Let’s face it most ECE professionals and most of us in general live stressful lives. In fact excessive stress has become rampant in our culture. It’s an unfortunate and unnecessary outcome of our fast past society.
Our everyday challenges whether they are at home, at work, or at play, impose on our bodies and minds and arouse them. This state of arousal is stress, we cannot live without it. The mechanism that registers this arousal is the same no matter what the source or its level. It helps us cope with all the challenges we, so our goal should not to eliminate all stress, since some stress is a normal and necessary for our survival. Often, positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress.
However, for many of us, stress has become excessive or chronic and we can learn how to manage or reduce excessive stress. Excessive stress may leave us feeling "tied up in knots" and it ultimately impacts our health both physically and mentally. We need to find the optimal level of stress which will individually motivate us but not overwhelm us and impact our health and wellbeing.
Since we react differently to stress, there is not a stress management program that applies to all. However, there are some steps that we can take that work for most of us.
First become aware of what stresses you. Notice your stress level and its source(s). Don't ignore it. Don't gloss over your problems. Determine what events or circumstances stress you. Also become aware of your own bodies signals of tension. For some individuals it is biting nails, clenching fists, grinding teeth or drumming fingers. Others may get: a stiff neck, shoulders or back pain, head aches, or digestive disorders. Some people experience: mood changes, habitual anger, depression, anxiety or irritability. For others, stress may lead to disrupted sleep patterns. Ask family members or others what they perceive as symptoms. They are often aware of your stress or what stresses you, before you do.
Then, begin to work toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it.
1. Recognize what you are able to change.
- Can you change your stressors by eliminating or avoiding them all together?
- Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time)?
- Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the situation)?
Can you devote the time and effort necessary to making a change (using time management techniques or goal setting)?
2. Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress.
Slow and Healthy Breathing:
There are three basic types of breathing - clavicular (shallow), intercostal (middle) and abdominal breathing (deep). A full healthy breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas.
a.) Inhale deeply through your nose. Allow your relaxed stomach to expand like an inflated balloon. After filling your lower lungs, concentrate on filling your middle lungs, and then your upper lungs all the way to your throat.
b.) Exhale through your nose. As you exhale, first deflate your upper lungs, then your middle lungs, and then deflate the abdomen. Make your breath steady and rhythmic, like a wave rising and flowing in, and then flowing out again.
c.) Continue breathing until you establish a natural rhythm. Using a count; breathe in to a count of 6, hold the breath to a count of 3, exhale to a count of 6, then repeat the cycle. As your breathing capacity increases extend the count to 8:4:8.
3. Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress.
The stress response is often triggered by your perception of physical and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in a exaggerated perception and/or taking a challenging situation and making it a disaster?
Are you trying to please everyone?
Are you overreacting and perceiving things as absolutely critical and urgent?
Do you feel you must always prevail in every circumstance or situation?
Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you.
Try to temper your emotions. Put circumstances in perspective. Do not dwell on negative aspects and get into "what if thinking."
4. Increase your fitness and overall health. Exercise and nutrition are important in building your physical reserves.
Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging).
Yoga is also a very effective means of managing stress.
Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid stimulants such as excessive caffeine, and nicotine,
Insure your routine includes leisure time and a balance between work and personal activities. At work, take breaks and get away when you can.
Get adequate sleep. Develop a consistent schedule with your sleep.
5. Insure that you maintain your emotional balance.
Develop supportive friendships and relationships.
Pursue your own realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather those of others.
Realize that life has some frustrations, failures, and sorrows.
Be kind and gentle with yourself, recognize that you are human and can’t do it all.
Contributed by Keith Engelhardt
Keith has been teaching Stress Management and Yoga for over 30 years at Dayton Ohio area institutions including Montgomery Co. Career TechnologyCenter, the Dayton Heart Fitness Center and Samaritan North's Well Center. He has also taught Yoga to the touring cast of CATS(tm).
Yoga for Relaxation and Flexibility
The Book of Stress Survival (Hardcover)
By Alix Kirsta
Publisher: GUILD (1988)
The Stress Management Handbook
Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 1st edition (January 11, 1999)
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook
Publisher: New Harbinger Publications; 5 edition (September 2000)