In addition to being my birthday, November 7th is also National Stress Awareness Day! Let’s talk more about stress management.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural response to a perceived threat. A threat can be literal and physical, like a bear, but can also be threats of, say, missing a deadline. It’s all a matter of perception. One person’s stress response may be very different from another person’s. And it all begins in a tiny portion of your brain called the hypothalamus.
First, the hypothalamus yells, “danger” or, if it’s my hypothalamus, probably a bad word. Next, this triggers the release of stress hormones from your adrenal glands. There are two main hormones involved with stress- adrenaline-which helps you to run from the bear- and cortisol- which helps your body focus energy on the perceived threat.
This stress presents itself differently in each person. Some people become irritable. Others develop be muscle tension. Ever wake up with jaw pain or told you grind your teeth at night? That may be stress.
Why am I stressed?
To begin, stress is a normal part of the human experience. For example, stay-at-home moms, business owners, lawyers, photographers, all experience stress in their day-to-day lives. Interestingly, your own stress response is developed through a combination of personal life experiences and genetics. The complex alarm system of your stress response also interacts with other parts of your brain. Stress is a motivating factor and can be very useful. Unfortunately, stress can also go beyond that and become a source of depression, anxiety, and burnout. Long term stress has also been linked to weight issues, sleep disturbance, and memory problems.
Now, the first step in stress management is to figure out what is stressing you out. I suggest creating a mood journal. Jot down notes about your activities and interactions, as well as potential “stress symptoms”- i.e., excess drinking, irritability, stiff neck, heartburn. Is it having too much on your plate? Is it interacting with a certain person throughout the week? Try to figure out what is draining you, and then we can tackle it!
Give me some stress management skills!
- Yoga breathing: 1) Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. 2) Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. 3) Hold your breath for a count of seven. 4) Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. 5) This is one breath.
- Aromatherapy. Grab your favorite essential oil or lotion that has a calming scent. Lavender, lemon, jasmine, and peppermint are all great choices.
- Clean, make lists and prioritize: Sometimes stress comes from disorganization. If I’m feeling stressed at work the first thing I do is organize my desk. The next thing I do is create a to-do list. What actually needs to get done today?
- Set boundaries: Remember your mood journal? If your mood journal has a running theme that when you interact with Wendy, the PTA president, you get stressed and drink a bottle of wine, that may be an indication that boundaries are needed. Can you let your partner handle the PTA? Can you scale back on your participation in PTA? Or, you can run against her in the next election. You’re allowed to set boundaries with people or activities that bring you stress.
- Listen to music.
- Move your body. This can be as simple as going for a walk or doing yoga. You don’t have to run a marathon.
- Get outside. Studies show that being outside and connecting with the earth can relieve stress.
- Pet something adorable.
- Get an awesome stress ball.
If you are hoping to manage your stress more successfully, give one of our clinicians a call.