Read more about the author, Jodi Rubinstein, LICSW or call for an appointment: (206) 621-4045 .
As published in the Seattle Times
When you feel stressed, your body is giving you extra energy, allowing you to deal with a perceived challenge. Acknowledge the sensations in your body rather than avoid the signals.
For many people, the fall months are a time of transition, as schools are back in session and daily routines change. Meeting new classmates and teachers, taking on the challenge of new projects or a new job and adding more activities to what may already be a busy schedule can lead to an increased sense of pressure — or stress.
While the word “stress” often has negative connotations, do not immediately assume that because you feel stressed, something is wrong with you or your life, or that you are inadequate to the task at hand.
One way to think about stress is that it signals a physiological change in your body — your “fight or flight” response has been activated. An increase in heart rate and feelings of tension in your muscles are some of the sensations when you feel stressed.
Your body is giving you extra energy, allowing you to deal with a perceived challenge. Acknowledge the sensations in your body, slow down and tune in rather than avoid your body’s signals.
Here are some tools that may assist you in harnessing the energy of your stress response, as well as in relieving stress:
Take a breath (or a few)
Deliberately slowing your breathing for a minute or two calms your body a bit so that you can think more clearly and mindfully assess the situation at hand. Is this a situation that you can change or address in some way, or is it something that can’t be changed right now? Take a breath, pause and choose an effective response.
Use writing as a tool
Using calendars and “to-do” lists can relieve your brain of the pressure to remember everything. Writing can also be a way to sort out what is a priority and to break big tasks into smaller ones. Your brain tends to process information better through writing than thinking, so use writing to help assess what is triggering your stress and sketch out a plan for how to best address the challenge.
Talk to someone
Talking to a trusted friend, co-worker or family member about how you feel can increase your resilience. Often, you are not the only one experiencing a particular problem, and it can help to know that you are not alone.
Effecting positive change in a workplace or community can sometimes best be done in groups.
Connect with your values
If you are stressed, you likely care about something — remind yourself of what that something is! Do you want to be a supportive parent, get a good education or connect with people? Your body may be giving you some energy to meet this challenge; try to harness that energy rather than letting fear of the stress response lead to avoidance of meaningful and effective action.
Move your body
Regular exercise can help increase your body’s natural ability to manage stress. Even short bursts (such as taking the stairs) can make a difference over the course of the day. If you have health problems, consult with your doctor before you start a new exercise routine.
Sleep is necessary to think and function at your highest level. Getting a good night’s sleep will lead to a more effective use of time in the long run.
For some people and situations, stress levels can be too high to manage alone. If you are experiencing insomnia, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, persistent avoidance of certain situations or people, or two weeks or more of low mood or lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, talk with your doctor, who can refer you to a specialist to help manage your stress.
Other critical warning signs may include using alcohol or drugs (or exhibiting other addictive behaviors), having thoughts of suicide, or experiencing or acting on thoughts of harming yourself or others. These are all signs that you should get immediate professional help. Call the King County Crisis Line, which is available 24 hours a day: 866-427-4747.
Planning a strategy for dealing with a source of stress, seeking help from others and taking steps to overcome, accept or change the source of stress will build your resources for dealing with stressful situations. As you face new and existing challenges, coping with the stresses of daily life in an effective way can make a big difference.
Jodi Rubinstein, LICSW, is a psychotherapist at the Pacific Medical Center Beacon Hill clinic. To learn more or make an appointment, visit her webpage.