Good mental health is a critical part of wellness. So, increased awareness and access to information about women’s mental health is today’s goal for National Women’s Health Week (May 12-18). Although women experience many types of mental health issues, one of the most common problems is stress. And I’m a witness!
Simply put, stress is the feeling we get when faced with a challenge or trauma. Clearly, it would be hard to find a person today who is unaware of the word stress or the ill effects it has on our health, happiness and peace of mind.
When we feel like we don’t have the tools to manage all of the
demands or dramas in our lives…stress happens!
• The death of a spouse, friend or family member triggers stress!
• Marriage, separation, a break-up or divorce…cause stress!
• School, a demanding job or challenging workplace…stress!
• Losing a job, inability to pay bills, poverty…stress!
• A car accident; illness or injury…stress!
• Arrest, accusations, incarceration…stress!
• The demands of working and raising a family…stress!
These are just of a few stress-inducing situations that come to mind. I’m sure you can add a lot more triggers to your list!
So we are stressed, what’s the big deal?
According to womenshealth.gov, the body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones. These hormones make blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels go up. Long-term stress can contribute to a variety of health problems, including:
• Mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Abnormal heart beats
• Menstrual problems
• Acne and other skin problems
It has been said that women often cope with stress in different ways than men. Women are more likely to “tend and befriend,” taking care of those closest to them, but also drawing support from friends and family. Does that sound familiar to you?
Even though it may seem hard to find effective ways to de-stress with all the things we have to do, it’s important to find those ways. Our health depends on it. While stress is rampant and hard to avoid, there are many effective ways to reduce and manage stress on a daily basis.
Try these tips to fight stress naturally:
#1. Eat Right and Get Moving
Although it’s very tempting, try not to deal with stress in unhealthy ways including drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or overeating. Instead fuel up on fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Don’t be fooled by the jolt you get from caffeine or high-sugar snack foods. Your energy will wear off, and you could wind up feeling more tired than you did before. In addition, research has shown that physical activity can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, relax tense muscles and improve your mood.
#2. Prepare Yourself Beforehand
Preparing yourself ahead of time–before you are stressed–is a great way to reduce stress from the onset. If you know you are heading into a stressful day or event such as a business meeting or a trip to the dentist, preparing yourself beforehand can help alleviate unnecessary stress. A long walk, deep breathing exercises, or even journaling can release negative and stressful emotions before they have a chance to occur.
#3. Try to Live in the Moment
As cliché as it might sound, living in the moment and knowing that in this exact moment you are fine and no matter what the future may bring, you are fine in the here and now can alleviate the stress of the future. After all, anything good can happen at any given moment. Do not sweat the small stuff.
#4. Take a Deep Breath and Relax
Yoga and meditation are not so simple any more. There are so many varieties of yoga and meditation these days that you are bound to find something that meets your needs and works for you. Grab a friend during lunch break, after work or on the weekends and start practicing relaxation techniques. Stretching can also help relax your muscles and make you feel less tense. Top it off with a relaxing back and neck massage to help relieve tension.
#5. Take Five and Take a Time Out
Stress is so common and easily accepted in today’s society that it is often overlooked or trivialized. Ideally, stress should not be a regular part of our everyday lives. It should be a once-in-a-while occurrence. With the mindset that stress is acceptable and expected, we set ourselves up for making it part of who we are daily. When stress does occur, it is important to step away–even for five minutes, regroup, and take a time out. Sometimes that time out is a way of avoiding further undue stress. Being flexible is key. Sometimes, it’s not worth the stress to argue. Give in once in awhile or meet people halfway. Pick your battles carefully.
#6. Get Organized and De-clutter Your Life
Clutter and disorganization can cause stress. Get organized and simplify your life to help manage your life and time more efficiently. Think ahead about how you’re going to spend your time. Write a to-do list. Figure out what’s most important to do and do those things first. Try setting aside a weekend to get your family members involved in planning how to organize and simplify your household routines. Make it a priority to get rid of clutter. If you have not used something or looked at in the last six months, chances are you will not. Clutter can cause unnecessary stress even if it is subliminal. Establish a place for everything and everything in its place and get everyone on board. Keys should be on the key hook and coats on the coat rack, etc. Books, magazines, clothing and toys should be stored neatly. This way, when you look for something it is available and within a moment’s grasp.
#7. Stay Hydrated
As simple as this may sound, being properly hydrated is essential to feeling your best. Sometimes an extra glass of lemon water or herbal tea will perk you up. As a general rule, drinking plenty of water throughout the day will keep you feeling refreshed, which in turn will keep you from feeling lethargic–which is stressful. When you are hydrated, you are less likely to become tired and irritable.
#7. Make Your Needs a Priority Too
Let’s face it, we all have lots of things that we have to do. But often we don’t take the time to do the things that we really want to do. Take time to do the things that bring you pleasure whether it is spending time with friends, listening to your favorite tunes, reading a juicy book and having a cup of tea, working in your garden, making crafts or going to a show.
#9. Vent Your Frustrations
One of the best ways to relieve stress is just simply to vent. Find that one good friend who is always willing to listen and have them schedule some listening time for you. Tell them up front that you don’t necessarily want them to offer any advice, just to listen. This works wonders for relieving stress. It keeps you from holding it all in and allows you to regroup and gain a fresh perspective. I have found that talking about my problems with friends or family members can sometimes help me feel better. They have helped me to view my problems in a new way and suggest solutions that I hadn’t thought of.
#10. Write it Out
Here’s technique recommended by womenshealth.gov that often works for me. Maybe it will work for you: Make a list of the things that cause you stress. From your list, figure out which problems you can solve now and which are beyond your control for the moment. From your list of problems that you can solve now, start with the little ones. Learn how to calmly look at a problem, think of possible solutions, and take action to solve the problem. Being able to solve small problems will give you confidence to tackle the big ones. And feeling confident that you can solve problems will go a long way to helping you feel less stressed
#11. Walk Off Stress
The old adage about walking off an injury can certainly apply to walking off stress. Walking clears your mind, reduces stress, gives you a clear perspective and insight into what is stressing you out, and offers you the ability to walk away, literally, from a situation.
#12. Get Sufficient Sleep
The importance of sleep cannot be stressed enough. Being well-rested helps us think better so that we are better prepared to handle problems as they come up. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to feel rested. Keep a journal for a week or two and see how much sleep you need in order to work and feel your best.
#13. Save for a Stress Break
Find creative ways–from clipping coupons to skipping dining out for a month–to save money. Take the money saved and put it in a vacation fund jar. Even if it is just a mini-weekend with your spouse or an overnight stay at a spa with friends, knowing that you have something to look forward to helps to relieve stress in the moment.
Put Stress in its Place!
Let’s face it, we all have to deal with stress, but there are steps we can take to help us handle stress in a positive way to keep it from making us sick. Practice these tips to keep stress in check. Soon you will find yourself managing stress–rather than stress managing you and your life.
Find More Mental Health Resources
Want to learn more? You’ll find helpful information and links to valuable mental health publications and resources at the National Women’s Health Week website including this handy Stress and Your Health Fact Sheet.
Let’s vent. What stresses you out the most? What do you do to minimize stress? Share your comments and suggestions with us.