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With all of the demands we carry each day, stress has become an unavoidable part of modern living. The clock drives our daily mindset and keeps our internal systems on high alert, ready to transition between tasks. The drop offs, meetings, project deadlines, activities, relationship demands, financial needs and ever increasing “to do” list leaves little room for detoxing from stress. If left unchecked, the body will send signals in an attempt to alert us of the dangers this on-going stress is causing. This may come in the form of headaches, stomach issues, sleep problems, increased aches and pains throughout the body.  Depression, anxiety and an increase in use of substances are other signs that stress may be affecting your health. Addressing the underlying cause is only the first step in changing the cycle of chronic stress related illnesses. Here are some action steps you can take to begin addressing the negative impacts of stress.  

Evaluate Your Calendar: Be brutal when evaluating what needs to stay and what needs to go. The pressure to be involved in activities outside of daily living will suck your time and energy if it isn’t adding value to your life. If you have a hard time figuring out what to cut, have your partner or a trusted friend sit down over a cup of coffee and help you evaluate your schedule.  

Cut the Control: If you find yourself struggling to make everything “fit” to your expectations then anxiety and stress will be constant companions. One of the factors that has been shown to predict mental wellness is a person’s ability to adapt to situations rather demanding rigid compliance. With more time in your schedule, you can make room for the unpredictable things that come up and maybe even learn to embrace the journey of the unexpected.  

Observe with Gratitude: So much of what leads to stress is how we think about our situation. When we slow down and observe the world around us with gratitude our mind naturally shifts to a more positive perspective. For instance, if you are waiting in the morning coffee line let your mind focus on three things within your life or environment that bring you happiness. Tell yourself that you are grateful and consider how these things make your life better. The research data  on the benefits of gratitude continue to show increased mental wellness with the practice of mindful gratefulness.

Notice Your Reactions:              A primary indicator of stress levels can be seen and felt in your reactions. Whether it is your physical reactions and behaviors such as yelling or internal reactions such as increased heart rate, your body will send you signals of stress overload if you pay attention. This means noticing rather than dismissing patterns of behavior that keep cropping up, and tuning in to the thoughts and feelings connected to the reactions.  

Nourish your Body and Soul:  There is an interconnectedness between our mind, body, and spirit.  If any one of these parts of ourselves is neglected you will most likely experience feelings of stress.  We now know that the food we put into our bodies will have a direct impact on our energy levels and physical health.  We know that keeping our thoughts steered in more positive directions will result in better mental health. We also know that spending time with people or engaged in activities that are meaningful keep the core of our personalities at peace.  Of course it is impossible to keep everything in balance all the time, but making sure to make space in your schedule for the things that bring you joy will naturally release chemicals that help to counteract the damage of stress on the body.     Pick one of the above suggestions and try it out for at least a month and see what happens to your stress levels and responses. With time, you can change the impact of stress on your body and your life.

Written by:

Sonia Combs MS, LMHC, NCC, CMHS

Sonia Combs, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.