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March 18, 2014 > What to do about Stress

What to do about Stress

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

STRESS Ð it probably comes as no surprise to you that most Americans are stressed out. What might surprise you is that our teenagers are experiencing similar high levels of stress. A 2013 Stress in America Study (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/teen-stress.aspx) shows that teens in America are reporting levels of stress far higher than what they believe is healthy. Not surprisingly, school is a big factor in our teensÕ stress, but the study also unexpectedly found that teens reported summer as a stressful time as well. The impact of stress on our teens is similar to that on adults Ð the teens reported that stress negatively impacted their school performance, and they experienced symptoms like irritation, anger, nervousness, anxiety, eating too much or too little, insomnia, headaches, and fatigue.

These are troubling findings. Yet, there is much we can do to cope effectively with stress and the good news is that we can be role-models for our teenagers in showing how to manage stress.

But first, we have to be honest with ourselves Ð how well do we deal with stress? What examples are we showcasing when we are stressed? Most adults tend to take a passive, less healthy approach to stress, such as:

* spending time online or watching TV
* watching movies
* eating too much or too little
* going on Facebook to vent

There are much more effective strategies for managing and lowering stress. Some of these might seem obvious, but I encourage you to take a good look at yourself and your ingrained habits. For example, think about the last time you got a good nightÕs sleep Ð how often do you get true rest? Do you tend to stay up much later than you know you should?

Perhaps you could resolve to try one of these strategies on a regular basis.
1. Exercise Ð youÕve probably heard this ad nauseum, but itÕs worth repeating. Regular exercise is key to physical and mental health and can lower your stress levels and stress hormones. You donÕt have to exercise every day to reap the benefits -- even just once a week can help. If you find a buddy to exercise with, so much the better. Spending time with a good friend while exercising increases all the benefits associated with exercise.
2. Sleep Ð many of us burn our candles at both ends, waking up too early and going to bed too late. While the amount of sleep each person requires varies, it seems pretty common for many of us to sell ourselves short when it comes to sleep. How often have you said to yourself, ÒJust one more email,Ó or ÒIÕll finish this book first,Ó or ÒLetÕs finish the movie even if itÕs late.Ó This is an area where you probably have to set some firm limits on yourself if you are going to get good quality, sufficient sleep that can help you and your body cope better with stress.
3. Seeing a mental health professional can be extremely helpful. Whether you approach going to see a therapist as a time to vent or to learn better stress habits, counseling can be life-changing.
4. Pinpoint your unhealthy stress strategies Ð simply noting what you doing in response to stress can be helpful in making a shift toward healthier habits.
5. Meditation can help lower stress levels. Plus there are a whole host of documented physical as well as psychological benefits associated with meditating.
6. Take a moment to smell the roses Ð I donÕt mean this metaphorically but literally as well. Take the time to focus on the good things in your life and to appreciate them, be it your loved ones, a job, your health, the rain we are experiencing now, the beauty all around us, and yes, the roses that should be coming up soon.
7. Write a journal or diary of your thoughts and as far as possible, focus on what is positive in your life and what you are grateful for. Research has shown that a gratitude practice can alleviate depressive thoughts.
8. Be aware of your own thoughts around your stress Ð are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Do you stress yourself out by putting undue pressure on yourself? Try talking to yourself in a calm, wise, and loving manner when you are facing any kind of stressful situation and see if you can talk down your stress levels.
9. Look at ways to calm down your routine and schedule. Are you on the go from 7 am to 7 pm? Do you have a billion things scheduled in any given one day? What are ways in which you can schedule rest, relaxation, and calm into your life?

Remember, stress affects everyone and itÕs important that you are proactive in taking care of yourself and managing your stress levels. If you are a parent, the need to manage stress levels is probably more pressing, given that parenting itself can be a stressor. Remember that you are a role model for your kids -- the way you manage stress will teach your kids how to manage their stress. Be conscious of how you deal with the stress in your life, not just for you, but for your kids as well.

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Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. Her website is www.annechanconsulting.com

© Anne Chan, 2014

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