By Lori Miltenberger, Kappa Kappa Gamma
Stress happens to everyone, and stress itself isn’t good or bad! Stress is what we all experience as we adjust to the demands of our lives. It can be a source of motivation, pushing and moving us to take action, or a source of negativity, creating feelings of sadness, anger and depression. It is the negative reaction to stress that can lead to health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as anxiety and depression. Every day we experience stress as a response to both happy and difficult events, and it is how we react to these stressors that will determine if stress will help or hurt us.
Research has shown that women are highly susceptible to stress. This may be due to multiple factors, such as managing a balance between work and traditional responsibilities at home, difficulty in saying no to others and spending less time nurturing our own needs. Hormones and body chemistry may also play a part.
So how can we better manage stress? We need to remember that we can’t eliminate it entirely, and without it we might become stagnant. The goal is to find our own optimal level of stress, so we feel motivated rather than paralyzed. When you begin to experience symptoms of too much stress, it is time to take action and change your reaction to it. Symptoms include decreased memory and concentration, mood swings, distractibility, depression, anger, increased alcohol consumption and excess smoking or eating.
Begin by becoming aware of your stressors and how you react to them physically and emotionally. Recognize when you feel distressed, and ask yourself what is causing that feeling. Pay attention to how your body responds to the stress. Are you physically upset – for example, do you notice stomach pain or tension? Are you emotionally upset, with negative thoughts or feelings of helplessness?
Second, identify what you can and cannot change. Can you eliminate the stressful circumstance completely or reduce its intensity by delegation or managing it over a longer period of time?
Third, reduce the intensity of your emotional and physical reactions to stress. Your reaction is determined by your perception of the event. Are you turning a small event into a larger one? Are you trying to please everyone? Try looking at the stressor as something you can effectively cope with, so as to put the situation into perspective. Practice deep breathing exercises, which will bring your heart rate to a normal level, and use relaxation techniques to reduce muscle tension.
Fourth, build yourself up physically and emotionally. Exercise regularly, eat balanced and nutritious meals, avoid caffeine and get enough sleep. Nurture supportive friendships, develop realistic goals and be kind and gentle to yourself. Stress can be managed in a healthy way!
About Lori Miltenberger
Lori Miltenberger is a professional counselor, currently working in a university counseling center. In addition to providing individual therapy, Lori serves as the outreach coordinator, developing and coordinating mental-health initiatives in the campus community. She finds working with college students very rewarding, and is honored to be involved in people’s lives at a time when they are experiencing tremendous growth and change. Besides working with students in her professional career, she has been involved through the years in mentoring, advising and participating in inspiring young women as a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity. She has been married for 20 years and is the proud mother of three.