April is Stress Awareness Month. Do you know the effects of long term stress, how to recognize it, and how to just RELAX? While you can’t always control all stress, you can control and alter how you respond to it. Taking time to implement healthy coping strategies can lead to a healthier, more balanced life with time for work, family and friends, and fun.
Take a moment today to ask yourself some questions about how effective you have been in combating stress in your daily life.
- Am I aware of what is going on around me? Taking the time to be present and developing a daily practice of mindfulness has been shown to lessen stress reaction, increase inner calm, and improve concentration.
- Have I smiled today? Smiling after doing something stressful may help lower your heart rate, according to a new study in the Journal ofPsychological Science. But don’t just stop there; laughter has many health benefits too.
- When did I last volunteer for a cause I cared about? Volunteering helps distract us from our own worries by focusing on others. It also can cultivate a positive attitude by providing perspective to our own stressors as well as generating a sense of accomplishment by helping someone else.
- Am I working straight through the day? Taking a break is shown to improve productivity and concentration while skipping breaks can be draining and lead to increased stress and fatigue. The brain is like any other muscle; it needs time to rest and recover.
- Do I have a hobby? A hobby is another form of a mental breather. It provides relaxation, enjoyment, and distraction, all the while allowing your mind a break from the tension you have been under. Stress can come from feeling as though things are out of control; the beauty of a hobby is it gives a sense of competence and confidence that we don’t have in other areas of our lives.
- When is the last time I updated my playlist? According to a study out of the University of Gothenburg, listening to music you like decreases perceived stress levels and lowers your body’s level of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Am I coping with too many to-dos? We can easily be overwhelmed when too many things are causing us stress, when each to-do item is just adding to our load which is already past capacity. It can feel like everything is happening at once, which actually makes us less effective and feel diminished in our ability to tackle problems. If this sounds familiar to you, try these steps to create a more manageable list.
- Who have I talked to lately? Research has shown that talking about how you feel can help relieve stress by letting go of the emotion(s). Having supportive relationships, where you can talk about issues and problems is a healthy form of channeling the stress and can create a more positive outlook. Even better is talking in person which creates oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone that helps calm you down.
- When did I last exercise? Exercise clears the body’s “flight or fight” response chemicals that result from stress, and the good news is that almost any amount and form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and make it a part of your regular routine.
- Am I answering emails as they pop into my box? A study released by the University of California, Irvine showed that people who constantly check emails were on high alert, experiencing elevated heart rates and lower levels of concentration. Try controlling your email time. Block off five or ten minutes at set times per day to open and answer messages.
If you need help with developing better stress management skills, please give the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) a call at 202-347-3131. Visit http://www.dcbar.org/lap for more information on LAP resources available through the D.C. Bar.