Stress is the enemy of mental and physical health. And the primary stress trigger is major transition, as is shown by such resources as the famous Holmes–Rahe Stress Inventory.
Good or bad, transition means extensive adjustment, a heavy load of uncertainty, and some level of loss. While the resulting stress may not cause mental illness, it certainly can help elevate a previously undetected or under-control problem into a major one.
Much as we might like to at least keep all non-transitional stress out of our lives at such times, holding such an unrealistic expectation will only create more stress. However, taking precautions against stress in other areas of life does reduce our overall stress levels — thus helping protect our minds and bodies from the worst effects.
Below are six ways to minimize stress in times of transition:
1. Expect some deviations from “business as usual.”
Transition comes with increased interruptions, multiple learning curves, and a host of new responsibilities. If your “normal” schedule is loaded with commitments, don’t think that because you have always found it manageable and even exhilarating, you can keep up the same pace now. “Just a few more things” add up quickly, and “new” things always take longer to finish than you’d expect; you can frustrate yourself into major depression trying to keep up.
Put some of your more energy-consuming activities on hiatus until you adjust to the new reality.
2. Keep your routine as regular as possible.
Your mind needs the comfort of the familiar, especially now. Don’t make more changes in your overall life than are necessary. If your family always eats dinner together, stick to that even if you worry about the impression you make by regularly leaving your new job at 5 p.m. sharp. (Chances are no one will even notice.)
Go to bed and get up at the usual times; keep your favorite leisure activity on the daily list; continue with your exercise schedule.
3. Get plenty of sleep.
Rest is vital to keeping at top function through the stresses of transition. If “I can’t sleep for excitement/worry” is becoming a problem, add a relaxing evening ritual (such as a hot bath, a cup of herbal tea, and some soft music) to your last waking hour of the day.
4. Eat healthy.
Caffeine and fatty foods will only exacerbate stress feelings and decrease your ability to manage effectively. If you must eat on the road, go to a deli instead of a hamburger shop — and eat inside the restaurant, not while driving or standing up. (Slower chewing is better for your digestion, too.)
5. Take relaxation breaks.
Once an hour, stand up and stretch, do a few yoga moves and deep-breathing exercises, or look out the window at some natural scenery. You aren’t letting yourself lose time on the important stuff; you’re protecting yourself from burnout and ensuring you will continue to get the important stuff done effectively.
6. Draw a firm line between what you can and can’t control.
It’s hard to say which causes more stress and concurrent mental problems: feeling that one “has” to do things that one could in fact say no to, or raging against things that no one can undo on command. Of course it’s infuriating and anxiety-provoking when a truck jackknifes on the freeway and makes you 20 minutes late to the job interview you were already nervous about and made a point of leaving early for. Swearing silently (or out loud) won’t get the accident cleared away any faster, but it will definitely increase your chances of exacerbating any negative impression created by your late arrival (who automatically thinks “great candidate” on seeing someone dash in panting, red-faced, and with knotted brow?).
It’s much better damage control to phone your appointment then and there, explain exactly what happened, and, if necessary, reschedule on the spot. You’ll have a better chance of doing this without sounding like an excuse-maker — and of saving both the job opportunity and your sanity — if you first take a few deep breaths, remind yourself that no one deliberately caused the accident for the purpose of making your life miserable, and spare a little compassion for the people involved in the accident and the others equally inconvenienced by it.
Change is inevitable, and inevitably stressful. But if you make conscious efforts to keep stress levels down in all areas of life, it needn’t lead to a breakdown.
Curve in the road photo available from Shutterstock