Stress-Free New Year
Last year, our water heater died, then so did the microwave, refrigerator and, for a grand finale, the entire air conditioning system quit in August. Health issues constantly plagued our family, so much so that the physicians found it comical the “Pilczuk family was back again.”
The stress level was high all year, and that’s not even including work or hurricanes!
So many of us feel like we are in a constant state of stress, like life just won’t cut us a break. At times that feeling can really get us down. But there is a way to reduce your stress levels so that this year, life doesn’t feel so hard. There are three particular components to stress that contribute to how we internalize and handle difficult situations in life. Each is unique in its own right, but all influence the stress response to some degree.
A depleted body
People over-push themselves all the time. We skip breakfast, rush through lunch, sleep maybe five hours and continue on this path almost daily. When you operate this way, you are in a chronic state of depletion.
Think of your body like a car driving down I-95 at 70 mph. If your car has low tire pressure and hasn’t had an oil change in months, you are straining the car to perform at a level it’s physically not prepared to do. Your body is no different. Physical depletion (meaning dehydration, hunger, poor nutrition, chronic illness and lack of sleep) puts the body in a stressed state, which in turn puts the mind in a stress response. Then add life’s dose of daily stressors and it’s no wonder we feel irritable, frustrated and overwhelmed.
Stop operating in a state of depletion and start listening to your body. Your body talks to you all the time. It’s faint, but if you listen, you will start to notice that it usually tells you when something isn’t quite right. Our emotions are tightly connected to our physical state, so the next time you’re feeling cranky, worried or are suffering with brain fog, pay attention and go put some air in those tires!
Level of exposure
Another huge contributing factor to our stress levels is the frequency we are exposed to stressors. We can be exposed to an acute, intense stressor, such as being in a car accident, or we can be exposed to chronic stress from a bad marriage or serious health issue. Both can have strong influence on our mental health, but we tend to underestimate the power of chronic stressors and how they slowly break us down, both mentally and physically.
Stress happens, but try to pace yourself as to how many you take on at once. Don’t decide to change jobs AND dump your boyfriend in the same week. Dealing with a health issue? Ask a family member to step up and deal with the cable problem so you can get a break.
The real key to handling stress is what we tell ourselves when difficult things happen. If we greet the situation with dread, fear or worry, then up shoots the stress response. If, however, we tell ourselves that we can handle whatever comes our way and this stressor probably isn’t as bad as it seems at this moment, then we can get through anything.
I teach many workshops on performance, wellness and ergonomics, but the most requested topic is always stress. No one ever really teaches us how to deal with life when it gets hard, and advice like “be strong” or “toughen up” is actually the worst thing you can tell yourself when your mind and body are begging for a break.
Dealing with stress is like driving in winter weather: When it starts to ice and snow, go slow, give yourself additional space from the car in front of you and pack supplies in case you get stuck. Don’t be a knucklehead and plow through stress. Slow down, eat, sleep and give yourself enough time to brake between hurdles.
And when your water heater dies, find the humor in the fact that some stressed-out architect thought it was a good idea to put a 200-pound tank of water ... in your ceiling. January 14, 2018.