Stress can affect every aspect of your life, from your mood to how you physically feel, to your health and relationships. Taking steps to reduce stress is not only good for your mental and emotional health but it can improve your overall health. The first step in reducing your stress is taking a look at what’s causing you stress in your life.
“If we practice healthy strategies to identify and cope with our responses to stress, we will be more efficient and effective in coping with future stressors.”
Start with stressors that you can change, and then make that change. For example, maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed at work.
“So, if your work demands are piling up, they're becoming excessive, they're becoming a stress force on you, you might want to see if you could change your environment. Go to your boss and say ‘I'm really overloaded here. Is it possible that we could extend some deadlines for some things?’”
You can’t eliminate every stress in your life, so it’s important to learn techniques to help you better deal with them. The goal is to make your stressors less harmful to your mind and body. That starts with living a healthy lifestyle -- limiting your alcohol and not abusing drugs, including prescription medications – but also eating healthy and exercising. It’s a way of life for firefighter Zach Zimmer.
“I think, for us in the fire service, it’s especially important for us to eat well, too, because we have so many things working against us as far as our health goes.”
Zach is a leader on the peer fitness team at his fire department. Exercise keeps them healthy but also gives them an outlet for the stressful things they deal with every day on the job. Another way to relieve stress is by changing the way you think about your stressors and taking control of what they do to your mind and body. Mindfulness Meditation is one technique.
“It really is a technique that tries to help the client focus on the present moment. The here and now, so to speak, and trying to attend to that experience in a way that they’re not judging it but just letting it be their experience and observing it.”
In Mindfulness Meditation, you close your eyes and focus only on what’s happening around you. It could be the noises in the room - or something within your own body, like your heart beat or your breathing. Doing this allows you to stay connected with the present and not get caught up in thoughts about past or future stressors.
“What we call rumination, which is kind of looking back in the past and constantly stewing and thinking about how I got here and how all the bad events that kind of led up to my current experience.”
Mary Beth Schultz practices meditation and yoga to deal with her stress. She takes care of her elderly mother who suffers from Dementia, and she recently retired.
“It really helped me relax with things that might have bothered me in the past that I just, I’m able to just think about it a little bit more before I react.”
Visualization is another tool to help cope with stress and to help you relax. It involves thinking about and imagining positive thoughts or outcomes to whatever is causing your stress.
“Someone who’s playing a sport, someone who’s going to give a presentation at work. Visualize being successful in that. Imagery can be effective in, let’s say, helping you fall asleep and taking a break from stressors in your life. And it can be a very healthy break.”
There’s also what’s called Positive Self-Talk. When you encounter a stressor, you tell yourself positive things to get you through the situation.
“Liking yourself, being kinder to yourself, and less critical of yourself.”
Christopher Wojnar uses this tool at home and at work. Besides going to school, he’s an intensive care nurse working 2 jobs, so stressful situations are an everyday occurrence. Positive Self-Talk helps him deal with those.
“Telling myself that Chris you’ve been through this experience. You’ve been through worse experiences. You can make it through this. You’ve got this.”
Christopher combines the positive self-talk with exercise and healthy eating, it’s all part of his toolkit for coping with stress. If you feel you can’t control your stress and would like to learn more about self-care or relaxation techniques, talk to a mental health professional.