There is one very important component in living a healthy lifestyle that I have not mentioned so far and that is STRESS! Modern life can be very stressful. If exposed to extreme amounts of stress, it can be a killer. Some people are better at coping with it than others. A strong support structure can help you to cope with it. Some is unavoidable like a death in the family, taking tests for school or work and so on. Stress taken in manageable doses can actually make you stronger. Just like exercise will make your body stronger. There are many sources of stress in your life: work, finances, family, illness, physical and emotional abuse and death, just to name a few. A healthy body and core will help you deal with the normal stress you will experience. Remember take everything in moderation. That goes for eating, exercise, relaxation and even sex. Yes, there is a thing as too much sex.
How stressed you feel in different situations may depend on factors like:
- How comfortable you feel in certain types of situation
- What else you are going through at the time
- Your past experiences, and how these affect the way you feel about yourself
- The resources you have available to you, such as time and money
- The amount of support you have from other people
Some situations that don’t bother you at all might cause someone else a lot of stress. This is because we are all influenced by different experiences. We also have different levels of support and ways of coping.
Certain events might also make you feel stressed sometimes, but not every time.
For example, if you go shopping for food with enough time and money, you may not feel stressed. But you might feel stressed if you have lots of other things to do, have a tight budget, or need to buy food for a big event.
You may experience stress if you:
- Feel under lots of pressure
- Face big changes in your life
- Are worried about something
- Don’t have much or any control over the outcome of a situation
- Have responsibilities that you find overwhelming
- Don’t have enough work, activities or change in your life
- Experience discrimination, hate or abuse
- Are going through a period of uncertainty
Being prepared for periods of stress can make it easier to get through them. And knowing how to manage our wellbeing can help us recover after a stressful event. Some of us may refer to our ability to manage stress as our resilience.
There are things we can try to build our resilience against stress. But there are also factors that might make it harder to be resilient, such as experiencing discrimination or lacking support.
Some experiences that can make it more difficult include:
- Having a long-term physical health condition
- Having a mental health problem
- Experiencing discrimination and hate, including racism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia
- Living far away from family or friends, or having difficult relationships with them
- Experiencing loneliness
- Experiencing poverty and money worries, including debt or problems with benefits
- Living in an area with poor access to services like healthcare, public transport and green spaces
- Being a single parent
- Being a carer
- Having poor quality housing
- Lacking safety and protection, such as living in areas with poor policing
I want to bring up the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily. The last two years have bee particularly stressful for most of us. Our children in particular are being asked to deal with a lot more stress then they should be. Please remember this when you engage with your family. They need all the love and understanding that you can muster. Children do not have all the coping skills yet to deal with all this stress. That is why teen suicide rates are through the roof right now. We are losing a generation right as I write this book.
Poor health practices can start from very early in life. With the forced lock downs, children are not getting enough exercise, sunshine, fresh air and social interaction time in their lives. They are feeling isolated and are becoming depressed. Another thing that you need to remember, children are egocentric, they think everything revolves around them. This means that they blame themselves for everything. They need to know that they did not cause these problems.
Here are some signs of uncontrolled stress:
- Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up
- Over-burdened or overwhelmed
- Anxious, nervous or afraid
- Like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off
- Unable to enjoy yourself
- Uninterested in life
- Like you’ve lost your sense of humor
- A sense of dread
- Worried or tense
- Neglected or lonely
- Existing mental health problems getting worse
I am an ICU registered nurse, so the pandemic has been particularly stressful for me. I actually left acute medicine because I was getting burned out and I was exhibiting signs or suffering from PTSD. I have discussed this in depth in my previous book, “The Making and Life of a Registered Nurse in the Era of COVID-19,” so I won’t spend much time here discussing it. I changed my career path to reduce the stress. Now I am working in a Long Term Acute Care Facility or LTAC. The stress level is also quite a bit less. I also took off a couple of months of work to recharge my batteries, so to speak. I know that not everyone has the ability to make a career change or take of time from work. I was fortunate in that I had over 300 hours of PTO built up when I left my job, so I had enough money to get me through a couple of months being jobless.
For those that are experiencing stress at work and can’t quit, there are less extreme options for you. I have listed a few of them below:
Start Your Day off Right
After scrambling to get the kids fed and off to school, dodging traffic and combating road rage, and gulping down coffee in lieu of a healthy breakfast, many people arrive to work already stressed. This makes them more reactive to stress in the workplace.
You might be surprised by how affected by workplace stress you are when you have a stressful morning. When you start off the day with planning, good nutrition, and a positive attitude, you might find that the stress of your job rolls off your back more easily.
Be Clear on Requirements
A factor known to contribute to job burnout is unclear requirements for employees. If you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, or if the requirements for your role keep changing with little notice, you might become extremely stressed.
If you find yourself never knowing if what you are doing is enough, it may help to have a talk with your supervisor. You can take the time to go over expectations and discuss strategies for meeting them. This can relieve stress for both of you!
Stay Away From Conflict
Interpersonal conflict takes a toll on your physical and emotional health. Conflict among co-workers can be difficult to escape, so it’s a good idea to avoid conflict at work as much as you can. When possible, try to avoid people who don’t work well with others. If conflict finds you anyway, make sure you know how to handle it appropriately.
Even if you’re a naturally disorganized person, planning ahead to stay organized can greatly decrease your stress at work. Being organized with your time means less rushing in the morning to avoid being late as well as less hustling to get out at the end of the day.
Keeping yourself organized can also mean avoiding the negative effects of clutter, and being more efficient with your work.
Another surprising stressor at work is physical discomfort, often related to where you perform most of your daily tasks (such as your desk).
You might not notice you’re stressed if you’re sitting in an uncomfortable chair for just a few minutes, but if you practically live in that chair when you’re at work, you might have a sore back and be more reactive to stress because of it.
Even small things like office noise can be distracting and cause feelings of low-grade frustration. Do what you can to create a quiet, comfortable, and soothing workspace.
Multitasking was once heralded as a fantastic way to maximize one’s time and get more done in a day. However, people eventually began to realize that if they had a phone to their ear and were making calculations at the same time, their speed and accuracy (not to mention sanity) often suffered.
There is a certain “frazzled” feeling that comes from splitting your focus and it doesn’t work well for most people. Instead of multitasking to stay on top of your tasks, try another cognitive strategy like chunking.
Walk at Lunch
Many people feel the ill effects of leading a sedentary lifestyle. You can combat the physical and mental effects of work stress by getting some exercise on your lunch break.
If your schedule allows for it, you might try taking short exercise breaks throughout the day. This can help you blow off steam, lift your mood, and get into better shape.
Keep Perfectionism in Check
Being a high achiever might make you feel good about yourself and help you excel at work, but being a perfectionist can create problems for you (and those around you).
You might not be able to do everything perfectly, every time—especially in a busy, fast-paced job. A good strategy to avoid the perfectionism trap is always striving to just do your best and making time to congratulate yourself on your efforts. You may find that your results are better and you’ll be much less stressed at work.
Listen to Music on the Drive Home
Listening to music offers many benefits and can be an effective way to relieve stress before, during, and after work. Playing an uplifting song while you make breakfast can help you start the day off feeling better prepared to interact with the people in your life. Likewise, combating the stress of a long day with your favorite music on the drive home can help you wind down and feel less stressed when you get there.
mind.org.uk, “Stress.”; verywellmind.com, “9 Simple Ways to Deal With Stress at Work.” By Elizabeth Scott, PhD;