It’s official. Stress (and the icky effects of it) is now a global health concern. The World Health Organization claims that stress is now considered the health epidemic of the 21st century. According to the Global Organization for Stress, 80% of workers report mid to high levels of stress on the job with half of those requesting help on how to manage their stress. And it doesn’t just affect workers, kids and teens are now reporting higher levels of stress than ever before. The American Psychological Association has suggested that stress is the top health concern for American teens between grades 9 through 12. Now, I don’t know anything about that, all I know is I have an 11 year old niece with an extracurricular calendar so packed I need to make an appointment with her months before I can see her.
So if stress is one of the major health concerns of our time and our children are now becoming the next target, why are we not seeing more stress management programs cropping up at recreation centers, community centers, clinics, or schools? Why, when we know stress can cause physical, behavioural, and emotional problems, don’t we say ‘no’ to more things instead of adding more to our already loaded plates? The irony is, we could be too busy to find the time for stress management planning or education… and there’s the rub.
As a stress management educator, I am partial to the benefits of a healthy stress management action plan. So if you don’t have time to join a class or can’t find a class near you, I’ll share with you the number one tip for managing your stress (on the proverbial house). One of the most important concepts shared in all stress management programs is one of the hardest for many to grasp… stress is (really) all in your head. It’s true! What stresses me may not stress others. How I perceive the world (and how I would like it to be) may be different than you. It is through our individual attitudes and beliefs that we are able to construct the reality we live in. Sometimes that reality doesn’t align with the reality of others or the world and when that happens, stress can be the nasty bi-product.
Take me for example. Going to the movie theatre would stress me out. I would go in with the expectation that talking and cell phone use would cease once the feature presentation began (insert sarcastic laughter here). Sometimes I would assertively request silence, but most of the time would sit there enjoying the ‘benefits’ of elevated heart rate, short and shallow breathing, the glow one gets with increased levels of adrenaline circulating through one’s body and many other physiological responses related to the stress response. Did I enjoy the movie? Absolutely not! However, by changing my expectation, I could change my response. I began to expect talking and texting in the theatre and when I didn’t see it, I was pleasantly surprised versus stewing in my toxic stress juices.
No matter what the stressor, if we are able to reframe our thoughts and attitudes about it, we can change the ultimate effect of it. It may be the difference between stressed out and not stressed at all. Of course this strategy works miracles when paired with the ability to say ‘no’ more often… but one step at a time.
To begin, choose one aspect of your life that is the easiest to reframe or change; starting small and work up to the big stuff. How can you see this stressor as positive? What can it teach you? If you are like many who have the pleasure of working with or living with a difficult person, what lessons can you learn from them? What skills are they teaching you? In Mark Rosen’s book, ‘Thank You For Being Such a Pain; Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People’ (one I highly recommend… and have read over and over again when necessary), he talks about important lessons learned through those that challenge us the most; those that cause us stress. How could you use this to shift your perception of that person; inevitably shifting your stress response?
No matter the strategy or what works for you, one thing is for sure… chronic stress is a killer. It can steal your energy, your joy, your health and ultimately your life. It is a serious health concern and something that, if left unchecked, will cost you (no matter how superhuman you may feel). If you are looking for more information on stress management all you have to do is go on-line or walk into your nearest book store for many helpful guides.
Kathi Cameron is a health promotion educator with CFB Comox, author of ‘Leading to Lifelong Exercise’ and regular blogger for HQComoxvalley.com.