You may have heard that stressed spelled backwards is desserts, but what does that really mean? Will eating a twinkie help you manage your kids better…should you eat ice cream right before a job interview… is there a way you can find time to have your cake and eat it too?
Before we can answer that question we need to define exactly what stress is. Simply put, stress is a bodily response to any change that occurs around you.
In many cases the change is a good thing (like buying a house or coming inside from a cold day) and your body makes the necessary adjustments to deal with the change. If the change is small you may not even notice these changes, but if it is significant you may feel your muscles getting tense, feel your heart pounding, get clammy hands or feel your stomach tighten.
Using this surge of energy to respond to the change and then letting your body relax is actually the way God planned it to be. It is this type of stress that helps you focus on an important goal and makes you very productive in coming up with a solution to a tough problem.
Using stress this way also leaves people with a real sense of accomplishment, especially when the task is done and you allow yourself to wind down. The problem comes though, of course, when there is more stress than you can handle and the chance to relax never comes.
When this state of constant stress happens, people begin to become anxious, worry and get ‘stressed-out’. As Americans, we also tend to push our bodies pretty hard. Trying to get all our work done on top of social and family commitments means that there is less time for our body to rest. As your body tries to stay healthy despite high levels of stress, you will probably begin to feel stress in one or more of the following ways.
- Physically: you may experience fatigue, headaches, neck and back pains, sleeping problems, loss of appetite, ulcers, cramps and diarrhea, colitis, high blood pressure, skin rashes, abnormal heart beat and even heart attacks, strokes and seizures.
- Emotionally: you may become depressed, irritable, moody, impatient, overly sensitive, anxious, or have trouble with memory and concentration.
- Behaviorally you may suffer from repetitive thoughts, compulsive eating, avoidance of work, and we may turn more often to alcohol, drugs and coffee.
Although these symptoms are not very pleasant, these warning signs are necessary for your body to warn you so that the stress you feel now won’t leave any permanent damage later. To insure this damage does not occur, several practical techniques have been developed to first help you reduce and then manage the stress in your life.
First, researchers agree that you must identify the major stressors in your life. Whether it is the everyday demands of work and home, major life changes or simply the accumulation of several minor annoyances and irritations, it is important to determine which are problem areas of stress for you. The following is an incomplete list of some of the most common stressors people face:
- Balancing multiple responsibilities (job, family, school, friends, etc.)
- Change in job situation (promotion, demotion or unemployment)
- Death or lengthy illness (either loved ones or self)
- Divorce or Separation (either parent or self)
- Financial instability
- Lack of sleep or adequate relaxation
- Life worries (death, meaning of life, etc.)
- Peer pressure
- Relational difficulties
- Substance abuse (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs etc.)
- Unfinished tasks
Secondly, you must begin to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Recognize that there are things that you cannot change. Try setting aside less critical tasks until later and/or giving yourself a short break to gain a better perspective. Take control of your life by not allowing yourself to take on new commitments (even if they seem attractive), and work to reduce or finish your existing commitments.
Next, it is time to develop better coping skills; changes in life will cause less stress if you can be prepared for them. When dealing with a stressful time it is very important to get a sufficient amount of sleep, to keep a balanced diet and to take time for exercise and quiet times. Many people also try to deal with the demands of life by themselves. If you find yourself stressed out, ask for help. Often times just talking with friends, family and others can lessen the load.
You can also change your response to a stressful situation. Sometimes we need to take the pressure off ourselves. Try leaving intentional downtime in your schedule next week and use the time to have some fun. Spend more time doing the things you enjoy, laugh more, indulge yourself with a bath ” or do nothing at all. Remember to live in the present. If you are the type of person that regrets past actions, work towards letting them go; the past is history. On the flip side, realize that worrying or fearing the future won’t change the outcome. Lastly, learn to relax. There are many good books that describe techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.