Oh stress, my old friend

I’ve been thinking about stress lately.

There have been periods in my life when I have had a LOT of stress (like when my husband died and my last years of working at the hotel).  Over time I’ve learned strategies to cope with the stress in my life.  I’m better able to identify my sources of stress than I used to be.  Plus I’ve made choices (and had the freedom to make the choice) to remove certain sources of stress – or shall I say I’ve removed myself from them?

Stress is a funny thing.  It doesn’t necessarily ‘announce’ itself saying, “alert, alert, stress is here”.  Each of our bodies, minds, and souls respond to it differently and the response is not the same in every situation.  There are so many factors which can cause stress.  We live in a world of noise, and distractions, and busyness…and these things don’t help in the stress department either.

What have I learned about stress so far?

1. When living in a high stress situation over an extended period of time, I became somewhat acclimatized to the stress.  However, when the stress in my situation was finally significantly reduced, it took a very long time for my stress levels to come back down to ‘normal’.  Rest is important.

2. I can create my own stress.  If my expectations of others or a situation are not being met and I don’t stop to evaluate and adjust the expectations, I will experience stress.  Often, the expectations I have of myself are my greatest sources of stress.  Being kind to myself is important.

3. Sometimes I’m not aware I’m experiencing stress but it ‘bleeds out’ in my lack of patience and reactions to others.  At those times it is good for me to take a step back and try to identify the source of my stress.  For example, I was feeling sad and overwhelmed this week and realized I was stressed.  I’ve been fighting a cold for a while and been resting to combat it.  But that meant I wasn’t staying on top of the clutter which tends to creep into our house.  While clutter doesn’t really seem to bother the rest of my family, it is a source of stress for me.  When I figured out the clutter accumulating in our kitchen and living room was stressing me out, I was able to communicate this to my husband who very willingly helped me to de-clutter these areas.  I can say I am feeling much better today.  What a simple fix!  But if I didn’t take note of the ‘symptoms’ I might have missed this and still been in a state of stress.  Paying attention is important.

4. We can function in stressful circumstances for such a long time that they become ‘normal’ to us.  We don’t realize we are under as much stress as we are.  It was not until I stopped working at the hotel that I realized how stressed I really was AND the degree of impact that was making on the rest of my life.  As much as I tried very hard to maintain a work-life balance, the stresses of my work situation meant I had very little left of ‘me’ for my family and friends.  I might have only been putting in 40-45 hours a week but I didn’t have much physical, mental, or emotional energy left at the end of my day/week.  I realize sometimes people don’t have a choice regarding their circumstances but for the times when a person does have a choice, evaluating the ‘cost’ of remaining in the stressful situation is important.

5. There are things we can do to cope with stress and this will look different for each person.  Some things are universal, such as regular exercise and getting enough sleep.  Other things are individual.  I like hot baths, getting massages, listening to spa music, and going for walks outdoors.  Temperament and personality also play a part.  As an introvert, I need more time alone by myself to re-energize.  Extroverts might benefit from enjoying time with others.  Finding what de-stresses you and practicing this on a consistent basis is important.

6.  When I am stressed, EVERYTHING seems worse.  This might be more applicable to women because our brains connect everything to everything else in our minds.  But I know I am much more prone to ‘catastrophize’ when I am stressed than when I am not.  Reminding myself that “everything is going to be all right” is important.

Whiles stress can never be completely removed from our lives we can learn to recognize it, cope with it, and become more resilient to it.

What have you learned about stress?