Normal Functionality and Stress

I wanted to talk a little bit about stress today and how dramatically it can affect our lives. I was so stressed out for a little over two months while preparing for my qualifying exams. I think that I am just now getting back to my normal self–it’s scary how high levels of stress can alter your personality! I didn’t want to do things that I normally would want to do, because I felt like all I was allowed to do was study. What is “funny” about that is that exercising or taking a purposeful break often helps to improve your outlook and ability to focus.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, people have a variety of reactions to stress:

“For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.”

I definitely felt the sleeplessness (very hard time falling asleep when usually I’m out the second my head hits the pillow) and irritability. I’m sure my husband thought I was very fun to be around during that time. πŸ™‚ Here are suggestions (also from the NIMH) to help combat stress:

  • Stay in touch with people who can provide emotional and other support. Ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations to reduce stress due to work burdens or family issues, such as caring for a loved one.
  • Recognize signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Set priorities-decide what must get done and what can wait, and learn to say no to new tasks if they are putting you into overload.
  • Note what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Avoid dwelling on problems. If you can’t do this on your own, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can guide you.
  • Exercise regularly-just 30 minutes per day of gentle walking can help boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Schedule regular times for healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Explore stress coping programs, which may incorporate meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other gentle exercises.

These seem like great suggestions, and I’ll definitely be trying to employ them throughout the semester as I go through the normal ebbs and flows of stress. I just wanted to bring it up to remind people to learn what events cause a lot of stress, and what methods are effective for lowering stress levels to an acceptable level. I sometimes think that being stressed out is looked at as a badge of honor in our society–everyone is stressed out, and you often hear people trying to “out do” one another with how much they have to do, how little they’ve slept, etc. It’s easy to get caught in this trap, but it’s definitely not healthy, and it’s important to remind ourselves that we need to keep a healthy balance in our lives to be truly happy.

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