Combating Stress

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oday is National Stress Awareness Day and at the risk of adding one more thing to your already bursting to-do list, I want to encourage you to celebrate the day by taking some time to practice true cognizance of our stress levels.

 

Just like most things in life, stress exists on a continuum. While we generally stigmatize stress as “bad”, it does have highly adaptive properties. If we never felt stress it is unlikely we would succeed in getting things done, and getting them done on time. However, when we hear the word ‘stress’ we tend to think about all of it’s vast negative outcomes, as recent research has found that it is a contributing factor in the majority of illnesses. So what is the key to keeping our stress adaptive and out of the danger zone? I believe awareness is the answer.

 

How often are we really aware of what is going on with our stress levels? I believe that we go through most of our life recognizing when we are extremely stressed, and when were feeling pretty good- but if we truly tune in to ourselves and gain awareness of all of the points in between maybe we can stop our stress from escalating before it reaches all time high levels.

 

I once heard about the concept of stress zones and think it’s a great way to tap into where we are at, stress wise. There are three zones of stress; zone one is where our stress is serving us well, zone two is when it is elevated but we are still functioning and zone three is when we are totally and completely “stressed out”. I encourage you to grab a pen and paper and try out this exercise.

1. Divide your paper into three sections, called zone 1, zone 2 and zone 3

Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 3

2. Start with zone 1; identify ways that you intrinsically know you are in this state.

Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 3
Sleeping well and waking feeling rested
Feeling enthused about making plans with friends
Keeping appointments, meetings etc. all recorded in day timer
Staying on top of emails

3. Do the same with Zones 2 and 3

Zone 1 Zone 2 Zone 3
Sleeping well and waking feeling well rested Having a hard time falling asleep Takes hours to fall asleep, waking up several times in the night
Feeling enthused about making plans with friends Feeling like I can’t keep everything organized Cancelling plans with friends without rescheduling
Keeping appointments, meetings etc. all recorded in day timer Feeling like I can’t keep everything organized No longer writing things in my day timer, feeling like I have many appointments and meetings I am forgetting about
Staying on top of emails Feeling overwhelmed by my emails Taking days to answer emails, even important ones
Overreacting Overreacting often, lashing out at even the smallest things
Nail biting Nail biting

4. Make a zone movement plan

Write down five to ten things you anticipate being helpful when you notice yourself moving into zone two or three. Be as specific as possible. For example:

  • Grabbing a coffee with a friend who you know you always enjoy catching up with
  • Taking some time for yourself and watching your favorite comedy  
  • Unplugging from your phone for a day over the weekend
  • Journaling for 15 minutes before bed every night for a week
  • Getting a massage

Take some time and go through your chart; this is your stress awareness road map. For example, when you notice yourself starting to dread plans with friends you now know you are approaching zone two and your stress is starting to increase. Stop and practice awareness in identifying where the stress is coming from and refer to your zone movement plan- what tools can you utilize to slow down the stress escalation? To increase accountability, keep your stress zone chart somewhere highly visible to you (next to your bed, on your desk at work, etc.), check in often and see where you’re at and bring awareness to your current state. I hope this chart will allow you to keep your stress levels right where you want them and bring you some self-reflection and practical tools on National Stress Awareness Day.

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