Every day you’re hustling. You run from work to homeschooling your kids, to volunteer work, to spin class, to the grocery store, and before you know it, the day has ended, you’re crashing in bed and sleeping just long enough so that you have sufficient energy to do it all again the next day. It’s not stress; it’s just the demands of everyday life, right?
Stress comes in a wide variety of formats—from the stress that results from highly traumatizing life experiences, such as war, the death of a loved one, being in a natural disaster or dangerous event, to the emotional stress that comes from unhealthy relationships to the pressure that builds after relentlessly grinding day after day to complete work and family responsibilities. This April, we recognize stress awareness month as a time to reflect on the short- and long-term detrimental health effects that stress can cause on the mind and body. Even more importantly, it is time to commit to identifying the causes of stress in your life and put a plan in place to make the lifestyle changes needed to minimize stress.
What Stress Can Do to Your Body
You may be a resilient, competent person. Still, it doesn’t mean that even if you are succeeding in work and family responsibilities despite a hectic schedule that you’re not putting your mind and body at risk of the adverse effects of stress. Stress can cause such mental and physical risk factors as:
- Overeating or undereating
- Muscle tension and pain
- Irrational bouts of anger
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Disinterest in hobbies or once loved activities or social withdrawal
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Spending less time exercising
- Difficulty sleeping
- Extreme fatigue and loss of mental clarity
- Feeling overwhelmed emotionally
- Change in sex drive
What to Do if You are Suffering from Too Much Stress
If you identify with the symptoms above, it may be time to talk to your doctor or a qualified mental health expert about managing your stress healthily. Also, embrace these coping strategies:
Identify Your Support Network
Make a mental list of the people you can turn to for help and support in your life. Consider individuals in every realm of your life, such as family, friends, co-workers, and your care team. The individuals that you identify should be people that you can reach out to not just for conversation but to help alleviate stress factors in your life. For example, which co-worker could you ask to share the burden of a long-term project? Is there a neighbor who could help you shuttle your kids to their athletic practices? Should you have a conversation with your partner about better distributing household chores?
Prioritize Your Sleep
Aim for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night—including weekends. With proper rest, you’ll feel rejuvenated every morning and can tackle your day with clarity and focus. Depending on what time you need to wake up every day, calculate what time you need to be asleep to catch your eight hours of ZZZs. Give yourself adequate time before lights out to start winding down. During this restful period, turn off all electronic devices, including your television, tablet, and smartphone. Their screens’ glows could be disrupting your ability to settle in and fall asleep at a reasonable time.
Recommit to Your Passions
One of the most effective ways to combat stress is to make time for activities that bring you joy and a sense of personal accomplishment. If you’re spending all of your days and nights on work or family responsibilities, you could put yourself at risk of burnout. It may feel like you’re neglecting your other obligations, but it’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Commit to enrolling in a yoga class, picking your guitar back up, tending to your garden regularly, or investing at least a few hours weekly to a hobby or passion.
If you are still struggling to cope with stress factors in your life after trying these three strategies, talk to your doctor. They can help you manage the factors and triggers in your life that are impacting your health.