Stressed Out This Season?

Dec 10, 2006 | December 2006, Mind & Body

Can stress lead to poor health and performance?

By Jennifer Herriott, MPH

My husband and I work just a few blocks away from each other, so to save money on gas and parking, we usually try to carpool. We both have pretty stressful and busy jobs, and with two young children, about once a week one of us will have a conflict and we’ll end up having to drive separately. One day last week we drove to work in separate cars, but at the end of the day we drove home together. It wasn’t until we pulled into our driveway and noticed that our other car was missing that we realized what we had done. We argued, while laughing at ourselves, about whether we should drive back downtown to pick up our other car or just leave it there for the night. We settled on leaving it there (but only after my husband had confirmed that he had not left his golf clubs in the trunk) and then we tried to decompress from a busy day. My husband often refers to our life as a “whirling dervish.” I am not sure I know what those words mean, but I certainly know what they feel like. They feel like stress! Can stress cause two relatively smart and organized individuals to forget that they had driven in two different cars earlier that same day? Apparently so!

Stress can have a significant impact on our mind and on our body. It can cause us to forget even the simplest things. Though a little stress can actually help us to heighten productivity, too much stress can lead to conditions that can result in both physical and emotional problems.

To perform well and to feel well, the mind and the body need to both be working well and they need to both be working together. There are a wide variety of things that you can do to reduce your stress. However, just as what causes a person to feel stress is different for each person, so is there no one stress reduction formula that will work for everyone. Though running and other aerobic exercises in conjunction with yoga tend to work well for me, some people may find them boring or dull. Some of the other things that people have found helpful in reducing stress, and are recommended by the Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-Care include…

Learning to relax. Techniques such as guided imagery, meditation, muscle relaxation and relaxed breathing can help you relax.

Discuss your concerns with a trusted friend. Talking helps to relieve strains and put things in perspective, and it may lead to a healthy plan of action.

Plan your work in a step-by-step manner. Accomplish small tasks.

Deal with your anger. Anger needs to be expressed, but carefully. Count to 10, compose yourself and respond to the anger in a more effective manner.

Get away. A change of pace can help develop a new outlook.

Avoid self-medication. In other words, don’t use too many prescription or non prescription drugs, such as alcohol to help you get through the day or through the night.

Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat nutritional food. The key to keeping stress to a minimum is to find a balance that works for you and your family such as showering at night, packing lunch the evening before and making preparations for the next evening’s dinner.

Seek help. Sometimes seeing a counselor can help you determine your stress triggers, as well as help you learn to deal with stress through stress management therapy.

Seek relaxation techniques to reduce stress including progressive muscle relaxation, visual imagery, and relaxed breathing.

Be realistic. Set realistic goals. Prioritize. Concentrate on what is important. Setting our goals unrealistically high invites failure. Decide on your priorities and concentrate on the things that are most important to you.

Again, identifying sources of stress in your life is important in your stress-management journey. If you know that waiting to do something until the last minute will cause you to feel a huge amount of stress, try to make a conscious effort to get things done ahead of time. If you get stressed and overwhelmed thinking about all the things you have to remember to do, keep a detailed task list and check each item off the list as you accomplish the task. If you know that you need time to yourself to rejuvenate, then factor that time into your schedule. What ever it is that causes you to feel stressed out, and that you have some control over, work toward figuring out a way handle the situation differently. If what causes you stress is something that you have absolutely no control over, then work toward not trying to control the situation and work toward controlling the way you react or respond to a stressful situation.

Jennifer Herriott is the program manager for Steps to a Healthier San Antonio (Steps-SA), an initiative for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Steps-SA initiative identifies and promotes efforts that encourage our community to make small behavior changes to reduce the burden of diabetes, obesity and asthma by addressing three related risk factors – physical inactivity, poor nutrition and tobacco use.

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