Healthy Ways to Manage Stress in our Lives
This month’s column is about healthy strategies to manage the stress in our lives. No matter how organized our lives may appear or how together we come across to others, we all experience stress. Stress can be temporary, perhaps arising from preparing for a major presentation at work or getting ready for a family visit, or ongoing from having to take care of a sick or elderly family member, for example. In any event stress and anxiety in our lives are unavoidable.
Recently I have been experiencing more stress with my job. We are switching our library software which involves a considerable amount of data cleanup, a shortened timeline for acquisitions and cataloging, and a significant increase in training and meetings. What had been a stress-free, 40-hour-a-week job has turned into one that has led to many sleepless nights and my having to work almost every weekend for the last few months just to keep up with the increased workload. While I keep telling myself this stress isn’t going to last forever and things will eventually return to normal, I still have to manage and navigate the feelings of anxiety and unease. I have developed the following coping strategies that I hope you will find useful as you manage the stress you are experiencing in your own lives.
- Acknowledge and verbalize the stress you are experiencing: As a general rule, it is not a good idea to keep feelings inside as they will inevitably boil over, usually in an emotional outburst. Telling a friend or family member what you are feeling and how it is impacting your mental health is a good first step. Just saying the words “I’m feeling a lot of stress right now” releases those pent-up emotions and can provide insight for others to understand why you have recently been short with them or have not displayed your usual patience.
- Ask for help: While it may be uncomfortable for you, it is important to reach out to others for help. Some people may not know what you are going through but will be happy to help you in any way they can if you ask them. With my increased workload, I asked my husband to take over the grocery and errand shopping as well as do more chores around the house. This has taken a lot of pressure off me and has allowed him to help me – something he sincerely wants to do knowing what I am going through. While he can’t do my job, at least he can free up some time for me to finish work-related tasks.
- Accept help: When help is offered, accept it. When others do favors for us, we may not always like how they do something (e.g., load the dishwasher) or what they buy (e.g., random purchases from the grocery store) but accept their help graciously and gratefully. How many times have we heard someone tell us “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know”? This is the time to take them up on those offers. There is no harm in asking a helpful friend to bring a meal over to your house or watch your kids for a while. Again, people generally do want to help others but often do not know how. Giving them concrete things to do is a help to both of you.
- Let go of some of your expectations: If you are like me and have a type A/perfectionist personality, it can be difficult to accept something less than your exacting standards. I have had to accept that my cataloging records may not be as thorough as I would like and that projects I would like to complete have to be delayed. In times of stress and the limited amount of time to get things done, find a way to accept less-than- perfect results and know that it is not the end of the world if tasks are not done just how you would like them to be done.
- Maximize your time: See if there are ways you can get creative with the way you use your time. I used to get up at 5:00 am each weekday and walk two or three miles. Now, I use this walking time throughout the day, going for a 5-10 minute walk each hour to get outside and give my eyes a much-needed break from staring at a computer screen. I have found I am able to walk just as much, if not more, throughout the day rather than the miles I would walk on an early-morning jaunt in the darkness. Plus, skipping my 5 am walk has allowed me to get a much-needed extra hour of sleep.
- Journal your feelings: Writing down how you feel before you go to bed can help to articulate what is on your mind and will hopefully allow you to sleep better. I also have found making a quick to-do list of things to accomplish each day and prioritizing what is absolutely necessary and what is optional is another good strategy that helps me feel like I have more control over what at times can feel like an overwhelming life.
- More music and humor, less news: I have cut back on how much news I listen to during the day and have switched to listening to albums from my favorite singers or watching some of my favorite comedians or TV shows. Doing this has greatly improved my moods and energized me during the day. Find that funny TV show to watch before going to bed or watch some silly cat videos on YouTube – anything to put a smile on your face.
- Remember to breathe: Above all, remember that these increased feelings of stress generally do not last. We will never completely be without stress in our lives but finding strategies and coping mechanisms to help get through really difficult times helps make things more bearable. When and where possible, find times to do something each day that you enjoy, meditate if you are so inclined, and remember your BBUUC family is here if you need help.
Madeline Sims, Member of the HCT