Sometimes it seems like there are endless items on your to-do list. It’s spring, so that means planning for the kids’ summer activities, cleaning up the yard, getting your taxes in on time, gearing up for finals if you're in school, etc.
These kinds of things seem pretty minor. But when a lot of small stresses converge, they can bring a reaction from your mind and body that can tax you. Your body and mind gear up with a cascade of hormones for fight or flight.
In fact, life’s daily demands can cause a surprising amount of stress. Juggling a lot of different responsibilities—parent, employee, spouse, caregiver for an aging parent—can make it hard to keep your head above water.
Bigger changes, of course, can lead to even more stress. The loss of a job, a long-term illness, moving to a new city or transitioning from college to the “real world” can all cause more pressure.
Most of the time, stress is manageable. But chronic exposure to stress can contribute to brain changes that may lead to troubles with both body and mind. For example, we know that stress can contribute to anxiety, depression, pain and heart concerns.
Tips for beating stress
If stress is affecting your life, try these tips:
- Change what you can. If a specific situation is causing stress on an ongoing basis, do what you can to change it. That may mean scaling back on your commitments, asking for help from others or getting out of a stressful job or relationship.
- Prioritize. Sometimes our minds trick us into taking things more seriously than we need to. We can feel like we’re failing if we don’t cross everything off our lists. But of course that’s not the case. There are times when some things are not going to get done. That’s ok. Focus on what’s truly important to you and your family, and let other things slide.
- Give yourself time away. Take yourself out of the atmosphere that’s causing you stress—even if it’s just for an hour. At home, for instance, it can be hard to turn your mind off when you think you “should be” doing the dishes, cleaning out the kids’ sock drawer, paying bills, etc. So it’s often better to take yourself out of that setting. Take a walk, go to the gym, stop in and sit at a coffee shop. Go to the library and read fun magazines that you wouldn’t normally buy. Get together with friends.
- Mark out time on your calendar for something you can look forward to. Try to expose yourself to something beautiful or novel, as both may help your brain produce its own “feel good” chemicals.
- Remember to breathe. Deep abdominal breathing helps to bring those stress hormones down.
- Pray or use mindfulness techniques such as guided imagery or meditation. This helps to calm your system.
- Get physical activity. It helps you breathe deeper, interrupts your thoughts and helps your body “remember” what it’s like to be relaxed—as in after a workout.
- Do something that gives you a sense of mastery. Maybe it’s just cleaning one sock drawer!
Therapy can help
If you’ve tried managing stress on you own and it just isn’t working, therapy may help. If you’ve felt stuck, overwhelmed or worn down, a therapist can help you identify the stressors in your life and create a plan for reducing and managing your stress. A therapist can support your efforts, help you solve problems and help you embrace those things that can stop the stress cascade.
To request an appointment with a therapist at Psychiatric Associates, call (319) 356-6352 or use our Request an Appointment form.
Lisa Bard, LMHC
Lisa is a licensed psychotherapist. She helps adults, adolescents and children with commonly occurring mental health concerns. She treats individuals as well as families. Lisa enjoys working with complex cases, including patients with multicultural issues, developmental concerns, eating disorders, ADHD, medical illness and gifted and talented profiles. She has a special interest in working with college students, as well as people with bipolar illness.