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, using 0, 1, 2, or 3, from lowest to highest.

Add up the numbers you’ve given to each item.

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.

Managing stress

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:

When you should do it:

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

Solving the Problem

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

At work

What about your satisfiers at home?

These could include:

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 Groenewald

Photo Credit: Lily Lvnatikk