Oh. My. Goodness. Big news. I have a new favorite holiday, and I feel very disappointed that I have endured 25 years on this Earth without celebrating it.
Jonathan Van Ness has taught me, by way of Instagram story, that today is International Self-Care Day. Halle-freaking-lujah. Enter this date as a recurring Event in your calendars, folks.
Self-care is critical. It keeps us healthy, happy, and productive across all avenues of our lives. Without serving yourself, you cannot serve others. For me, self-care often means finding ways to manage my stress and chronic anxiety. There are a thousand-and-one ways that I practice self-care, but today I would like to examine stress management.
Stress is a natural response that our bodies enact in order to initiate our flight or fight response in the face of an emergency situation. This causes our blood pressure to rise, muscles to tense, etc. In these moments, your body is making survival a number one priority. This would be a very useful thing if you were to be face-to-face with a predator in the wild. But if you’re stressed about a deadline at work, an emotional situation in your personal life, or the balance in your bank account, neither a flight or fight response is apt to be very helpful. In fact, at that point, it is probably causing you much more harm than good. These responses are hard on the body. Stress responses weren’t meant to be maintained for long periods of time, like we are prone to in today’s world. This is why self-care and stress management are non-optional components of our lives.
I recommend you pause reading to apply a face mask.
Welcome back. It’s an interesting fact that although all people experience stress, women may be more likely to experience ongoing stress. Who can relate?
Chronic stress can take a massive toll on our mental and physical health. It increases our likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety. We may experience apathy, lower confidence, appetite changes, memory problems, substance dependence, insomnia, or a suffering libido. It increases our likelihood of heart disease, and contributes to weight gain and aches & pains. This is really just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m already sold on stress management. Are you?
Step 1. Identify what your stressors are. Literally, right now. You’ve got a face mask on, so I know you’re not trying to leave the house. Take out a pen and paper, and make a list of all of the things in your life–personal, professional, and everything in between–that could be stressors for you. Big and small. Some stressors may be external–things that happen to you, while some are internal–things that come from within. Internal stressors are feelings, thoughts, fears, uncertainties, or beliefs that cause you stress.
Remember to breathe while you make your list.
Now you will be able to identify your stressors. We cannot eliminate stress, but by properly identifying it we will be able to manage it. Step 2. Understand your personal stress reactions. How do you naturally respond to stress? Some common responses to stress that will not help you manage your stress include substance abuse, expecting rescue (without asking for help), or acting out against others. In doing this exercise, I’ve realized that I act out against others. When I feel stressed, it presents itself negatively in my marriage. I take it out on the person who loves me the most, which only makes the problem worse. The thing that makes it difficult to overcome and prevent this personal response is that stress is sneaky. It is quiet. It likes to start small and build upon itself. It has this way of sneaking into your life in a manner that feels normal, building and building unnoticed until you suddenly realize you are reaching the end of a rope. Stress reactions are normal reactions to abnormal events, but it is important to recognize them early, before they compound and become a chronic problem. Know your limits; we each have a different ability to tolerate stress. A strong support network, high emotional intelligence, and positive outlook can increase your ability to tolerate stress. Instead of waiting for someone to swoop in and save you, communicate with those closest to you. Be honest and vulnerable; nobody will know how to help you unless you tell them. Do not take your stress out on those around you; make an effort to be self-aware and notice that you are reacting to stress so that you may manage it without acting out negatively towards your peers and loved ones. Focus your energy on recognizing stress and taking steps to feel better. Take massive action to learn and practice emotional intelligence. Make it a goal to gain control over your emotions. Identifying stressors and understanding your stress reactions will certainly help you be better prepared to recognize when stress is rearing its ugly head in your life.
Step 3. Control what you can. Accept what you cannot. Take a look at the list of stressors you made in Step 1. How many of them could be prevented? Put stars next to each item on the list that you may have control over. Make it a personal goal to take back this control. You may also keep a stress journal! Write down the things that stress you out each day. Then you may look back to see trends and patterns. This will allow you to identify things you can do to prevent those stressors in the future or to better prepare yourself to react to them. Recognize, of course, that you only have control over your own actions; accept that not all stressors can be prevented. I recommend surrounding yourself with positive people. We don’t always have control over our environment, and we never have control over the actions of others, but we always have control over who we choose to spend our time with.
Additionally, it is important to remember that just because a situation is similar to a past event does not mean it will have the same outcome as your previous experience. The goal is to learn from your experiences but not to create self-fulfilling prophecies. Making changes will take time, with lots of small victories and mistakes along the way. Be patient!
Step 4. Practice stress management techniques. Now that you know what to look out for to recognize and manage your stress, you can get into the fun part. This is where self-care comes into play! The goal of a stress management technique is to learn how to relax. These suggestions are great in-the-moment approaches to control your response.
You might be a rockstar at this, easily able to slip into a meditative state. If you’re a relaxation rockstar, I applaud you. If this is more difficult for you, you may want to try guided meditation and need to rely more upon visualization.
Another stress management technique is to simply take a 30-second attitude break. Pause for thirty seconds to think about something in your world that makes you feel happy and calm. This helps your heart rate chilllll out. When I was learning about this technique, the example I heard was from a woman who becomes peaceful and happy when thinking about her grandson. My approach is much less touching, but very effective; I perform a Google image search for cute and/or funny animals. If it’s a very stressful day, I will perform this with videos rather than photos. I’m telling you–it’s impossible to feel stressed when watching a curious cat trying to get its head out of a Kleenex box.
Last but not least, breathe. Stress often causes us to breathe shallowly. If you’re feeling your stress level on the rise, give yourself a moment (even just ten seconds!) to breathe deeply and intentionally. You may be shocked at how effective this is. Step 5. Ongoing self-care. The above step addressed some simple ways to help yourself manage stress reactions during trying moments. But ongoing self-care is vital in maintaining long-term wellness and countering chronic stress.
- Take vacations.
- If you are reading this as an employer or Human Resources professional, for the love of all things, please encourage your people to unplug from work and take honest-to-goodness vacations. If within your means, paid vacation days are an investment in human capital that will absolutely benefit your organization.
- Watch out for negative self-talk. Surrounding yourself with positive people and feeding yourself positive affirmations are good foundations for developing a positive inner-voice if this is something you struggle with. I am working on this daily!
- Practice effective time management. Prioritize, delegate, and learn to say “No.”
- If time management and prioritizing are something that you struggle with, I encourage you to take out a notebook right now. Write down the top three things that you wish to accomplish tomorrow. Then tomorrow morning, start your day with those items. Imagine how accomplished and ready to conquer anything you will feel for the whole rest of the day! Try doing this nightly. I am starting this evening, and will update in one week how this is going for me.
- Know your limits. Do not overload your plate. If you’re like me, you want to please people. All of them. All the time. If you’re like me, you’re also a human. Humans cannot please all people all the time. It is 100% okay to say “No.” It is so much better to give a confident “No” than a wishy-washy “Yes.”
- Give yourself dedicated time every day to do something that you enjoy. I give myself a very intentional hour every morning to spend with my husband and a cup of coffee, and I usually unwind after work by cracking open a good book before I even think about my household duties or other unfortunate responsibilities of being an adult. Sometimes we just have to press pause. And that’s okay.
- Find your support network!
- Eat clean, sleep well, be active, laugh often.
You may now peel/wash off that face mask. Marvel in your beauty. Press pause on life to do something that brings you joy. Turn off your phone notifications (seriously, the most freeing thing in the world). Love yourself. Happy International Self-Care Day.
Many of the facts and techniques that I just shared with you I learned from a CareerTrack On-Demand Course called “Stress Management For Women”.
What tips, tricks, and techniques do you have to practice self-care or stress management? Please share!
Fred Pryor/CareerTrack. (n.d.). Stress management for women. Retrieved from https://lms.pryor.com/Training/OnDemand/52515