High levels of stress can be very dangerous, exacerbating existing health problems and even creating new ones. Most Americans report unhealthy stress levels, and 1 in 5 people qualify their stress levels as “extremely high.” Even though more than 60 percent of people report that they’ve tried to reduce their stress in the last five years, more than half, 53 percent, are still trying to meet that goal. In fact, being stressed has become just as American as apple pie – but just because it’s common doesn’t mean that it’s okay.
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In fact, stress has negative consequences on our lives. Seventy percent of people who are stressed experience physical effects, lower productivity at work, and negative disruptions to their family and social lives.
Learning to manage stress effectively could make a huge difference in the overall quality of a person’s life. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Remember, stressed is different than busy.
Just because you’re busy, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re stressed. Being busy is considered a stress factor; it’s how these tensions are processed and managed internally that causes stress. Therefore, learning to approach these factors differently could shift your response and change the impact stress has on your life.
2. Take care of yourself.
The problem comes when you put stress on the front burner and move your own personal needs to the back. How you internally process stress factors and convert them into either positive or negative energy largely depends on how you care for yourself. Overall health, fitness levels, nutritional status, and the amount of sleep and rest you get strongly influence how you handle stress.
So, take care of yourself when the pressure starts to make you feel run down. Make it a priority – knowing that, in the long run, reducing your stress will help your productivity levels and your relationships in a big way. It’s worth it. Take the time.
3. Reset the way you think about stress.
Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and author of the book The Upside of Stress says that stress can actually make people happier and stronger if they learn to think about it the right way and maybe even embrace it.
“Usually when we experience symptoms of stress, we view it as a problem and we try to suppress those symptoms,” she said. “The latest research shows that if we actually embrace the symptoms of stress, we can make them work toward our advantage. If you take a more positive view of stress, if you choose to see the upside, you can actually transform the effect it has on you. Stress is an opportunity to learn and grow.”
4. Exercise, meditate, and take breaks.
However common stress is today, it’s a part of life that’s been with us forever. It causes a flight or flight response internally that can be channeled for positive, or negative, effects. How we handle the stress, and how often it occurs, has a great deal to do with how easily we move through it. Reducing alcohol consumption during these times, getting some exercise, meditating or practicing other relaxation techniques, and taking some time to rest as needed, helps the body recover.
Especially in cases of extreme or prolonged stress, it’s important to find a network of support and get some help. Communicating with trusted friends, family members, and even co-workers about how you’re feeling offers you the social support you need to start to feel a little better. Feeling less alone in this could make a big difference. Use your social networks to help you pinpoint and understand your feelings and needs. Then, set limits. There is only so much you can comfortably manage and do, and that’s okay. Establishing boundaries that allow your health and well-being to be a priority is important. And, managing your stress effectively will have positive effects on your personal life and your career.
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