Earlier this week Hoda Kotb, the co-anchor for TODAY and host of her own Sirius radio show, and I talked extensively about stress and the best way to handle this pesky little emotion. When I interviewed Hoda for my book, Your Best Age is Now, her answers were so inspiring that I made her a mentor for my book's chapter on this topic. This week we had another opportunity to talk about stress on her radio show and some of the best ways to cope with this feeling.
Stress is an unavoidable part of everyone's life, mostly because our lives are always going to be a little unpredictable. But this lack of predictability doesn't mean we have to fall victim to the various problems stress can cause. Fortunately, there are many time proven strategies that can help us keep our stress levels in check.
Stressful feelings happen when the demands placed on us feel too difficult to manage or cope with on our own. Occasionally, however, stress can prove helpful. When stress boosts our drive to get through a particularly demanding situation, such as studying for exams or completing a challenging work deadline, it can be used as a catalyst for good. But too much stress can be problematic, affecting everything from our immune system to our cardiovascular system; not to mention taking its toll on our emotional well-being. Chronic stress can cause anxiety, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and ultimately weaken our overall immune system, so the desire to manage this feeling of stress makes a lot of sense.
Men and women handle stress differently. Men are more inclined to experience stress that's focused on them, while women are more likely to take on the stress of others. This means women are not only stressed about themselves, but also tend to worry about their families, friends and their work environments. And according to the National Study of Daily Experiences women provide more emotional support to others at midlife than at any other time of life. The tendency to strive for perfection, feel anxious or depressed when they fail to meet personal expectations or when they compare what they think their lives should be verses what it actually is, can create a toxic, self-deprecating loop that's hard to escape.
Hoda spoke to me about her own specific approach to handling stress and stressful situations. On any given day she tries to do something that "lightens her load". She includes exercise regularly into her day and says every time she does it, she feels better. Every morning she starts her day out by jotting down 3 things she feels grateful for, and then tries to write about one extraordinary experience that happened to her within a 24 hour time period. She looks for the amazing experience instead of looking for what's wrong. When Hoda does feel stressed, she remembers the following philosophy, "How we spend our day is how we spend our lives," and then tries to focus on what's happening in the "right here and right now" instead of worrying about the future.
Finding healthy and positive ways to deal with stress, reduces many of the negative health consequences both physically and emotionally. Everyone is different and therefore will have their own unique way to manage personal stress. The following are some helpful tips from my interview with Hoda and from my new book, Your Best Age is Now.
1) Look at Your Life Through a More Optimistic Lens and Give Yourself Credit Where You Can
Life is an exercise in creative problem solving. Challenges are a part of everyone's life. Focusing on the positive and giving yourself credit where you can, can help you feel more confident and help you to seek out creative solutions.
2) Seek Out Social Contact and Support From Others
Women produce the brain chemical oxytocin, the same chemical known as the love hormone released during breast feeding. This hormone increases bonding and caretaking behavior, which is why a women's response to stress has been coined the "tend and befriend response."
3) Encourage Your Emotional Hygiene by Editing What You Say To Yourself
In the same way that you edit what you say to others, it's important to take inventory of what you say to yourself. Everything you say to yourself has power. Trying to reframe your experience to a kinder narrative, goes a long way to reducing stress and anxiety.
4) Stress Can Be Alleviated By Making Tiny Fixes
Break down your stressors into manageable parts and make small changes where you can. It's important to give yourself credit and check things off your list whenever you can.
5) Create A "Let's Attend To Me Day"
Life shouldn't be filled with only the things you have to do. It's important to include the "want to's" into your life not just "have to's." Learn to say "no," and to set limits and prioritize where you can.
Let's conclude by taking a mental picture of the ability you demonstrated to get through your periods of extreme stress. What techniques were you able to identify and can use now going forward? When you analyze your answers, you might realize you have already been more resilient managing your stress than you thought.