By Serena Wadhwa
We are a stressed nation.
According to the 2013 APA Stress Survey, (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx), only 35% of us manage it well. What? That means about 65% of us struggle with managing our stress. One of the first questions to ask is, “How aware of your stress are you?” Depending on what you’ve heard about stress, you may not have been aware of any at all. You may not know what a stress reaction is or how it differs from a stress response. For example, we typically “react” to a “stressor” by our physiological response (e.g., increased heart beats, shallow breathing, etc.) and respond by how we appraise the “stressor” and cope (or not cope) with it. You may not know how to react or respond to something and, then again, maybe you do.
What we learn about stress influences how we understand it, make sense of what’s going on and, subsequently, how we may prevent, manage, reduce, and optimize it. Optimal stress is the amount of stress we need to keep us energized, challenged and motivated, rather than overwhelmed, exhausted or bored. To modify a familiar quote: Stress is inevitable, suffering is not. While we need a certain amount of stress to thrive, distress, or those experiences of feeling overwhelmed, are not necessary conditions to make our lives better. So what can you do?
As a professional who provides workshops on stress management, helps individuals develop effective coping skills to manage stress, is writing a book on Stress in the Modern World and a book on managing stress, I’ve discovered that there are over 400 ways to prevent, manage, reduce or optimize the experience of stress. Here are three suggestions that fit with the acronym SOS (you know, the distress signal for “help!”) so it’s easier to remember:
Stop: In order to begin understanding your own experience of stress, stop what you’re doing during the day and check in. Is your breathing steady? Heart beat? Do you feel an adrenaline rush? Is there something that’s happening that you perceive as threatening, demanding, or pressuring? These may be cues that you are experiencing stress.
Observe and describe: We can get stuck in our heads when we are overwhelmed, which can influence our feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, worried, and feeling “like a chicken with its head cut off” (I find that phrase interesting, because really, what does a chicken with its head cut off feel? But the image is what I mean). When we get stuck in our heads, we can develop a “stress tunnel” where all we focus on are those things that increase our experience of stress. By observing what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch and describing these observations in concrete, objective words, we can reduce, manage, and/or prevent an intensified stress experience.
Shake’n’squeeze: One way to prevent, reduce, manage, and/or optimize
stress is moving. Stress reactions are about energy and when we don’t spend that energy it may cause problems later on, physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. This can then cause problems in our environment and/or with our personal and professional connections. So “shake” some of the stress out, squeeze your muscle and release, or some other type of movement.
To your success in optimizing your stress!
Serena Wadhwa, Psy.D., LCPC, CADC, received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from ISPP-Chicago, specializing in health psychology. Dr. Wadhwa is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, has a Master’s in Human Development Counseling and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. She is the Director of TriQual Living Center (www.triqualiving.com), providing education and therapy on addiction/recovery and chronic stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. She is an assistant professor/program coordinator at Governors State University and an adjunct faculty member teaching online courses. She provides individual therapy at the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, Outpatient Group Practice and runs a DBT group. Dr. Wadhwa works in a variety of roles as a consultant, presenter, trainer, lecturer, author, and blogger at ChicagoNow. She has presented on various topics in the Midwest and published various articles on topics relating to addiction, stress, and health. She also develops activities for a variety of psycho-educational lectures, and has several published. She is also a member of several professional organizations and currently chairs the Webinar Task Force for the ICA (Illinois Counseling Association). She currently as a two-volume book entitled “Stress in the Modern World”, set to be published in April, 2015, a stress strategy book to be published by December 2014, and a talk radio program, “Moving Forward: Wellness One Step at a Time”. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Moving-Forward-Wellness-One-Step-At-a-Time/1479209482291962. You can contact her at www.triqualiving.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.