Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, BCC
Too Much Going On
Stress occurs when the environment is giving us all we can handle. One more thing is going to be too much. It will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. In terms of energy, stress happens when we are expending more energy than we are taking in. When we work too many hours without resting; when we insist on getting just one more thing done before bedtime; or when we agree to take on tasks or activities that we will have to sacrifice our rest time to complete, a state of deficit occurs. If it is prolonged, our mental, emotional, and physical health are at risk. Some researchers believe that stress is at the root of all disease. Cancer is considered by many to be the ultimate stress disease.
Eustress vs. Distress
Positive Stress is called eustress. It occurs when the stressor is perceived positively by the stressed person. Imagine hearing on the same day that you just got a BIG promotion to your company’s London office and that your wife is pregnant, for the first time, with triplets. That’s eustress. Distress occurs when the stressors are perceived negatively by the stressed person. Perception is, of course, very important, and how we perceive things is a considerable factor in how stress affects us. Nevertheless, whether it is negative or positive, stress is stress. It takes energy to deal with it. We must build our energy. We must also reduce stress to the extent that we can and cultivate good coping skills for when we can’t.
The Balance of Energy: Energy Boosts
We should try to acquire at least as much energy as we expend. Only you can know what gives you energy. Is it exercise that relaxes you physically and enlivens you spiritually and emotionally? Gardening? Is it spending time with close friends and family? Meditation? Playing a musical instrument? Is it arts and crafts? Is it engaging in a favorite hobby? Do you take regularly scheduled vacations?
Could a favorite pastime become a liability? Could it take more energy than it gives? Is three hours of video games a brain drain? Is running nine miles a day too much? These are also things that must be taken into account. Balance is considered by many to be a primary factor in stress management.
The Balance of Energy: Energy Drains
What drains your energy, leaving you exhausted and unhappy? Here are some energy drains mentioned by my Clients:
- Toxic people
- Too much time at the computer
- Lack of exercise
- Too much alcohol or too many stimulants
- Junk food
- Lack of sleep or irregular sleeping patterns
- Work overload
- Ever-changing schedules
- Conflict in a family or in a workplace
- Listening to the news on TV
Ideas for Limiting Stress
Scheduling can actually improve your chances of getting enough “down time” if you remember to put it on your calendar. Once in an inpatient crisis unit, three young mothers were my patients. In a group about stress, all of them said that they were planning to take an exercise class when their youngest children went to kindergarten.
“Actually, when your children go to kindergarten, you will have even more to do, I told them, “driving them to and from school, bringing cookies to class, taking turns reading to the little ones, making costumes for the Thanksgiving play, coping with developing immune systems…” The time for stress management is now. Honor your commitment to health. Write it into your schedule.
Learning to say no is essential in the everyday busyness of modern life. There are so many things that we cannot avoid – the care and education of minor children, the jobs at which we work to support our families, the routine maintenance of a home, grocery shopping, doctor and dentist visits… The list goes on and on.
When there are extra demands made on your time, think it over. Who is asking you to do this? Do you really want to do more? Are you tempted to agree just to be “nice”? Think of what will happen if you become exhausted and ill. Feel free to tell them that you are overwhelmed. Feel free to say no.
If you are not sure about what you can eliminate, making a Values List can be useful. List your top five personal values, those that really matter in your life. If going to a benefit for someone else’s favorite cause is not on your list, think about skipping it.
The Importance of Diet
There are many versions of a healthful diet. You will not have to look far to find one that you like. Try to stay on it more days than you are off it. Don’t be obsessive, but be conscious of what you are eating. Your body uses what you eat to create energy. Give it what it needs. Hint: people with a more sedentary lifestyle do not need the same caloric intake as an athlete. Drink fewer soft drinks and less caffeine. Drink more herbal tea, juice, and water. Try to drink 64 ounces of fluids per day. Some researchers believe that a daily multiple vitamin is a good idea.
Limiting the Effects of Social Media
Some of my teenaged Clients are up all night texting one another or responding to text messages from friends. “I can’t go to bed because he keeps texting me,” they tell me. Although social media are extremely useful, we have to be able to turn them off. Turn off the cell phone. Turn the ringer off on land lines. Be incommunicado. Take a “time out”. Be very quiet. Listen to music. You can catch up to everything and everyone later. Ask children to give you their cell phones at 9:00 PM. They, too, need some peace and quiet.
When Hurricanes Don’t Matter
Stress management is not just something I am asking you to do. I have to practice it myself. Once, at the last of my computer career, I had worked a great deal of overtime on a big project. When it was done, I was scheduled for vacation at the beach. Although a hurricane was rapidly approaching the Florida Coast, nothing was going to stop me. Hundreds of cars were leaving the beach areas as I sped, unimpeded, to the home of close friends. We had an early dinner by ourselves in a restaurant as the sea and skies turned silver and then black. I went to bed immediately after dinner and slept through the howling winds and beating rain. I slept 13 hours. It was past time for a rest, and… I rested.
How Much Is Your Health Worth?
Imagine being the picture of good health, and then create that picture. When tempted to do too much, ask yourself the question – “How much is my health worth?” When I was a little girl, my mother would hold both of my hands and tell me, “Lane, health is the most important thing in life. If you have it, you don’t need anything else. If you lose it, you will have lost everything.” I think about that anytime someone is ill. Modern medicine is miraculous, it is true, but the best thing is not to get sick in the first place.
Laugh and Have Fun
Laughing and having fun are the best de-stressors. At the two inpatient Crisis Centers where I worked, it was those things that helped us go on no matter how frantic things got. There were times when our Clients were dangerously troubled and the stress level critically high. There were times when we could either laugh or we could cry. We tried to laugh whenever we could, and for that I was so grateful.