April is most well known for Easter, but did you know it’s also Stress Awareness Month? While that really isn’t cause for celebration, it does fit in well for this month’s Happier Aging column.
Stress is your response to the world around you. There used to be a time when stress was more of a white collar affliction, when stress was primarily experienced by the managers at leaders at the office — those who had to make the big decisions at work. Those times are long gone. As our society changed over the last couple decades with news becoming a ratings war and so sensationalized, the environmental concerns becoming global, the emergence of terrorist threats, and the push for higher profits and lower wages becoming the norm in industry and commerce, and all the stuff that comes along with these things, it is nearly impossible to live stress-free anymore. The prevailing theme seems to be, do more with less. It is simply not sustainable. The result — emotional stress and strain and anxiety.
Twenty-seven per cent of Canadian workers claim to have high to extreme levels of stress on a daily basis. Over one in four workers report being highly stressed, and 62 per cent of Canadian workers reported that their primary source of stress was work, followed by finances.
It has been documented that chronic stress increases the risk of depression, heart disease, and substance abuse. Therefore, those who learn to manage stress and anxiety, and who find outlets for their stress energy, are far better able to thrive.
The research also shows that the most consistent anti-stress and anti-anxiety strategies are built around these things:
Prioritizing and time management:
• Writing out your most important goals and planning to stick to them, as well as learning to say “no” to those things that are not linked to your top goals
• Learning to slow down your breathing using abdominal (diaphragm) breathing, and focusing on slowing down the mind by maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment through a calming focus (mindfulness)
• As simple as a walk outside after dinner or a walk on a beautiful Cowichan Valley nature trail can help to burn off that unwanted anxious energy that stress generates
A helpful tool online to test your stress is www.bemindfulonline.com/test-your-stress/ and it only takes two minutes. Not only does it give you a score based on your responses, but I found it also helped me identify a trend in how I stress. Or more specifically, the thing I seem to stress about the most. And now that I’ve learned that about myself, I can be more mindful of it.
We all know how ineffective it is for someone to tell us to relax. It actually makes us more agitated. So us telling ourselves to relax! will have the same poor level of effectiveness. Learning how to prioritize more effectively, teaching our body how to relax through awareness and mindfulness, and using exercise or other effective tools like simply being in nature can make a huge impact and reduce your stress levels. Regular practice will make it a habit.