By Carissa Wright, GalTime.com
Often, our susceptibility to stress gets the best of us. When the to-do lists seem everlasting, work gets out of control, and bills begin to pile up, that's when we feel its influence the most. It lurks in the back of our minds, and in a moment that feels inopportune to us, the side effects take hold. Ultimately, stress is unavoidable. However, if we learn to recognize the warning signs and manage our lives effectively, we can find ways to minimize the impact of the worry and anxiety.
Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, has a lot of experience in dealing with people who find themselves overwhelmed by stress. She offered GalTime her suggestions for knowing where to draw the line when it comes to stress, unwinding, and making sure you're taking care of your body.
When Your Body Signals for Help
While the human body is amazing and complex, it is not immune to effects of stress. According to Dr. Farrell, a few of the short-term indicators that may signal that you're becoming overwhelmed include problems in concentration or memory, irritability, sleep issues, increased anxiety, changes in diet, headaches, fatigue, and even issues in your interpersonal relationships. These physical manifestations of stress may also give way to long-term indicators, such as frequent sickness like colds or even hypertension, heart problems, and feelings of distress.
"There is an intimate relationship between stress levels and the ability of the immune system to work properly," Dr. Farrell states. "In fact, there is an inverse relationship with stress, indicating that as stress goes up, the functioning of the immune system goes down. Stress, therefore, promotes illness in the face of your body's inability to effectively ward it off".
Dr. Farrell suggests the Holmes-Rahe Scale - an online tool that provides a rough analysis of how stressed you may be individually. The results are interpreted by number. The higher the number, the more you should consider a lifestyle change to manage the stress you may be experiencing.
Keep Yourself in Check
It's important to keep tabs on your stress levels and make sure that you offer yourself a few breaks and a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Farrell notes that the onset of stress generally isn't a sudden occurrence-it builds up over time and finally comes to a tipping point. When it feels as though stress is getting the best of you, she suggests analyzing your current lifestyle.
"[Consider] whether or not you are working much longer hours, getting less opportunities to go out and socialize, having problems getting enough sleep each night (that should be around seven hours), find yourself having more unpleasant interactions with almost everyone in your life and generally feeling unhappy with things the way they are."
Eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting exercise a few times a week (even if it's walking in place), or picking up some kind of hobby are a few ways to make sure you keep your stress levels in check.
"The best advice I can give anyone is to manage your life and its stressors as well as you manage your finances," says Dr. Farrell.
It's Not All Bad
Dr. Farrell notes that not all stress derives from the negative things going on in our lives. In reality, the "good" has a hand in creating stress as well.
"Most people believe that stress comes from either pushing the limits of our abilities to do something or negative things that have taken place in our lives. Actually, stress comes from both the good things and the bad things in our lives," she explains.
Some Work and Some Play
Dr. Farrell says that one of the greatest stressors in the lives of many is their job.
"This is especially true in an economic environment where people are concerned about keeping their jobs and paying the bills. This is the perfect, fertile environment for stress-related problems," she explains.
How do you combat this? Create some space. It's time to re-evaluate your commitment to work if you are donating excessive hours even after you leave the office. That means that accessibility via BlackBerry or any other device that keeps you tightly connected to your job must be limited during "you time".
"Any job that requires a 24/7 response from you is going to become stressful because you can't relax if you're always waiting for the phone to ring. Put some constraints on when and where you will limit your availability, such as dinnertime."
Dr. Farrell also stresses the importance of taking time off to vacation. It's important to create that distance between yourself and your job, even if it's only for a couple of days.
"[Vacations] provide us with the necessary time to de-stress and to maintain our immune system as well as our psychological balance," Dr. Farrell explains. "Shortchanging yourself only means you may be making another trip to the doctor sooner than you anticipated. Vacations are health-promoting."
Related: Working Mom Reality Check
Keep a Log
Maintaining a daily log is another thing Dr. Farrell suggests to manage stress.
"[Look at] what's going on in your life, how you feel on a daily basis, and where there might be deficits that need to be corrected".
The most important step in combating stress is recognizing it. Thinking that you can function without seven hours of sleep, ignoring warning signs, or simply refusing to recognize that you're overwhelmed can be detrimental to your health.
"Sorry, but no one is invulnerable to stress," Dr. Farrell notes. "They just refuse to deal with that reality. Stress is stress is stress."How stressed are you...and what is your number one tip to stop the pressure?
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