Stress is a fact of life. Environmental factors such as weather, noise and traffic can cause stress. Anything that demands our time and attention – our job, finances, family and kids, deadlines, even scheduling fun activities into our lives – can cause stress. And we have to deal with our own thoughts, how we interpret our lives, how we talk to ourselves. Critical and negative self-talk will add to our stress levels.
But not all stress is bad.
In fact, we need some stress to increase our performance. Some amount of stress can be energizing and motivating, helping you to perform at your very best. But too much stress can affect our bodies and our brains. Over time, too much stress has been associated with exhaustion, anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug misuse, migraines, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, stomach ailments and cancers. Stress can even prematurely age us.
The illustration below is called the stress-performance curve, based on research by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson. Their studies showed that increased stress led to better performance, but just up to a point. After that, performance decreased with additional stress.
The key for each of us is to find the balance in our lives so we don’t overload ourselves with stress. The challenge for each of us is to find the perfect balance for our lives.
Intentional self-care keeps stress at optimum levels.
Start by taking a few moments daily to check in on your stress level. Are you worrying about the past or future? Is your environment making you feel more stress? What’s on your to do list?
Then make a plan on what you can do today to address your stress. Review the nice relaxing things to do list below and pick one, pick two, pick what’s right for the stress you’re feeling right now. And if you have a stressful week ahead or have a hard time remembering to take a self-care break, make sure to put your time for a nice thing on your calendar and set a reminder.
Nice relaxing things to reduce stress
• Tune into your senses – feel the sunshine on your skin, listen to the wind, stare at a candle, smell the roses
• Exercise – walk, lift weights, jog, yoga, dance
• Get outdoors – the beach, the woods, a lake, a meadow or even your backyard or local park
• Listen to your favorite soothing music
• Laugh more
• Give yourself a compliment every day
• Take a hot shower or fragrant bath
• Get a massage, pedicure or manicure
• Set aside 20 minutes a day to do whatever you want … EVEN NOTHING
Avoid these to reduce your stress
• Critical self-talk & perfectionism
• Excessive drinking and/or using drugs
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Eating too much too little
• Watching too much television
• Too much Facebook, Instagram, other social media or messaging
• Withdrawing from social activities
• Taking your stress out on others
Adequate sleep is a huge stress buster!
Restful sleep is a must-do if you truly want to keep your stress from going into overdrive. Putting some good sleep habits (or good sleep hygiene) in place, can help you achieve better sleep on a every night basis.
• Aim to get 7—8 hours of sleep each night.
• Go to bed and get up about the same time every day. Don’t vary by more than one hour.
• Create a cozy, quiet, comfortable bedroom.
• Don't watch TV or work on your computer in bed.
• Exercise regularly. Getting tired during the day will make it easier to go to sleep at night—just like with your kids!
• Drink caffeinated drinks with caution.
• Avoid substances that interfere with sleep.
• If you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed.
• Avoid naps or only take short, 20-minute power naps
Unplug in the evenings to get and keep your mind focused on sleep
• Stop using electronics one hour before you go to bed.
• Keep your computer, laptop and/or tablet in a room other than your bedroom.
• Don’t charge your phones in the bedroom.
• Turn on your smart phone’s Do Not Disturb during your sleep hours. The feature allows you to block all incoming texts and calls, except those calls from your favorites. Make sure to set up a favorites list of family and friends who you’d want to reach you at any time in case of emergency.
Dr. Ronald J. De Vries, PhD is a Fully Licensed Psychologist working at the Pine Rest Kalamazoo Clinic. He completed his internship training at the Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center Outpatient Clinic approved by the American Psychological Association. Dr. DeVries earned his Bachelor in Psychology from Calvin College. He earned both his Master in Theology and his Doctoral in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.
He works with adults and adolescents. His primary areas of expertise include depression (mood disorders), anxiety disorders, relationship issues, grief and loss, forgiveness, shame and guilt, recovery issues related to substance abuse, and adoption/foster families.
This article reprinted with the permission of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.