Stress. Anxiety. Words we hear and read about with increasing regularity. News reports and social media assault our senses with an endless barrage of mass shootings, sexual harassment, immigration issues, political dissension and other stress inducing stories. Add workplace pressure and financial worries and it’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year.
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the US every year
Can you learn how to handle stress better? Yes. Let’s talk about what you need to know. First, let’s define the terms as the media often uses stress and anxiety interchangeably. They’re not the same.
Stress is a response to a threat. It’s a reaction to a trigger. It’s usually short term and can be positive or negative. We’re all born with innate response mechanisms for when we’re threatened, in distress, under pressure or fearful.
Anxiety is a reaction to stress. It’s a sustained mental health disorder.
Chronic stress can affect your mental and physical health. Emotional and physical disorders linked to chronic stress include anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pains or heart palpitations, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sleep problems according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Coping with Stress
At Espyr we’ve gained extensive experience with clients whose employees work in highly stressful environments – first responders, military, law enforcement, healthcare to name a few. Through our coaching and EAP solutions we’ve learned there are many ways to cope with stress. Research has shown that people who effectively manage the stress in their lives have three things in common::
- They consider life a challenge, not a series of hassles.
- They have a mission or purpose in life and are committed to fulfilling it.
- They do not feel victimized by life. They have control over their lives, even with temporary setbacks.
Katie Hurley, LCSW, in a recent article in Employer Benefit News gave several very good suggestions for coping with stress.
- Relaxation breathing: The single best thing you can do when under stress is to engage in deep breathing. Practice this strategy when you’re calm so that you know how to use it when you’re under pressure. Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, and exhale for four. Repeat.
- Practice mindfulness: Sure, there’s an app for that, but the best way to practice mindfulness is to disconnect from your digital world and reconnect with your natural world for a specific period of time each day. Take a walk outside and use the opportunity to notice your surroundings using all of your senses.
- Get moving: Daily exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. Making exercise a daily habit can buffer you from negative reactions to stressful events.
- Keep a journal: Writing down your best and worst of the day helps you sort through the obstacles and focus on what went right. It’s normal to experience ups and downs on any given day.
- Get creative: There’s a reason adult coloring books are so popular – they work. Whether you’re drawing, coloring, writing poetry, or throwing paint on a wall, engaging in a creative hobby gives your mind a chance to relax.
- Crank up the tunes: Listening to slow, relaxing music decreases your stress response (just as fast-paced music pumps you up for a run.)
Learning to cope with stress can require some trial and error. What works for your best friend might not work for you. It’s important to build your own stress reduction toolkit so that you have more than one strategy to implement when stress kicks in.
If you’re having difficulty coping with stress and it’s impacting your daily activities you should seek professional health. Help may be available through your organization’s EAP or Student Assistance Program, other employer-sponsored benefits or talk to your physician.
Espyr is a leader in behavioral health. If your company or organization is seeking ways to help reduce employee stress, give us a call. We provide a continuum of care ranging from integrated medical/behavioral health solutions, coaching and leadership development to comprehensive EAP, all designed to help employees and organizations reach their full potential. To learn more about how Espyr can help your organization, call us at 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.