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The struggle to juggle: Stress management skills

A little bit of stress is enough to be energizing, motivating, performance enhancing, and helpful in the face of danger.

We all need enough stress to stretch, grow and keep life interesting! The key is to try and manage your stress levels so that stress does not become harmful for you or your family. However, too much stress can bring on illnesses or increase the severity of them—like diabetes, colitis and heart disease, to name only a few—and can also contribute to behavioural problems like substance abuse or difficulty socializing. You can train yourself to recognize when you are under too much stress and take measures to reduce it, like disengaging yourself from the source of stress, for example, and then facing the problem at a later time when you are calmer and can problem-solve more clearly.

A Survey on Canadian Attitudes towards Physical and Mental Health, which surveyed a representative sample of over 1,500 Canadian adults, 43% of Canadians point to finances as their top stressor, 17% say family matters/ problems are, and 16% state that meeting their children’s needs is their biggest stressor. In the same survey, a whopping 18% of Canadians say work pressure causes them the most stress. Here are some strategies to help you manage the nuts and bolts of stress:

1 Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Research has shown that getting five hours, or less, of sleep a night can create health problems in the longer term. Getting enough sleep also helps you to better deal with the stresses of everyday life.

2 Prioritize so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. Regularly review and analyze the tasks that you perform at work and at home, and try to determine which ones are necessary and which ones can be eliminated or reserved for a later date.

3 If you regularly commute long periods of time to work and back, try to reduce your stress levels on the road. You might try leaving a bit earlier and taking the back roads to enjoy the scenery or avoid traffic congestion; listening to your favourite CDs (books or music); carpooling with others, or taking public transit, so that you don’t always have to drive; and keeping your car clean, comfortable and stocked with healthy snacks and beverages.

4 Take care of your physical well-being. Eat to stay strong and healthy. Doing so fuels you with the needed energy for life’s everyday challenges. Consider decreasing or discontinuing your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a drug that creates a stress reaction in your body, and can cause you to feel nervous and have problems sleeping. Exercise regularly: endorphin production following physical activity is nature’s gift to you for stress management!

5 Utilize all of your vacation time. Everyone needs some time off to de-compress. Even if you are not going away, try having a picnic lunch by the water, setting up a hammock in a shady spot in your back yard to read, or visiting a spa for the day. If you do go away, try coming back a day early so that you have time to get organized and unpacked before you start work again.

6 If you get sick, stay home. If you need to, take the time you need to get better.

7 Plan ahead. It can go a long way towards reducing stress and anxiety. This might mean planning your menu for the week (or even making your meals for the week on the weekend and keeping them in the freezer), or writing down your tasks for the next day, the day before. It also means keeping your financial life on track, by deciding what you want for you and your family, getting professional advice from a qualified financial advisor and gathering the resources you require to achieve your long-term goals, while also planning for the unexpected. Keep a stress diary for a month. Write down the events that triggered your stress, and how you reacted to these events. Are you happy with how you reacted, or, are there some ways you could better react in future?

8 Set firm boundaries between your work and non-work time. You can choose not to respond to that e-mail you received at 1:00am in the morning! Build in a time buffer within your work and/or home schedule on a regular basis where you schedule NOTHING, so that you may use this time to regroup, relax, or take care of unexpected things.

9 Write down 3 things you are thankful for each day, even if you find it hard. It will help you focus on the positive instead of the negative.In other words: count your blessings, not your troubles. If you can manage it, volunteer in your community for an organization or people in need. It may help you to put things in perspective when you see how others can have even more serious sources of stress in their lives.

10 Create a strong support system. Develop meaningful relationships with co-workers, your family, your friends, and your higher power. Discuss stress management techniques with your loved ones, and how you can implement them in your everyday lives.

Visit psychologyfoundation.org for more. Reprinted with permission from The Psychology Foundation.

4 Tips to Quickly Reduce Stress:

Step back and put the problem in perspective.

Give yourself a break to chill and recharge.

Try to resolve issues before theybecome a crisis.

Talk things out with someone you trust.

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