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April is National Stress Month: 6 Coping Tips

As we close out April which is National Stress awareness month, I thought it was only fitting to provide some coping tips. Workplace stress and burnout is at an all time high and even the surgeon general has recently put out guidance for employers to prioritize workplace wellbeing. In a recent informal poll I took during a workshop, 100% of attendees reported being burned out at some point in their careers. That trends higher than the statistic showing that 75% of all workers in the US will burnout at some point in their careers. Burnout can be physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the constant demands of your never-ending to-do lists. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation which can put you in a downward spiral and become a vicious cycle.

When you are placed in a stressful situation, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream leading to increased heart rate, glucose levels, and blood pressure. Having a rush of stress for an extended period of time can make you more susceptible to long term mental health issues. Studies have shown that workplace stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars, and each year, 550 million workdays are lost due to stress on the job. US companies are also spending ~$75 billion a year to treat mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.

Recognizing the signs of chronic stress can help you from reaching the point of burnout. Are you experiencing:

  • irritability

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • headaches

  • insomnia

  • stomach issues

  • weight gain

Manage how you live with these 6 tips to feel less stressed:

1. Incorporate a meditation or mindfulness practice into your daily routine. This doesn't have to be long-- even a five minute brain break to clear your head will increase your productivity throughout the day. Adding in a meditation or mindfulness practice clears the overload that builds up every day that contributes to your stress. Studies have shown that meditation reduces anxiety, depression, and burnout.

2. Add in deep breathing. Deep breathing is a way to reduce the activation of your sympathetic nervous system and studies show that even focusing on your breath for two minutes a day can reduce stress. The sympathetic nervous system controls your body's response to a threat. Breathe in through your nose and let the air fill your stomach. Breathe in for five seconds and hold for two seconds and exhale to a count of five.

3. Regular physical exercise and nutrition. Exercise and nutrition are important components when it comes to how you respond to stress. When your body is healthy, your mind is healthy and vice versa. It's easy to make healthy choices when you are clear headed, but in a state of overwhelm it's easier to choose the fastest unhealthy options, using caffeine to keep us awake, alcohol to lull us to sleep, and giving into the 3pm crash sugar cravings. Physical exercise and getting out into nature is proven to be a stress reliever, whether its swimming, going for a walk, or playing sports.

4. In person connection with others.

Humans are inherently social and need to feel some sense connection and community in order to be happy. Even for introverts, having a sense of belonging is important. Find your community at religious gatherings, mothers groups, the gym, or even work. Friendship and connection is especially important during difficult times to help feel balanced.

5. Limit social media and find ways to actively relax. While it's easy to find community and connection via social media, more and more studies show that spending too much time on social media has been linked to anxiety and depression, especially in young kids and teens. Learn to actively relax without a screen or binging on Netflix by taking a bath, listening to a podcast while you cook, reading a book or magazine, gardening, painting, or any other hobby that interests you.

6. Learn to say no. Setting boundaries and learning to say no is an important skill set in our modern world. With so many work/personal obligations and crazy schedules, pausing before you say yes is a great habit to get in!

Avoid unhealthy ways of coping with your stress such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs or overindulging in food. The outcome of learning to manage stress can lead to peace, happiness, less stress and anxiety, improvement in health conditions such as high blood pressure, better focus, and healthier relationships.

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