Each week of our 4 Weeks to Calm program will have a theme. We’ll introduce some ideas, point you to some resources, and then help you set a goal for the week.
This week’s theme is Recognizing and Reframing Stress. You’ll discover what stress looks like for you, what causes it, and initial steps on how to manage it.
Stress is unavoidable in our daily lives, but how we react to it is key. Learning to manage stress in a healthy way supports the immune system, reduces blood pressure, and helps us better prepare for life ahead. Since you can’t eliminate all your stressors, it’s important to find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life.
Dealing with chronic stress can have noticeable impacts on the mind and body. You may notice that when you’re stressed, you’re more forgetful or irritable. Long-term stress can actually change your brain, making the areas associated with “fight or flight” stronger, while making the areas associated with complex tasks weaker. Continued worry and focus on stress promotes inflammation and reduces immune function, which leaves you more susceptible to illness.
These days stress is everywhere. With the 24-hour news cycle and the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, many of us are dealing with stressors all day without even knowing it.
By bringing more mindfulness to our everyday lives, we are better prepared to notice our personal reaction to stress. While we can’t control the situations that may stress us out, if we can notice our reaction, we can take action. Awareness is the first step towards a life less impacted by stress!
So, what does your stress reaction look like? You may notice that when you’re stressed, you’re more forgetful or irritable. You might react more emotionally to things than you normally do. Or stress might show up as poor sleep, headaches, or stomach upset. When you recognize these stress indicators, you can take a step back and utilize some of the tools we will be discussing to bring yourself back to zen.
“Reframing” is the practice of changing the way you view situations that stress you, which changes how you experience them. If you’re feeling stressed, instead of dwelling on how it negatively affects you, try to look at both the stressful event and your stress response in a positive light. This exercise protects you from the negative health consequences stress can have.
For example, let’s look at a common stressful event – being stuck in traffic. You can view this negatively by thinking about how you’re going to be late for something or how much you hate sitting in your car. Or you can view it positively, by thinking about how you have some time to yourself to listen to music or an audiobook.
Let’s look at another example that involves the stress response. When you are interviewing for a job you really want, you may feel a great deal of pressure. You may begin to feel the “fight or flight” stress response such as a pounding heart, feeling antsy, or sweating. You can view this negatively by thinking this response means you can’t handle the pressure. Or you can view it positively, by thinking about how that increase in heart rate and nervous energy means your body is priming itself for action and focus, and channel that energy into your interview.
In both examples, nothing has changed about the stressors, but they become positive experiences instead of negative ones by reframing.
There are lots of strategies to explore for stress management. To get the most out of any technique, the key is continued practice. No matter which tip you want to try out, try to do it consistently (at least three times a week) for a few weeks to see if you notice a benefit. If you think you will forget or struggle to find the time, set this time up in your calendar as an appointment with yourself that you need to keep. We’ll also help you set a goal for this week so you can stay motivated and accountable, and work through any challenges that come up.
Meditation is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment, and has been found to reduce stress and support healthy immune function. If you feel like your mind wanders too much when you try, check out our guided meditation.
Journaling is helpful for exploring feelings and situations. Writing things down lets you identify feelings and patterns in your life. Journaling may also help you organize your thoughts more clearly rather than letting them lead you into a worry spiral. If you like the idea of journaling but not sure how to start, make a gratitude journal. Start by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for that day. Then start writing about why and anything else that comes to mind.
Self-care is the act of carving out time to protect and preserve your own mental and physical health. If you’re not really sure what counts as self-care, it can be as simple as taking a walk or reading a chapter of a book, or something more involved like painting. If you find yourself in constant caregiver mode, remember – “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” If you need to schedule some alone time to recharge, it’s important to do so. Self-care can also be saying “no.” If someone asks you to volunteer to run something but you know this is only going to add your stress load, it’s okay to say “no” to keep your stress level more manageable.
on June 30, 2020. Julie is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a certified Diabetes Prevention Program coach.