According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (January 2015), stress and stress-related illnesses are on the rise. Stress is so commonplace in our fast-paced society that it seems like a way of life for many. Individuals, workplaces and society as a whole are paying a high price for unmanaged stress.
Stress can hit when we least expect it. It is the body’s instinctual response to real or perceived threats or changes, and it can be caused by positive life events (such as getting married) or negative situations (such as job loss). Either way, common reactions can include: tension and irritability, fear and worry about the future, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, sleep problems, headaches and muscle pain, stomach upset and others.
What can we do to manage stress and cope with pressure in healthy ways? Here are ten tips to reduce stress and live a happier and healthier life:
1. Ensure Regular Self-Care
Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. During times of high stress, your instinct might be to get away from self-care, yet that is exactly the time we need it the most. Ask yourself: what is one healthy thing I can do for myself today? Then do it!
2. Seek Support
Social support mitigates stress and can counter the instinct to isolate ourselves during times of stress. Talk with a trusted family member, colleague or friend. Seek the skilled support of a counsellor or life coach. Sometimes a little venting, perspective shifting, problem-solving and wholehearted listening can help soothe stress and worry away.
3. Make Time for Fun and Laughter
While stress is serious, we need to create space for moments of ease and fun. Laughter releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones into the body, helping to reduce levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Laughter is good medicine!
4. Take Time to Relax
The “relaxation response” is the opposite of the “stress response”. We need to take breaks, rest, breathe and simply be. We can’t go-go-go, push and push, and expect our minds and bodies to find a resting place. Our bodies know how to heal and replenish when we give them a chance. Balance matters – there is a time for action and a time for inaction. Both states matter to our overall emotional, physical and mental health.
5. Set Your Priorities
When we set our priorities, we figure out what is most important to us and align our choices with these priorities, we go a long way to reduce stress and being overwhelmed. Take stock of who you are and what is important to you. Determine what you can and can’t control and put your energy and resources into what you can control and influence. You can’t control time but you can control your priorities.
6. Avoid the “Busyness” Trap
Busyness today is like a badge of honour some people wear. Busyness does not define our worth as human beings. Start to take an inventory of where you are spending your time, energy and resources. Begin to replace busyness with meaningfulness.
7. Address Concerns
Identify your stressors and concerns, and deal with issues, clear things up, solve problems and make changes to actually eliminate or reduce stressors where possible. Yes, you can manage stress, but it is much better to figure out what is causing it (e.g.: the perpetual need to please, guilt, inability to say “No”, overscheduling, unrealistic workload, financial pressures, relationship issues, etc.) and then do something about those things.
8. Be Proactive
Taking a “head in the sand” or “If I ignore it maybe it will go away” approach to stress and being overwhelmed tends to perpetuate stress. Taking a proactive and solution-focussed approach is empowering and more likely to help you deal with whatever you might be facing. When we begin to take control of our lives and face challenges directly, we take steps to actively reduce stress and live and work in more healthy ways.
9. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a skill that anyone can learn. It is a way of training the mind to be fully present in the moment, which has been proven to reduce stress and stress-related symptoms. Mindfulness can help us cultivate feelings of calm and inner peace, which generates stress resilience from within.
10. Know Yourself
Self-awareness is an antidote to stress and burnout.
Remember, stress is not just an individual problem. We need to address stress at all levels: individually, in the workplace and in society. Less blame, more kindness and greater compassion with the self and others can help engage stress solutions both in our personal lives and in the workplace. This allows us to reduce the shame and stigma of stress and its symptoms, and positions us for positive stress reduction in our lives, families, workplaces and society. Stress management is everyone’s responsibility!
With these tips in mind, what is one action step you can take to reduce stress this month?