3 steps to manage stress
Kerry Wekelo, COO, Actualize Consulting
Stress is a non-negotiable part of life. Recently, though, in the midst of the pandemic, it seems especially unavoidable. Life had to be adjusted to match our new reality, which included many new problems for our employees, like taking on the role of teachers for their children and caretakers for sick family members on top of a full-time job. According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of adults in the U.S. believe the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. As a part of our annual September wellness program, I decided there was no better time to dedicate a week to combating stress – particularly, what to do when it strikes. The trick to overcoming stress comes in three parts: Accepting stress, identifying how you currently react to stress, and trying alternative, health-seeking behaviors to cope.
1. Accept Stress: We often think of stress as negative – which exorbitant amounts of it can be. But from a biological perspective, stress is important for survival. Our “fight or flight” response comes from the need to make quick decisions for life-threatening situations. While we hopefully never encounter a need to run from another mammal, this response does help us think on our toes and raises the stakes for us to do well on, say, a high-pressure work project. For this reason, we must accept stress for what it is; our body doing its job. We can simultaneously thank our sympathetic nervous system for doing its part and recognize that it isn’t beneficial to our overall health to worry about things we can’t control. I created a Mindful Minute Meditation as a tool for helping you accept what each day brings.
2. Identify Your Reaction to Stressful Situations: We all have existing coping mechanisms in place, whether we realize it or not! When the higher blood pressure hits, our body works hard and drains our immune system. Based on how our body and mood changes, we can easily pinpoint activities that may help ease anxiety. For example, do you become overexcited – angry, agitated, overly emotional? If so, do activities that quiet you down. If you become under excited – depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out, do things that are stimulating and energizing. Knowing this, are the habits you currently have beneficial in your times of panic? One of our team members mentioned they often snack when they are feeling overwhelmed, and has to make a conscious choice to focus on a coping mechanism that is more productive.
3. Find Alternative, Health-Seeking Solutions: There is no one-size fit all method to combatting stress – the best coping mechanism is the one that works best for you. Here are a few to try:
a. Breathing: Breathing is proven to lower blood pressure and relax your muscles. Paul Baram, Director of the Actualize UK office, has noted that his Apple Watch always pings him to take deep breaths and that he immediately feels relaxed once he follows the prompt. The great thing about breathing is that it is quick, easy, and effective, so often one deep breath will do the trick.
b. Journaling: Some on our team cited journaling as a practice that helps to get the jitters out – Maddie Yaskowski, Senior Consultant, notes, “when I write down my worries, I am able to shift the perspective and see that I am often making the stakes higher than they actually are.”
c. Getting Some Exercise: Stepping away from the task at hand to do some quick exercises will bring a fresh perspective and give you a wave of endorphins that encourage a state of overall wellbeing. Theresa Santoro, Actualize Director of Human Resources and Operations, often plays field hockey, one of her passions, in times of stress.
d. Avoiding Caffeine: Did you know high doses of caffeine are proven to induce anxiety, especially in individuals who already have anxiety disorders? Small doses are fine, but if you find yourself feeling anxious, caffeine might be the culprit.
How do you handle stress? Have you found a coping mechanism that works well for you?
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