W e all experience stress in our lives, but too many of us continue living with it without trying to find ways to reduce our stress levels. We push it aside, bottle it up and, eventually, fall victim to its ugly consequences. Of course, not all stress is bad. It can keep us striving to reach new goals and make our lives worthwhile, and even exciting. But when stress compromises your emotions and health, it’s time to hit the brakes and plot out a new course.
Follow these step-by-step directions for navigating those every day bumps in the road, getting rid of unnecessary sources of anxiety so you can develop a healthier way of coping with the stress you cannot avoid. Start with these strategies and build on them, week after week, by setting new goals, learning to cope and making lasting changes.
Identify Your Triggers
Ask yourself this question: What health-related effects of stress have you already noticed in your life? If you haven’t considered the harmful effects that stress can have on your mind and body — or you’ve
chosen to ignore them, you are overlooking a major threat to your well-being. Take a long and honest look at the potential consequences that unrelenting, unaddressed anxiety can cause and realize that you need to make a change before it’s too late. Here are a few ways stress can affect your health:
• Lack of sleep
• Weakened immune system
• Self-fulfilling pessimism
• Gastrointestinal issues
• Weight gain
• Feeling burned out
Define Your Biggest Stressors
We can’t tell you what your individual sources of stress are — but we can guess that at least some of them fall into a larger category of universal problems: money, relationships, work-life balance, health (yours and your loved ones) and time-management issues. Here is a list of common stress triggers that may pro- vide insight into your situation.
- Financial stress
- A job that never ends or that you don’t like
- Constant caregiving to a parent, child or a sick spouse
- Taking on too much
- Not enough quality time
- Striving to be perfect
- Disorganized clutter
Find Healthy Solutions
Now that you’ve identified your stress triggers, it’s time to figure out ways to eliminate whatever sources of stress you can — and learn healthy ways to cope with those you cannot.
Find the Right Work Balance
Assess the amount of work you take home (and the amount of non-work-related issues you deal with on the job) and decide what boundaries to set in place. How much work will you allow yourself to do outside of the office? What times or places are strictly off-limits?
When setting these goals, consider what you can realistically handle and, if needed, discuss them with your boss, your co-workers, and your family and friends. In a society in which we’re all just a phone call or an email away, it’s important that everyone understands what rules you’ve put in place and what sacrifices you’re willing to make.
Learn to Be Imperfect
Can’t sleep when there’s laundry to be folded?
Can’t enjoy a good book when you have bills to pay?
Does the thought of making a mistake give you heart palpitations? Here’s the thing, though: While the right dose of perfection can boost your satisfaction, too much can be paralyzing. There’s a difference, after all, between holding yourself to a high standard and holding yourself to an unattainable one.
Instead of focusing on everything that could go wrong, free yourself from the unrealistic expectations that you have set for yourself and move your life forward — one healthy achievement at a time.
Manage Financial Stress
Think about your relationship with money. Chances are it’s causing you some type of stress, whether it’s worries about making payments on time, anxiety about long-term savings or apprehension about the way in which you are spending.
Oftentimes, our concerns about money stem from a lack of control. Setting aside even an hour a week to take a closer look at your financial situation can help you make necessary adjustments and put your mind at ease.
De-Clutter Your Life
If you feel like your life isn’t going in the right direction, you may need to clear through all of the clutter that’s blocking your path. Yes, we’re talking about the physical stuff on your desk and in your closet — but also the emotions attached to them.
What unnecessary sources of stress, physical and emotional, are weighing you down? How can you “clean house” and resolve these problems? When done right, a room-by-room sweep may work won- ders for your home and your peace of mind.
It’s tough enough when you yourself are under the weather, but if you’re the caregiver to a parent, a child or a sick spouse, you have even more to worry about.
Sharing the load doesn’t have to mean throw-
ing up your hands and admitting defeat. It means figuring out what needs to get done and delegating a few specific tasks, such as driving a loved one to the dentist, picking up a bag of groceries or maybe just providing some company. People often want to offer practical help, especially when they know how much you need the support. It’s usually less of a burden on others than you think.
Taking on Too Much
There are lots of reasons that we struggle with saying “no” to people, even when we’re already over- loaded or it is against our best interests to give them a hand. Some people feel bound by obligation, or by fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Others believe they really can do it all and hate to pass up the op- portunity to try.
Before you can even think about getting good at saying “no,” get clear on what to say “yes” to in life. If you want to spend more time with your family, it means you will have to cut back on obligations that keep you away from home. If you want to say “yes” to better health, you’ll need to say “no” to late nights at work that keep you away from exercising. The firmer your foundation and connection to your yes, the less difficult it will be to say no. After all, you’ll be answering to a higher cause.
Reflect and Push Forward
Now is the time to stop and re-examine what you’ve learned so far: Have you identified your stress triggers? The things you tend to worry about? The aspects of your life where you’re trying a bit too hard to be perfect?
Once you’ve come to grips with your most pressing stress issues (Congratulations! That’s half the battle!), move on and start setting goals that you’ll need to wave them good-bye. HH
Valerie Takahashi is director of business development for Ho‘okele Care at Home.