Posts

,

Stress: Recognizing and Managing it

Since April is Stress Awareness Month, I thought it would be the perfect time to write a little bit on stress, and share some tips on how to manage it.

You hear the word stress used almost on a daily basis, but, do you know what it is?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are three types of stress: acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is a short term, and the most common type of stress, usually manifesting from the demands of the recent past or near future. Common symptoms of acute stress include irritability, anxiety, depression, tension headaches, heartburn, migraine, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat.

Episodic acute stress is when acute stress is experienced frequently. This could be applied to either those that consistently take on more than they could handle, and those that worry often. Common symptoms include migraines, tension headaches, hypertension, chest pains and could eventually lead to heart disease.

Chronic stress is one that almost never goes away. An individual is at risk of chronic stress when they have no perceived way out of an arousal-inducing situation, for example, being in a war. Chronic stress may also arise out of a traumatic event, such as a car accident. Chronic stress could lead to suicide, heart attacks, stroke, violence, and other life-threatening situations.

The first step to managing your stress is to identify that you are stressed. The next step is identifying your source of stress. Have you had any recent changes in your life? Are there upcoming exams? Are you having financial issues? Are you having problems with your spouse? These are a short list of potential stressors in any individual’s life. The next step is asking yourself why this is a stressor for you. It could be that problems with your spouse may lead to a divorce. Or financial problems may lead to losing your home. The next steps intertwine together:  finding a way to relieve the symptoms of the stress, finding a way to address the cause of the stress, and then assessing whether those solutions worked for you. If not, it is a matter of going back to the drawing board and trying a new way.

The Concordia University student health centre has listed common practices to tackle relieving the symptoms of stress, which include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Other types of distraction, such as playing with your pets, reading a book, or hobbies

Keep in mind that relieving the symptoms of stress are a short-term solution.

They have also put together a list of common practices to tackle relieving the causes of stress is acquiring, which include:

  • Budgeting skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Time management skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Academic skills
  • Other skills that could be acquired through practice or with professional help

University and college websites are an excellent resource for finding tips on stress management, as there are diverse populations attending these institutions. I also recommend looking for local resources. Many doctors offices, gyms, and community centres will offer information on programs you could partake in. Remember that no two people are alike, and that different methods of stress relief will work for different individuals. If you find that you are having difficulty managing your stress, reach out to a counsellor for help.

Resources

Miller, L. H., PhD, & Smith, A. D., PhD. (n.d.). Stress: The different kinds of stress. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from //www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-kinds.aspx

Stress Management. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2018, from //www.concordia.ca/students/health/topics/stress-management.html

,

Self Care, Part One

“I just don’t have enough time for myself.” How many times have you said that to yourself? How often do you find yourself daydreaming of escaping your reality? It’s likely that you’re not taking the time to take care of yourself. I’m not just talking about your physical appearance; self-care runs much deeper than that.

Finding balance is not an easy task, and if you ask me, it’s an ongoing battle. If someone tells me they live the perfect life, I’m inclined to ask them if they’re a robot. We’re all juggling many different things while trying to be good parents, siblings, children, partners, spouses, employees and professionals, but to be truly good at any of those roles, we must take care of ourselves first. After all, how can we take care of others if we, ourselves, are not well?

Self-care is more than just unwinding in a warm bubble bath, but making the time for that is a pretty good start. And that’s just it: making time. Self-care is taking the steps to ensure that you’re feeling good both mentally and physically. Putting in a little bit of work each day will go a long way the long run. It may not be possible to take a vacation every 3 months, but it is possible to stop and take some deep breaths a few times a day.  

Self-care isn’t always pretty, either. It’s facing whatever ugliness that is holding you back from being the best version of yourself – a well-functioning one. It could be anything from going to the gym three times a week (because inactivity is beginning to take a toll on your physical health), to cutting out the negative person that always seems to bring you down. The key is to do something good for yourself.

I could write on and on and on about self care, but in the spirit of not being overwhelming, I’ve decided to break down some tips on self-care into several articles, to be posted throughout the next few weeks.

Like anything else you’re trying to achieve, setting a goal on what exactly you’re aiming for with your self-care is a good practice to have after you figure out what it is you actually want. It is key to be realistic with yourself; like all other goals, don’t set self-care goals you know that you can’t achieve. To make goal setting less overwhelming and actually achievable, I like to use the SMART approach:  A SMART goal is specific (S), measurable (M), attainable (A), realistic/relevant (R) , and timely (T).

Ask yourself:

(S) What exactly is it that I want to achieve?

(M) What will I see, hear or feel when I achieve it? What is the concrete evidence?

(A)Do I have the resources to achieve my goal?

(R)Why do I want to achieve this goal? Does it seem relevant or realistic for me?

(T) What time period do I want to get this done in?

 

You can tweak your goals as you go. Remember that this plan has to work for you. If something doesn’t feel right, make some adjustments and take it from there.

 

Here is an example of how a SMART goal:

(S) I want to become more mindful and relaxed before I start each day. I would like to do that by meditating for 20 minutes before work, 3 times a week

(M) I will make a short journal entry each day, describing how my day went, and whether I meditated in the morning.

(A) I will go to bed 20 minutes earlier the night before and wake up 20 minutes earlier in the morning to make time for my meditation. I will stream my meditation tape on the mobile streaming app.

(R) I don’t have very many coping skills to deal with stress. Meditation would be a quick way to help alleviate stress in the moment.

(T) I will check in once a week to ensure that I have met my meditation goals for the week.

I encourage you to try this, no matter how big or small your self-care goals!

The Winter Blues

If you live in Ontario, Canada, like myself, chances are you’ve experienced a combination of bone-chilling, subzero temperatures, and extremely short days during the winter months. Because of this, chances are that you or someone you know has also experienced a case of what is commonly known as “The Winter Blues during this time. A sluggish feeling, accompanied by low energy levels, constant fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, and overall not feeling like yourself are common symptoms of “The Winter Blues”.  Sound familiar?

If so, what you’re experiencing is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD). Rohan and Rough (2017) describe SAD as a subtype of depression that typically occurs in the fall and winter months. Studies have shown that areas which experience a greater variation in the amount of sunlight they receive between seasons are affected by symptoms of SAD more than those areas which see less of a variation in sunlight hours. In Canada, where sunset in the summer is after 8PM and sunset in the winter is before 5PM, we certainly see wide a variation in sunlight hours. Other symptoms of SAD include depressed moods and anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure). These symptoms may start out as mild and progress throughout the season.

If you’re living in Canada (or any other place that experiences a great variation in sunlight exposure between seasons), the bad news is that the cold weather and decrease in sunlight hours will be inevitable every year. The good news? There are steps you can take to help you beat your winter blues! So if you find yourself experiencing symptoms of SAD year after year, don’t brush it off as “just the winter blues”; make sure you are taking appropriate steps to get yourself out of this funk.

Here are a few things you can do to help you overcome your SAD symptoms:

 

Light Therapy

Also called Bright Light Therapy or phototherapy, the purpose of light therapy is to replace the lost sunlight in the winter using a bright light. The individual experiencing SAD symptoms sits in front of a light box study results show that doing so in the morning is most effective once the fall season begins. Light therapy should be supervised by a medical professional, so before you give this method a try, be sure to see your doctor to make sure that this is a safe option for you (Melrose, 2015).

 

Vitamin D

Many people with SAD are found to have low levels of Vitamin D, which is associated with depression (Melrose, 2015). We get Vitamin D naturally from the sun, so when the sun sets at 4:30 PM, and you’re stuck at work until 5:00 PM, it can be difficult to get enough of that Vitamin D. You can help your body receive sufficient levels by taking Vitamin D supplements. It’s important to speak to your doctor before taking the Vitamin D supplements to ensure that it is a safe option for you.

 

Counselling

Speaking with a counsellor can provide support for you when you are experiencing symptoms of SAD. A popular approach that counsellors take to treating SAD is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The goal of the CBT approach is to break down negative patterns and overwhelming problems which are presented by an individual, by changing the way the individual thinks about them (Melrose, 2015). A professional is able to monitor your condition by using assessments, as well as by applying proven methods to your therapy to help you overcome your SAD.

 

References

 

Rohan , K. J., & Rough, J. N. (2017). Chapter 22/ Seasonal Affective Disorder. In The Oxford Handbook of Mood Disorders (pp. 254-264). Oxford University Press. Retrieved January 12, 2018.

Sherri Melrose, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches,” Depression Research and Treatment, vol. 2015, Article ID 178564, 6 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/178564