Alleviating Stress

Quiz time!

I know you are probably thinking, “What can one more quiz tell me about myself? Haven’t I already learned everything I could possibly need to know about myself from Facebook?” I’m confident you already know what breed of dog you are, what your Smurf name is, and what your spirit animal is…but indulge me and take a moment to answer the following questions:

  1. Do you ever feel like your plate is so full you just can’t possibly take on one more task, answer one more phone call or email, or deal with one more crisis?
  2. Have you lost sleep, changed your eating habits, or noticed a difference in your interactions with colleagues, family, or friends? Have they noticed a difference in you?
  3. Is your hair falling out?
  4. Are you always tired and maybe even a little irritable?
  5. Can a vegetarian eat an animal cracker?

Just kidding about the last question…however, it is an important question to ponder.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be stressed. I have never met you, but I would venture to guess that if you are reading this, you will answer yes to at least some of these questions at some point in your life. As with much of life, the real questions is how you respond.

So, what do you do? First, you should figure out just how stressed you are. There are many different types of stress. The two most common forms you will encounter are acute stress and chronic stress. For more information on other types, like burnout, vicarious traumatization, and toxic stress (hint: toxic stress isn’t something adults experience), please click the following link where you will find tip sheets with more detailed information on stress in its various forms:

Acute vs. Chronic Stress – How do you know what you are dealing with?

Acute stress is a brief stress response that doesn’t persist over time. For example, your heart rate and respiration increases in response to an impending car accident. Chronic stress is a longer-term stress response that can become so ingrained that a person may not realize their symptoms are related to a stress response. For example, a person loses interest in social activities and exhibits depressive symptoms as a result of their work as an elementary school teacher in a severely under resourced inner-city school where nearly all children are living in poverty and many have witnessed community, gang-related violence.

Basically, if you feel like you are living Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for a day or two, then you are probably dealing with acute stress. On the other hand, if you feel like Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad describes your entire life and has for the last several weeks, months, or years, then you are probably dealing with chronic stress.

Now that you know what kind of stress you are dealing with, what do you do about it?

Acute stress will typically resolve on its own once the stressful experience is over and your mind and body have a chance to return to baseline.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, may require action to mitigate. It could be as simple as taking a few days off work to recharge, or as drastic as making a job or career change. Perhaps you have taken on too many responsibilities and need to prioritize what matters most. Depending on the nature of the original stressor, some type of therapy may be in order. The bottom line is that chronic stress is, by definition, chronic and will not go away without some action on your part.

In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, do yourself a favor and do one thing this month to alleviate at least some of the stress in your life. Go for a walk, take a yoga class, reconnect with a friend over coffee or dinner, take a weekend getaway, try making sleep a priority. Treat yourself to some quality time with your significant other…or, if you are like me and don’t have a significant other, some quality time with a good book. I can also highly recommend changing your phone wallpaper or computer background to pictures of cute puppies. You can’t not smile if you are looking at cute puppies! If your stress level is chronic, have courage to make significant changes in your job or career. Consult trusted family and friends and seek professional counseling, if necessary.

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