A work deadline is looming. Friends are coming for dinner and the house is a mess. You just remembered the school bake sale tomorrow for which you promised three dozen cookies! Everyone feels stressed on occasion. Juggling work, family, friends and a long list of extracurricular activities is a recipe for harried days and occasional bouts of anxiety.
But we know ongoing stress isn’t good for our health. The truth is, chronic stress can compromise your immune system, making you more prone to viral infections, such as the flu. And if you don’t keep it in check, strain on the body provoked by chronic stress can eventually lead to serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and depression, among other conditions.
If you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone. In the latest stress study from Statistics Canada, approximately 3.7 million working Canadians described their life on most days as “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful. The main sources of stress included work itself (62%), followed by financial concerns and a lack of time (each at 12%). Other stressors like family matters and personal issues made up the balance.
Fortunately, recognizing that your days are more stressful than you’d like is half the battle. Taking practical steps (like the ones that follow) to keep those frazzled moments to a minimum can help reduce your risk of developing long-term health issues. Getting a better handle on your stress can also mean a more productive and happier lifestyle overall
- Recognize your body’s cues that the stress is getting unmanageable. Having low energy and/or difficulty sleeping or feeling helpless or irritable could be your body’s response to ongoing stressors. Some people get headaches, digestive troubles or skin rashes when life’s stresses are overwhelming.
- Talk to your doctor or another health-care provider to see if there are any underlying conditions you should be treated for.
- Set realistic priorities and stick to them. Learn to say no to those tasks that will put you into overload and ask for help when your to-do list seems colossal. A prominently displayed family calendar or online planner that lists pertinent school events, medical appointments, etc., can help keep you organized and let you prepare for times when extra stress could be a factor. Enlist your spouse and children to divide and conquer household chores so the burden doesn’t fall solely on you.
- Think about ways to reduce stress in your workplace. Identify the major issues causing you anxiety and talk to your manager about developing strategies to cope. Are there other resources that could help with your workload? Are there processes that could be changed to improve workflow?
- Initiate a plan to get your finances in order if this is a source of ongoing stress. Make a budget—in writing—to get a clear view of your spending. There are literally hundreds of apps and tools online that can help you. If your budget shows you have more month than money, set about finding ways to cut your expenses. Get the family involved and make it fun. Divvy up the grocery list among your children and see who can find the biggest bargain. Suggest your tween start mowing lawns and shovelling snow in the neighbourhood for some extra spending money.
- Maintain a healthy diet. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, eating regular healthy meals may be an afterthought, but it’s an essential part of keeping your body properly fuelled to handle the tasks ahead. In addition to eating regular balanced meals, prepare healthy snacks that are ready when you need them. Some good options are fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, and a handful of almonds.
- Find time for exercise every day, even if it means walking or biking to do your errands. According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
- Schedule time for relaxing activities, such as a massage, a soothing bath, reading a novel by a favourite author, having a coffee with friends or doing a gentle yoga class.
- Stop worrying about the things you can’t change. Sort your worries into those you can do something about and those you can’t. Spend your energy thinking through and implementing ways to deal with those worries you can actually have an influence on.
- Try setting aside time every day for some breathing exercises to help you recoup. Find a quiet spot to sit or stand in a relaxed position. Breathe in deeply through your nose, count to five in your head and exhale through your mouth. Repeat five times.
Developing healthy stress-relieving habits can help you avoid burnout, stay healthier and be able to revel in those glorious life moments you may be too stressed to enjoy otherwise.