Managing the Challenges of ‘Life Stress’

Piles of work with short deadlines. Too many bills, not enough paycheck. Crashing noises from the kid’s rooms. The neighbor’s barking dog. Bad news from Aunt Minerva. Mortgage trouble. Interruptions… another fight… no sleep… Stress is everywhere, especially in these challenging times. Even if one could escape to that private and perfect Pacific island, let’s face it: there are still hurricanes.

And it’s not all in your head. Stress is a physical reaction; your body floods itself with surges of hormones meant to elicit a fight-or-flight response. The Mayo Clinic calls it “your body’s alarm system, and with the stresses of modern life, that alarm rarely shuts off.” Sustain it or leave it unmanaged, and that stress can contribute to a variety of problems — from overeating and negativity, to more serious issues like anger, physical pain, and depression.

According to Mayo, stress is more of a problem when it accumulates. This accumulation “can lead to health problems… the effects may be longer lasting and more problematic.” So, it’s important to find ways to manage stress, and that involves identifying your own specific sources of stress, and finding specific strategies and methods to deal with those challenges.

Where does one begin? By making a list.  “Take a moment to write down the top 10 issues you’re facing right now,” recommends Mayo. This will help you to develop ways of dealing with each of those stressors.

When listing those items, you may find that while some are external factors – things that happen to you – some are internal, generated by how you react to the world. And while neither external nor internal stressors have an “instant cure,” there are distinct strategies for managing each.

Internal stressors

According to Mayo, internal stressors are “those feelings or thoughts that pop into your head and cause you unrest”; your fears, or how reality conflicts with your attitudes and expectations. Do you place unreasonable expectations upon yourself when planning a child’s birthday party, or when trying to move up the career ladder?

“The bad news is that our fears, attitudes and expectations have been our companions for a long time, and it often takes some effort to change them,” according to Mayo. But “the good news is we have the ability to control our thoughts.”

As strategies for dealing with these internal stressors, the Mayo recommends challenging your own internal negative thoughts, trying new things, using relaxation techniques like controlled breathing or exercise, or even just talking with a trusted friend. The more one pursues these strategies, the less one will feel the effects of these internal stressors.

External stressors

Major life changes, unpredictable events, family and workplace can all be sources of external stress — the visit from unexpected relatives, that seemingly impossible workload, the spat with your teenager, the pile of bills on your counter.

To manage external stressors, the Mayo Clinic recommends as a first step controlling your own “lifestyle factors”; eating right, getting enough sleep and being physically active. The more strong and physically healthy you are, the easier it will be for you to deal with external stressors.

But there are times when everyone could use a hand. And in times as challenging as ours, more people are seeking such help from wherever they can, including using resources like the EAP, available to all participants in the FUSD benefits plan.

A valuable resource

The Claremont Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which supplies participants in the Fresno Unified School District’s benefits plan with a variety of life-management services, has reported a major increase in the volume of calls it receives. “For many of our groups, EAP usage is up more than 50 percent,” said Laurie Slez, Claremont EAP Vice President.  It really is a sign of the times, and makes EAP even more significant for a lot of people.”

More information about the kinds of services available through the EAP is available through the HealthConnect website. And if you made that list of your own top 10 issues, there may be a few with which the EAP may be able to assist. The EAP can be reached at 800-834-3773.

“These days, more people want to take charge of the issues challenging them,” added Laurie. “We’re here to help point them in the right direction.”

Stress is a fact of life; it will never go away completely, but whether through better physical health, changing thought patterns or even through a helping hand, stress can be managed.

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