I was about half way through writing this blog post about stress awareness when BAM! I locked my keys in the laundry room of my apartment and went into a full stress panic. How timely & fitting, as April is Stress Awareness Month!
Luckily my apartment door was still unlocked but I realized I can’t leave the building, can’t drive anywhere, and even if I did drive somewhere I wouldn’t be able to come back into the building. Not only am I in a quarantine and supposed to self-isolate, but now I don’t even have the option to leave and get essentials if I need them!
Someone walked by to help and their key couldn’t open the room either for some reason… cue the stress monster and negative self-talk leading me deeper into negativity.
“How am I going to get my keys?” “Why doesn’t the door open now?” “This makes me look so stupid.”
All of these thoughts happened within about 2 minutes time and then it hit me I can just call the building caretaker and submit a maintenance ticket to get my keys back and I will probably have them by the end of the night.
I started to laugh out loud (literally) and thought, how funny it is that I am trying to write a post about being aware of stress and normalizing feelings of stress but I still couldn’t pull my brain out of the panic.
So, what is stress awareness?
What’s the point to “be aware” of stress?
Does awareness eliminate the stress itself?
When does stress cause negative effects on the mind and body?
These are big questions! What are the answers?
In my initial attempt at writing this article, (prior to locking my keys in the laundry room) I had written: ‘our bodies were engineered to produce cortisol. dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine to help us be aware of abnormal situations.’
Despite writing and knowing this fact, I was still susceptible to a stress attack causing my pulse, body temperature, and breathing rates all to increase. These were not symptoms of COVID-19, but for a half of a second it still crossed my mind, what if they were?
After those immediate physiological responses I caught myself laughing! The laughter, I think, was my version of being aware that I was stressed and needed to come back to the “reality” of my situation.
In my opinion, this is where awareness makes a major difference – the more aware of our stress we can be, then the better we can regulate ourselves to our “normal.”
Ultimately, I think the main reason we need to be aware of our stress is to show us that it is normal to have stress in our lives. Stress makes us realize when a situation is “wrong” or “out of the ordinary” and we need to take a moment to notice it and potentially course correct.
Awareness tells us which elements in the situation are within our control.
In my story, all I could do was call for help; the negative self-talk about how dumb I was wouldn’t get my keys back any sooner. Stress awareness allows me to better prepare for the future, i.e. double check my pockets before the door closes. What I can’t do is be afraid to do laundry again because I might make a mistake and forget the keys again.
Without the stress of life we might not be able to make the “gut decisions” we all know and love (even when we ignore them).
So, with that, I welcome stress into my life knowing that I can manage what might come my way.
My awareness to its presence means I have an opportunity to eliminate the source of it.
Maybe I need to reevaluate my process, remove some negative stimulus, have a hard conversation, be honest with myself, or a million other things may need to happen.
What I do know is that I can sit comfortably knowing I am supposed to be stressed for at least a short amount of time and everything will return back to normal.
I will be reunited with my keys, soon enough.
When does Stress Become Damaging?
While stress is normal, and we can all expect to deal with some level of stress in daily life, it can be quite damaging. This is another reason why remaining self-aware is critical.
When we have chronic stress that we are not able to self-manage, while using the strategies & supports available to us, then stress becomes very dangerous.
It is at this point that it can impact our mental, emotional and physical wellness. There are a multitude of physical ailments and illnesses that can be attributed to stress. Some mental illness diagnoses are brought on by unmanaged, chronic stress.
Sometimes, when we are at this point, we are incapable of recognizing we are in over-load, or lack the ability to put together a self-care plan to work on managing the stress. At these times, having family or friends offer support, encouragment and resources is key. Getting professional guidance may prove beneficial.
What’s the trick? It is finding a balance. Proactively incorporating positive mindset and actionable strategies to manage our stress, rather than it having a chance at controlling us!
Did You Know This?
Minnesota is one of three states known as the “least stressed-out” based on a report by WalletHub, as stated by the The American Institute of Stress.
Yet, despite that label, and despite knowing how important self-awareness is to managing stress – the reality is that our country is experiencing a level of stress we have not seen in decades. Minnesota is not immune. I am sure you are not either.
COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Increase Stress Levels Across the United States
Dr. Richard Juman, TeamHealth National Director of Psychological Services authored a timely article about how COVID-19 has increased stress loads of Americans.
He addresses the added impact to healthcare workers and offers suggestions and resources to help manage these added challenges. TeamHealth
6 Methods to Manage Our Stress:
Certainly, this is an ideal opportunity to build in new routines that incorporate personal wellness practices.
1. Exercise offers significant benefits for reducing stress and promoting wellness – both physically and emotionally.
2. Adequate sleep and periods of rest help us cope with stressors, affect our hormones, and our immunity – all of which influence our stress. Aim for at least 7 hours or more!
3. Laugh! No, really! Laugh hard and often! And, when you are not laughing, mindfully smile, big and wide! Finding it hard to laugh during this crisis? Then create opportunities. Make time in your day to seek out comics, memes, a funny sitcom or laughter at the antics of your pet-your child – or your significant other!
4. Embrace the slower pace! Change your mindset from “going stir-crazy” during the quarantine, to one of opportunity. Look at your yard, or the little pockets within your home to de-clutter, organize & create more space. These can also reduce stress!
5. Structured Relaxation. What does this look like? Block off time in your day, ideally the same time every day, to create a routine. What can you do? Maybe write in a gratitude journal, exercise, breathe deeply and meditate, engage in a favored hobby, read a book, start a family routine of playing cards, building puzzles, or playing board games. The best ideas are unique to you!
6. Revel in your senses! What type of music fills your soul? We are all different – while classical music may restore your spouse – you may prefer to rock out, or dance to some country swing. Whatever fills you up – engage & enjoy!
Have you experienced the joy of diffusing essential oils, or creating roll-on, sprays, bath salts or sugar-scubs? Combine the power of scent with touch! Therapeutic massages (a neck or shoulder rub by a loved one during this quarantine), or inviting your child to brush your hair, or a foot soak and rub can shed layers of tension.
Let’s not forget art! Focus your eyes on some gorgeous artwork, or better yet, create your own! Now would be a great time to try some of those craft projects you clipped on Pinterest!
Although stress can make many of us grab unhealthy munchies and sweets for comfort – instead, mindfully choose a red, juicy & luscious strawberry & savor the flavor it offers, or be conscious of the sastisfaction that a bright orange, crunchy carrot provides.
Resources to Support Stress Management
Thomas Allen employees are encouraged to visit our Employee News page. There are several resources available, including our Employee Assistance Program. Additionally, there are links to resources for personal and family wellness, and supports for navigating these unprecedented COVID-19 challenges.
Another resource is a book written by a psychiatrist with over 20 years of clinical experience who sought a solution for her patients. Dr. Rozina Lakhani wrote Stress to Joy: Your Toolkit to Restore Peace of Mind in Minutes.
Perhaps you prefer using technology to support managing stress? There are a wealth of varied apps available to support mindfulness, reduction of anxiety and stress, and a plethora of other mental wellness goals. This article from PSYCOM lists the Top 25 Mental Health Apps for 2020.
The awareness of stress in our lives, how we respond to that stress, and whether we embrace & manage it – or we allow it to control us is crucial for personal wellness and thriving in these challenging times. If you are feeling over-stressed, we encourage you to reach out to loved ones and to community resources for support.
We would love to hear how you are managing the recent stressors from this pandemic and the challenges it is bringing. We welcome your comments, as well as feedback whether you resonated with Jennifer’s story. I bet a few of us have lost our keys or been locked out a time or two also!
This article was co-written by Jennifer Fisher, LGSW|Program Manager/Care Coordinator and Diane Kubes, Marketing Director. Jennifer offers us the more humorous personal story & the value of remaining self-aware. Diane provides resources and actionable steps to manage stress, instead of it controlling us.
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