Just a week or so ago, many of us spent the 4th of July celebrating America's Independence and basking in our own freedom. We love the smell of fresh barbecue and laughs with friends. It's almost enough to hide one devastating truth. We're not so liberated after all!
Earlier this year, a study[i] revealed that the average American is stressed out beyond what can be considered healthy. In fact, most Americans (82%) say that their stress levels are constant or increasing. So ask yourself, "am I really free?"
If stress is ruling your life, the following three steps can help you begin to reclaim your independence:
1. Recognize That Stress Is Getting the Best of You
The first step toward being free is to recognize the presence and power that stress has in your life. It strains your relationships, weakens your health and lowers your energy levels. Professionals use tools like the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)[ii], to assess stress levels. But you can also use your day-to day feelings as a measure. Common symptoms of stress include:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Lack of motivation
Sound familiar? If, so then you are not alone - 86% of people polled feel similarly.[i] Stress has become a popular oppressor. But it doesn't have to keep you down.
2. Be Clear On What Is Stressing You Out
The next step in reducing stress is identifying problems and emotions that trigger it. The most commonly reported causes of stress are:
- Family Responsibilities, and
- Personal Health Concerns
In fact, more than half of people who report stress, say that one or more of the above is at fault. Yet, interestingly enough, the majority of people who reported feeling "unstressed," said it was due to their personalities. They did not report a lack of financial challenges or claim to have uber-successful careers. They were not absent of family responsibilities or personal health concerns. They simply approached life differently.
What do we learn from this? Our attitudes have a lot to do with our stress levels. When we perceive things as stressful, they become so. If instead, we perceive things as learning opportunities, ways to grow or temporary set-backs, then they carry less weight. And as such, they weigh on us much less.
3. Address the Stress
The final step in freeing yourself from stress is to attack it head on. Several techniques have been proven to work in managing stress:
You Can Cope With Your Stress[iii]
Problem-Focused Coping targets the circumstance to which you are reacting.
- Money problems? Work out a budgeting strategy.
- Health concerns? Find a medical specialist.
- Issues at work? Sit with your supervisor and co-draft a performance improvement plan.
Emotion-Focused Coping targets the way you react to these circumstances.
- Money problems are making you feel anxious? Deal with the anxiety by distracting yourself. Do something that you enjoy - dance, draw, read, etc.
- Health concerns have you scared? Pray, meditate or try a physical activity that quiets your thoughts.
- Work issues causing you to feel angry? Journal about your feelings or scream them into your smart phone's voice recorder.
...And You Can Reduce Your Stress[iv]
Mindfulness meditation - Take some time every day to sit in silence. Now focus inward. Make sure to pay attention to your breathing. At the same time, try to quiet your mind. Observe any thoughts that come through as if they were being said by someone else. Be sure not to judge yourself or cling to any ideas of what this process "should" be like. Simply let yourself be... in the moment.
Body scan - Sit or lay down. Direct your mind's attention to each part of your body, focusing solely on the sensations flowing through you. Feel the circulation of your blood, your muscles at work, the settling of your bones as you calm into this position. Concentrate only your body.
Gentle yoga - Use the less strenuous yoga poses (child's pose, sun salutation, warrior pose) to strengthen your body's will. Channel your energy and attention into the calming movements of yours arms, legs and core. Keep yourself conscious of the life-energy that flows through you as you stay in a constant state of gratitude for every minute and breath you experience.
Remember, you are no closer to solving your problems by stressing out about them. In fact, elevated stress levels often create even greater life challenges. So direct your attention toward freeing yourself from the mess that stress has created. You deserve your independence!
For more help with freeing yourself from stress, visit my website: www.DinorahNieves.com
[i] American Psychological Association. (2015). Stress in America: Paying With Our Health. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf
[ii] Cohen, S. (1983). Perceived Stress Scale [Measurement Instrument]. http://www.mindgarden.com/documents/PerceivedStressScale.pdf
[iii] McLeod, S. A. (2009). Emotion Focused Coping. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/stress-management.html#em
[iv] SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. (2015). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Retrieved from http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=238