Do you know anyone like this?
“Stress level: extreme. It's like she was a jar with the lid screwed on too tight, and inside the jar were pickles, angry pickles, and they were fermenting, and about to explode.” --Fiona Wood
It's a great visual. My brothers and I used to come home from school on hot, August afternoons when Mother was canning bread and butter pickles. They were angry pickles. The acrid odor of vinegar engulfed the entire kitchen and we'd sprint, eyes watering and throats tightening to keep from gagging, out the back door in pursuit of a breath of fresh air. The thought of being around a jar of fermented pickles ready to explode today is enough to send me running.
Imagine your stress-induced emotions as acetous pickle juice just waiting to explode from a pressure-filled jar. Maybe it's how you're feeling right now...as if you're on the brink of detonating into an eruption of anger, or find yourself jetting quickly toward an emotional melt-down. Prolonged stress can do that to the best of us. And while stress most likely won't be going away any time soon, we can learn to make choices which will help us better manage it.
The Negative Impacts of Stress
Stress is a normal part of everyday life, but if we don't learn to get a handle on it, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. Based upon results of a stress study done by the American Psychological Association, 66% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63% experience psychological symptoms. Because our natural stress response is not designed to be continually engaged, we must find ways to shut it off. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that prolonged stress disrupts the balance in the brain, throwing off the normal cadence of brain cell communication. (https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-stress-affects-mental-health/) A study done by Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that negative impact of stress could be likened to smoking more than five cigarettes a day! (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2250106/Stress-bad-heart-smoking-cigarettes-day.html).
"Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days." -- Kris Carr
Your Stress Triggers
Developing awareness around your stress triggers is a good place to start. Grab a journal, ask yourself these three questions, and note your responses:
- Which situations occur on a regular basis which cause you to feel stressed?
- Which people in your life could you name as sources of your stress?
- Which circumstances turn routine situations into stressful situations? (For example, do you feel more stressed when you haven't eaten, or when you've overeaten? How does sleep (and a lack of) affect your stress levels? When you let your worries run rampant, do you find you're feeling more stressed?, etc.).
If you can become aware of your triggers, there's a good chance that you can avoid escalations, shifting behaviors before they turn toxic.
What are you feeling?
Do you recognize what stress feels like in your body? Those who have strong stress management skills are able to detect rising stress before it reaches a dangerous level. Physically, you may experience headaches, fatigue, or shoulder pain. Other common symptoms are stomach aches, excessive sweating, back pain, and a racing heart. Behavior-wise, you may find you are taking a habit to an extreme, like overeating or excessive smoking. You may find you're short-tempered, grinding your teeth, or driving too fast. Emotionally, you may find you are bothered by unimportant issues, getting the cry-feeling more often, or feeling depressed and dejected. Cognitively, you may have trouble thinking clearly, or struggle to translate your thoughts into clear words. You may find it hard to concentrate or find yourself more forgetful than normal.
Learning to recognize how stress rears its ugly head in your body is something you want to tune into. Next time a stressful situation arises, take a moment to notice what you're feeling and write it down.
"Everyone has the ability to increase resilience to stress. It requires hard work and dedication, but over time, you can equip yourself to handle whatever life throws your way without adverse effects to your health. Training your brain to manage stress won't just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it." --Amy Morin
Stress Reduction Techniques
Though you may not be able to make the stressful situation or person go away, you can learn how to control your own responses. Here are some techniques you can try to reduce the feeling of stress. Which of these could you undertake, in the moments when stress arises?
- Practice gratitude.
- Take long, deep breaths.
- Get some extra zzzz's.
- Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.
- Rediscover your sense of humor and laugh.
- Listen to relaxing music.
- Spend some time in nature.
- Become a realistic optimist and focus on positive outcomes of the current situation.
- Have a good cry.
- Forgive...yourself and others.
- Eat healthy food and resist junk food/stress eating.
- Do something you find to be fun.
- Slow down.
- Practice boundaries (learn to say no when needed)
- Forgive others' poor behavior.
- Refuse to let irrational ideas and thoughts swim around in your head.
- Visualize yourself in a peaceful place.
- Pray or other spiritual practices.
- Quit procrastinating and tackle some items on your to-do list.
- Call a friend who is able to put you at ease.
- Fill in the blank (what works for you?) __________________________.
Create an Action Plan
Now that you're aware of your triggers, understand what you're feeling, and have a few techniques to use, it's time to create a plan. Grab a journal and write about these prompts:
1-The stress symptoms I need to notice and pay attention to are:
2-My current stress triggers, including both situations, people, and circumstances, are:
3-How do I currently deal with these stressors?
4-What's a better way I could respond to these stressors?
5-What is one technique I can incorporate to remind myself to engage in stress management, as I begin to recognize my symptoms?
6-When do I anticipate the next stressful situation to happen?
7-What will I do when it occurs?
If you're struggling with creating an action plan, consider teaming up with a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you.
I get it--changes are hard--but remember the jar of pickles. Who wants to be splattered by pungent negativity every time you lose control of your emotions? Sure, it's tough to adjust how we respond to the stresses of life, but well worth the effort to learn to open that lid slowly and carefully so can enjoy its contents.
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” --Steve Maraboli