Welcome to Spring! – Stress Awareness

Springtime, change, stress and how to cope with stress. Welcome to spring!Spring is when we think of spring cleaning — clearing out — taking stock of our physical ‘things’ and ‘stuff’. Flinging open the windows and going for it!  We ‘Marie Kondo’ our external environment.

But what about our internal environment?  We are usually not so good at managing our internal environment and in times of stress, that can sometimes get the better of us.  It can create a lot of stress just on it’s own as people seem to forever be getting busier and busier and juggling so many roles in life.

April is Stress Awareness Month.

Stress can sometimes be a positive force for change, but if we don’t know how to manage and use it, the negative effects of uncontrolled stress can take a toll on our mental and physical wellbeing. How does stress affect us? Brain Changes:

  • Memory Problems
  • Inability to Concentrate
  • ‘Brain Fog’
  • Not finishing tasks

Emotional Changes:

  • Low Mood
  • Feeling helpless
  • Cynicism
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration

Physical Changes:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Frequent Colds
  • Skin breakouts
  • Bowel habit changes
  • Weight changes (loss or gain)

Habit Changes

  • Use of substances to relax
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Change in sleeping habits

We all have bad days and short term increases in negative stress.  How will you know if you are having more than a ‘bad couple of days?’  If you are stressed for more than 5 days in a row, you might need support to get some strategies put into place to avoid negative consequences of stress.

Everyone has ways of managing stress, whether they know it or not.  But they are not always healthy or effective, and sometimes they can make stress worse.

One simple time management concept called the Pareto principle can be applied to stress. This principle in this context would say that 80% of a person’s stress is down to 20% of the things in their life. Some of those stressful things can be reduced or eliminated by saying ‘no’ when it is appropriate – which eliminates a big chunk of the resulting stress.

Some of that 20% can be ‘managed’ with improved time management.  Now — ask any parent – sometimes our time is not our own, particularly when children are little, or even when they are older especially if you are a single parent.  But trying to do it is better than not.

I personally found list making and the concept of ‘timeboxing’ very helpful. ‘Timeboxing’ means ‘calendering in’ set times for certain things – but  of course that is very hard to do that ahead of time when you have children awake.  You never know what your time is going to look like for very long!

What I did as a single parent juggling work, study and a child was this: after culling distractions from that ‘just say no’ list by learning to say no more often, I did things to reduce distraction — such as creating a list of things that could fit into varying blocks of time. I had a ‘two minute list’ and a ‘ten minute list’ and a ’30 minute list’. When I found I had a few spare minutes, I could take something from the two minute list and just do it.  I didn’t spend time whirring around or frantic or trying to remember what to do. but instead was solidly focussed on crossing a task off the list.  It was amazing how much I could do in a short time when I totally focussed.   If the task was going to take longer than I needed and I needed more time, I was even more motivated to finish it the next time I had a few minutes because I was nearly there.

If I chose a 10 minute block but then my block of time turned into only a few minutes (we’ve all been there, either at home or work!) – I did the same thing.

If I had a 30 minute block, I could do a longer task – or I could do 10 minutes of laundry (or another domestic thing) with total focus and really crank it out….and then another task or a nap! Honestly, I should have napped more than I did; I always wanted to get onto the next thing, but I found I did this less as I timeboxed more.

And eventually I got better at estimating. This helped me feel good about what I did get done, instead of frustrated about what I didn’t get done – and reduced my stress a lot.  And, I had a happier toddler…greeting him with enthusiasm and focus on him – instead of frustration over what was on the rest of the to-do list. Timeboxing was a good start, and I now use it regularly to run my businesses and home life as the single parent of a now teen.

The absolute joy of this strategy:  as I reduced the stressors and distractions in my life (which were mainly the small things) – and I was able to give more full attention to my son AND myself as a result.

What is your favourite healthy stress management strategy?  I’d love to hear about it!

This month’s edition of the Health Corner by Tracy Hannigan

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