Stress is common this time of year. We’re overbooked with work commitments as we are trying to finish the year strong. Our minds are racing with thoughts of what to get the kids, parents, nieces, nephews, neighbors, etc., for Christmas. Not to mention the travel schedule, baking, and cleaning that ensues. Phew! I’m stressed just thinking about it all.
Throughout the year, stressful situations arise and it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s what you need to meet that deadline or sharpen your concentration when working on a difficult task. Other times—when pushed too far beyond our comfort zone—it can start causing damage to our bodies and minds.
A key to your peace of mind is learning the signs and symptoms of stress:
- Memory problems
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negative
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Irritability or short temper
- Agitation, inability to relax
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sense of loneliness and isolation
- Depression or general unhappiness
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds
- Eating more or less
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Isolating yourself from others
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
- Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
When you start to notice multiple signs, you might want to try to reduce or eliminate some of the stressors that are causing the problem. Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of stress overload can also be caused by other psychological or medical problems. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see a doctor to help determine if your symptoms are stress-related.
Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships and support network, your life experiences, your emotional intelligence, and genetics.
- Your support network – The quality of your friendships and a strong social network (no, we’re not talking about Facebook), are huge factors in how you cope with stress. A group of supportive friends and family is key to relieving stress. Conversely, the more lonely and isolated you are, the more vulnerable you are to stress.
- Your exercise levels – A consistent exercise routine is a way to keep your stress level under control. When you are healthy physically, your mind is healthier and the more resilient you are against the symptoms of stress. Just 30 minutes a day will help burn off steam, as well as calories.
- Your diet. It may be called comfort food, but eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress. However, eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon), can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.
- Your sense of control – It may be easier to take stress in stride if you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges. If you feel like things are out of your control, you’re likely to have less tolerance for stress.
- Your attitude and outlook – Optimistic people are often better able to handle stress. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, and accept that change is a part of life.
- Your ability to deal with your emotions – If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or overwhelmed by a situation, then you will be more stressed out. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity and is a skill that can be learned at any age.
- Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect afterwards, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
- Your sleep cycle – Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. Keep your cool in stressful situations by getting a good night’s sleep. If you are having trouble falling to sleep, read our post from last week about getting a good night’s sleep.
Take the Quiz
- I have people I confide in when I’m feeling under pressure who make me feel better.
- I feel comfortable expressing how I feel when something is bothering me.
- In general, I feel in control of my life and confident in my ability to handle what comes my way.
- I find reasons to laugh and feel grateful, even when going through difficulties.
- No matter how busy I am, I make it a priority to sleep, exercise, and eat right.
- I’m able to calm myself down when I start to feel overwhelmed.
Each “yes” answer represents an important stress coping skill. Each “no” represents an area to work on to become more resilient.
So, this holiday season, keep it all in perspective and remember what’s important and what’s not worth your time stressing about. So, finish the year strong, and kick off 2016 with good habits to help your stress under control.