your relationship experiences.
Assertive Communication: Be clear about your needs and wants. Learn to say no without feeling guilty.
Time Management: Implementing the Eisenhower Matrix
Time management is a vital skill to alleviate stress. One effective tool for this is the Eisenhower Matrix, a method of prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance. It consists of four quadrants:
Urgent and Important: Tasks that need immediate attention.
Important, but Not Urgent: Tasks that contribute to long-term goals and need to be scheduled.
Urgent, but Not Important: Tasks that can be delegated to someone else.
Neither Urgent Nor Important: Tasks that can be eliminated.
By categorizing your tasks this way, you can manage your time effectively and reduce unnecessary stress.
Evaluating Chronic Stress with the Holmes-Rahe Stressful Life Events Survey
The Holmes-Rahe Survey measures stress levels based on life events. It’s a valuable tool for identifying your risk of developing stress-related health problems, especially chronic stress. Regular self-evaluation is key to managing your stress levels effectively. https://www.stress.org/holmes-rahe-stress-inventory
Combating Physical Impact of Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can manifest physically, often in the form of headaches, stomach problems, or insomnia. We all know this, but the most helpful ways to counteract the physical impacts of stress are exercise, diet, and sleep.
Regular Exercise: Engage in physical activities you enjoy. It could be a brisk walk, yoga, or dancing. Regular exercise helps release endorphins, the body’s natural mood booster. You will never regret going to the gym.
Balanced Diet: Whatever your diet might look like, try to keep a balance and make sure to eat enough. Lack of food and proper nutrients will increase your emotional vulnerability as well as negatively impact how you’re feeling physically. A good diet will help enhance your mood and energy levels.
Adequate Sleep: Prioritize getting however much sleep your body needs, which is usually 7-9 hours. Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, anxiety, and increase our emotional vulnerability. Consider establishing a bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality. Also be aware if you’re staying awake to do the things you might not have time for in the day (sleep procrastination).
Embracing Recreation: The Importance of Self-Recreation and Rejuvenation
The term “recreation” really encapsulates the idea of re-creating oneself. While it might not be the etymological origin of the word, this interpretation inspires us to view recreation as a form of personal rejuvenation and revitalization. Prioritizing leisure time and hobbies isn’t just enjoyable—it’s crucial for our well-being.
Engaging regularly in recreational activities isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Treating these moments of personal time as equally important as your work tasks can have tremendous benefits. And here’s where it gets interesting: research suggests that hobbies aren’t merely an escape from stress, they’re a powerful antidote to it. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that employees who engaged in creative hobbies were more relaxed and happier, which in turn improved their job performance.
Additionally, regular engagement in leisure activities can have a spill-over effect, boosting your productivity even when you return to your work. Taking the time to “re-create” yourself through recreation, you’re not just enhancing your own life, you’re also boosting your productivity and stress management abilities. A little time for recreation goes a long way in building a more balanced, fulfilling life.
An Interesting Note on the Addictive Nature of Stress
Stress, often perceived as an unwelcome visitor, has a paradoxical nature that can lead to an addictive cycle. This might seem counterintuitive, but a closer look at the neuroscience behind stress reveals why this can be the case.
Research by Hans Selye, often referred to as the “father of stress research,” provides an early foundation for understanding the physiological response to stress. In his study, “A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents”, Selye observed that exposure to various stressors led to a typical syndrome in rats, characterized by a rapid decrease in the size of the thymus, spleen, lymph glands, and liver, among other symptoms. This response was independent of the nature of the stressor, suggesting that the body has a generalized response to stress.
Fast forward to more recent research, and we see a focus on the brain’s reward circuitry and its role in addiction. In the study “Addiction Becomes a Brain Disease”, Roy A. Wise highlights how addiction research has shifted towards understanding the neuroadaptations in the brain’s reward circuitry. These adaptations can change sensitivity to addictive substances and potentially explain the compulsive dimension of drug-seeking behavior in addicts.
Similarly, the study “Addiction, Dopamine, and the Molecular Mechanisms of Memory” by Joshua D. Berke and Steven E. Hyman discusses how addictive substances can engage molecular mechanisms normally involved in associative learning. This engagement can lead to altered gene expression and synaptic rearrangements, potentially contributing to the persistence of addiction.
So, how does this relate to stress? Stress can trigger the same reward circuitry in the brain, leading to a cycle where the brain seeks out the stressor because it has become associated with a reward. This can create a form of stress addiction, where individuals may unconsciously seek out stressful situations due to the brain’s learned association between stress and reward.
Remember, managing stress is an ongoing journey, and it’s okay to seek help if it becomes overwhelming. I hope this post is helpful! Contact me to learn more about personalized strategies to manage stress or if you have any questions.