Have you ever experienced that "vibrating" feeling while stuck in traffic? Or, perhaps panic at work when your boss asks you to do "one more thing" or moves up the deadline on a complicated project? Perhaps you’ve experienced anxiety when your children or spouse seem to be making unending demands on your time and energy?
If any of these sound familiar, do not despair – you are not alone! If you want to see the widespread impact of stress, visit your local shopping center and observe the faces of the fast-paced shoppers. Without a doubt, we all experience stress. Dr. Richard Earle from the Canadian Institute of Stress defines stress as “mobilized energy.” We all need stress to get things done. Think of all that you do in a day – if you didn’t have stress, you wouldn’t be able to do them.
But there is good news – we don’t have to feel “stressed out!” In this way, our focus will be on managing our stress rather than trying to eliminate it.
When you learn the factors which contribute to your stress level and a few methods of managing that stress, you increase the sense of control you have over circumstances in your life. You can also identify the factors which bring you satisfaction at work and at home and increase them!
So journey through this information knowing that there is hope, and give yourself permission to enjoy life in the midst of a busy schedule!
Take the stress test
How is your stress level? Answer the questions below to see just how many of the “stress” indicators apply to you.
How frequently have you had this feeling? Rate your frequency or experience in the past month? 0, 1, 2, or 3?
- Felt tense, nervous, anxious, or upset.
- Felt sad, depressed, down in the dumps, or hopeless.
- Felt low energy, exhausted, tired, or unable to get things done.
- Couldn’t turn my thoughts off long enough – at nights or on weekends – to feel relaxed and refreshed the next day.
- Found myself unable to sit still, and had to move around constantly.
- Was so upset that I felt I was losing control of my feelings.
- Have been preoccupied with a serious personal problem.
- Have been in unpleasant situations that I felt hopeless to do anything about.
- Felt tired in the morning, no energy to get up or face daily activities.
- Have had problems concentrating on things, or remembering names.
- Feel I could be doing a great deal more to take care of myself and keep healthy.
- Don’t feel I have much control over the events in my life.
- No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to accomplish what I want.
- Have been continually frustrated in my life by bad breaks and people not living up to my expectations.
- My standards are very high for my own activities.
- When something difficult or stressful is coming up, I find myself thinking about all the ways that things can go poorly for me.
- My life is empty and has no meaning.
- Often run into problems I can’t solve.
- Am not able to give what I would like to the people closest to me.
- Have not felt close to or accepted by the people around me, both family and friends.
Scroll back up the page and add up the numbers you’ve placed in each box.
If your total score is between 0 and 20, your stress level is relatively low. That does not mean you won’t feel the effects of stress, but beginning stress-management techniques now will go a long way to improving your sense of well-being.
If your total is between 20 and 40, your stress level is moderate. Taking steps to manage stress now will help to prevent serious physical, psychological, and emotional problems.
If your total is between 40 and 60, you are stressed out – keep reading!
Early warning signs of stress
My own stress level fluctuates with the diversity of demands placed on me at different times. I am active in my husband’s career, I go to school, I am raising two great (and active) children, I work part-time at my own career and I am involved in my children’s schools and at church.
My early warning signs of stress include being impatient with my children, being critical of my husband, and letting chores pile-up at home (laundry not done, groceries hitting an all-time low, dust bunnies accumulating on the floors and toothpaste leftovers in the sinks!). When I see these things starting to happen, it’s time to take account of my schedule and make sure my timetable reflects my priorities. Sometimes I have to cut back and take care of my responsibilities at home. Sometimes it means I have to increase my satisfiers.
To get to know yourself better, answer the following questions on “Personal Early Warning Signs of Stress.” This way, you will be able to recognize the things you need to pay attention to in order to manage your stress in a helpful way.
- What are your personal early warning signs that tell you that your stress level is getting higher than you’d like it to be?
- When you see these signs adding up, what do you do for yourself to reduce your stress level?
If we can’t make stress go away, we can learn to manage it and lessen its impact on our lives. The following are three key strategies for managing stress:
1. Powerful relaxation
Why does it work? You can’t feel emotionally “up tight” or stressed unless your muscles are “tight.” Long, slow breaths out send a message to your nervous system and muscles: it’s OK to become relaxed. As muscles relax, heart rate and systolic blood pressure decrease, as do stress hormones. Your emotions – your feelings of “stress” – begin to decrease, allowing further reductions in muscle tension, blood pressure, etc. Within minutes, you are as relaxed as in the 6th hour of sleep.
Here's how to try it:
- Breathe out slowly and lengthly several times.
- Focus on feelings of warmth.
- Focus on releasing feelings of heaviness.
When you should do it:
- during boring speeches
- before a difficult phone call
- after a frustrating day
2. Break the worry cycle
Most people worry about the same few things repeatedly. These items are like a nagging broken record, playing over and over again. To break the worry cycle, begin by identifying the situation causing you to worry and answer the following questions. Once you define the problem, you can then begin to solve the problem.
Defining the Problem
- The situation causing me worry (specifically) is: ________.
- When I really get worried about it, the bad/unpleasant things I imagine happening are:
Solving the Problem
- Can I change the situation? yes/no
- Will I change the situation? yes/no. If you answered “yes,” what change will you make to the situation?
- Being realistic, what is the worst likely effect on me if this situation does turn out badly?
- What is my plan for what I will do if the situation does turn out badly?
There are many causes of stress, but the most frequent cause is uncertainty. A study was conducted after WWII regarding the bombings in and around London, England. As a result of these bombings, the number of ulcers increased in London by 50%. Yet the number of ulcers in the area surrounding London increased by 500%. Why? The residents of London were being bombed on a regular basis; the residents in the area surrounding London were bombed less frequently, but with more irregularity and less predictability. The uncertainty of the bombings accounts for the 450% increase in ulcers. You have control over the situation because it is you who will determine if you will change the situation. All of us CAN change the situation, but we must decide if we WILL change the situation. In many situations we feel we cannot change the situation. It is more accurate to say that we can change the situation but decide not to for various reasons. It is important to note that it is you who are making the decision!
3. Increase your satisfiers
The "Vitality Quotient” is equal to the ratio of Satisfiers over Stress. Satisfiers are defined as those experiences which you KNOW (not just hope) will provide you feelings of satisfaction. Although you can manage your stress, you cannot eliminate stress. Therefore, you do yourself a great service by increasing your satisfiers both at work and at home.
Finding your satisfiers
- High pay
- Good benefits
- Feeling well informed about what’s going on
- A job that is not too easy
- Working for efficient managers
- Seeing the end result of my work
- A chance to think for myself rather than just carry out instructions
- Job security
- Working for people who listen if you have ideas about how to do things better
- Chance to develop skills
- Recognition for good work
- Interesting work
- Work with people who treat me with respect
What about your satisfiers at home? These could include:
- Going for a walk (a very good idea if you are stressed!)
- Bike riding,
- Watching T.V. or a movie,
- A hot bath,
- Woodworking, drawing, or painting (it can be just about anything).
Just remember, satisfiers that are healthy will do the most good. Satisfiers that are unhealthy (too much caffeine, alcohol, or smoking, for example) will increase your heart rate, will probably decrease the amount and quality of your sleep and may in fact contribute to increasing your stress level.
None of us can live stress free, but applying the above principles will help put you in control of your life and hopefully increase your vitality!
If you’ve scored highly on this test, you may want to connect with a free and confidential mentor. If you just need someone to talk to, we’re always here to listen!
© Canadian Institute of Stress, used with permission.
This article was written by: Andrea GroenewaldPhoto Credit: Lily Lvnatikk