Jason Malousek, PsyD, KCU Assistant Director of Clinical Training & Assistant Professor of Health Service Psychology, wrote this piece in recognition of Stress Awareness Month this April. Finding ways to manage stress in our everyday lives is essential since stress and its effects can so adversely impact our physical health. KCU thanks Dr. Malousek for his expertise and for helping to continue the KCU mission, to improve the well-being of the communities we serve.
Tips for Managing Stress
Stress, what is it?
Stress has become a “dirty” word in everyday conversation. This often leads us to neglect the utility of our stress response. Our body reacts to stress by helping us cope with fear or pain in healthy and adaptive ways—think about when you have successfully completed a grueling marathon or when you have given an important presentation. However, too much stress can leave us overwhelmed and permanently locked in a fight or flight response. Chronic stress can over-activate this response and our immune system making us more susceptible to mental and physical health problems. This type of stress can be attributed to any event (acute or chronic) that is unpredictable and seemingly out of our control to manage (e.g., finances, work, relationships, PANDEMICS!). With chronic triggering of our stress response, we have difficulty returning to a calmer state which impacts our cognitive functioning (e.g., attention, memory, emotions) in a negative fashion.
So what does it look like?
Physically, our heart, immune functioning, and hormone regulation can also be negatively impacted. So how do we know that we are stressed? The physical symptoms can be headaches, dizziness, muscle tension/pain, GI issues, and chest pain. Mentally, you may be experiencing difficulty concentrating, struggling to make decisions, feeling overwhelmed, constantly worried, fatigued, easily irritated, and being forgetful. Think of it as a kind of “brain fog.” Behaviorally, we need to watch out for anger outbursts, sleep difficulties, changes in appetite, avoidance, and an increase in drinking or smoking.
So what can you do?
Interacting with colleagues and loved ones is a start. If you find yourself avoiding people, engaging socially can often jump-start a mood and give you a chance to enjoy others. Being active can also help and that would include exercise (consult your doctor, of course). That feeling of being overwhelmed and lacking control? Find problems that you can manage and accept situations that may not have a solution that you can provide. The act of conquering even the simplest of problems can be empowering and lead to those “good feelings” we need to push through our day.
When you are not with your friends, colleagues, and families, find time to enjoy some “me-time.” We often neglect ourselves in the service of others and we shouldn’t forget to recharge ourselves in this way. Reconnect with a hobby or find ways to relax and unplug. Maybe put away the screen, grab a book, or just spend some time outside.
With regard to work, find new ways to challenge yourself and learn something new. Engage in a healthy balance of work/life scheduling while also finding ways to enjoy both. Volunteering can be another route to reduce stress while giving back to your community and/or your field. Finally, maintain a healthy schedule even when you don’t feel like it. Sleep, diet, exercise/activity, socializing, and health maintenance are daily requirements that are often neglected during stressful times and then exacerbate the impact.
- Stress is not all bad, until it is!
- Watch for warning signs that might indicate you are over-stressed.
- When stressed, make sure you are staying social, balanced, on schedule, and active.
Don’t let stress become your “dirty” word!