Conversations with friends and colleagues these days often are peppered with concerns about stress. People are regularly talking about being stressed, recovering from stress or avoiding stress. It’s a word that has become so common that its very commonness tells us something.
It’s not our imagination. We do live in a world of increasing stress. Modern Americans may not have to deal with our ancient ancestors’ life and death stressors like cave lions and lack of central heating. We aren’t stressed as our grandparents were with two world wars and a major Depression. But we are experiencing our own sources of stress that are no less anxiety-producing.
Many families have members risking their lives fighting wars or disease in faraway places. Others have people they love fighting crime and poverty here at home. Shootings in schools and theaters and malls make us feel less safe in more places. The dive in the economy over the last seven years and the high unemployment rate have made people keenly aware that life can change for the worse in an instant. We worry because there are very real things to worry about. Further, we can’t escape it: Our technology keeps us aware of tragedies, dangers, and catastrophes on a daily basis.
Our constant use of smartphones, tablets and other devices can cause equally constant overstimulation of the brain. According to greatschools.org, such overstimulation increases stress and lack of satisfaction with life, causes headaches and makes it hard to focus. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg found that those who constantly use a computer or their mobile phone can develop stress, sleep disorders and depression.
Despite the fact that a happy marriage means less stress, the number of adults who have never married is at an all-time high. Over 40 percent of kids born today are born to single parents. The divorce rate is still between 40 and 50 percent. This all translates to more people dealing with the stress of looking for and maybe not finding a partner. More people either are dealing with the stress of putting up with bad partners or handling the stress of breaking up. More people are managing the stress of single parenting and more people are dealing with the stress of trying to live decently on one income.
More than half of Americans say they fight with friends and loved ones because of stress, and more than 70 percent say they experience real physical and emotional symptoms from it. How we deal with it may even affect our long-term mental health, according to a study that came out from the University of California at Irvine in 2013.
Have I stressed you out yet? Even thinking about all the ways we are stressed can be stressful! How can we find some peace?
Fortunately, we do have some say in how stressed we are. Try some of the following stressbusters to give yourself a break:
- Take charge of information overload. Do you really need to see the same news clip a dozen times? Do you really need to check social media every hour? Probably not. Remember, in the not-so-long ago, people got one newspaper a day and were well-informed. Corral your need to know to a couple of times a day.
- Learn to say no. Sometimes we make our own stress by taking on too much. Take a realistic look at how much you can really accomplish in a day. Prioritize requests and resist pressure to take on more than those items that made it to the top. You’ll avoid the stress of trying to do it all, and you’ll avoid the stress of disappointing people.
- Resist any temptation to use substances to reduce your stress. Smoking, drinking, popping pills, binge eating or drinking 10 cups of coffee a day may seem like strategies to reduce stress, but they really don’t help. At best they provide some relief for a very short time. Over the long haul, they add the stress of serious health risks.
- Get some exercise. Go for a walk or a run. Get on your bike, ski, swim. Do something, anything, that gets you moving. Exercise makes your body release endorphins, a natural destressor. Further, it’s good for your heart and your lungs to get aerobic at least a few times a week.
- Turn off the screens. A constant pixel diet isn’t good for the brain (or your sleep, either). Declare part of the day as a screen-free zone. Give your brain cells and your thoughts a rest. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to savor the quiet. You’ll come back to screenwork refreshed and probably in a better mood.
- Get enough sleep. According to a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 50 to 70 million Americans report sleep disorders or sleep deprivation. Only a third of Americans get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. It may temporarily reduce your stress if you stay up all night to finish a pressing project, but if it becomes a pattern, your body isn’t getting the restorative rest it needs.
- Take time out. Make sure you devote some time every week to doing things you truly enjoy. Too often, people promise themselves they will take up a hobby, invite friends over or just go to a movie when they finish x or get on top of y. The list of “have to’s” can become endless and the time to do something fun just never comes. Put some fun time somewhere near the top of the list and get to it now and then.
- Hang out with positive people.People really do need people. We especially need people who think we’re special in some way and who treat us well. Time spent with positive people doing something positive is a surefire antidote to stress.