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Taking Care of Yourself During Stressful Times

Stress is caused by how an individual responds to any situation, either positive or negative.   Different people will find different jobs or departments more or less stressful.  The level of stress in a particular position is related to the degree of fit between the demands of the position, and the work style of both the employee(s) and the supervisor.   Each job has its own unique stressors and among organizations the common stressors are keeping up with the increased demands and pace of change while doing more with less.  Chronic stress is not good for our health and since the demands and pace of change are not going to change, and you are probably not going to get more resources to do your job, you can only change response.  So consider the tips below.

1. Stop, breathe, and tell yourself: “This is hard and I will get through this one step at a time.” Identify the steps you need to take first, write them down, and focus on each step one at a time…if you look at everything you have to do, you will become overwhelmed. Remember you can only do one thing at time and focus exclusively on that one thing.

2. Acknowledge to yourself, what you are feeling.  All feelings are normal so accept whatever you are feeling.  Once you recognize, name, and accept your feelings, you feel less out of control.  Take 3 deep breaths and breathe into your feeling.  It is important during this time of stress to own and name your feelings and NOT hurt yourself or lash out at someone else.

3. Find someone who listens and is accepting.  You don’t need advice.  You need to be heard.   Sharing our story is how we begin to accept whatever is happening.  It may be that you need to let go of your expectations of how things should be and talking about your feelings and beliefs is the beginning of that process.  Consider contacting your EAP.

4. Eat regularly and make healthy choices.  Skipping meals, particularly breakfast, contributes to fatigue, mood swings, and poor concentration.  Healthy choices (foods not high in simple sugars) maintain your blood sugars and therefore your energy and concentration.

5. Take a 2-5 minute break:  take a walk outside around your building or try some  muscle stretching and relaxing at your chair or in your office.  Everyone can break for 2-5 minutes.  When you take a break you do something different so if you were sitting, stand up and stretch or walk.  If you were very active, sit and stretch and always remember to take 3 deep breaths.

6. Find something that makes you laugh or start smiling and think of something funny.  A deep belly laugh is a great way to relieve stress.  Smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, increases your immune system.  Your body does not care if your smile is genuine.  Keep funny jokes where you can look at them and stop, read them, and let yourself really laugh. 

7. Know your limits and when you need to let go.  Some problems are beyond our control.  If something cannot be changed, work at accepting it for what it is.  Resist the urge to fix the unfixable or try to control the uncontrollable.  Sometimes a mantra helps…“It is what it is; I can accept it.”  For things within your control, remember change takes time.  If you are holding on and need to let go, journal about it.

When you go home, take Good Care of Yourself.  Remember to:

  • Get enough rest and sleep.  Sleep at least 6 hours and not more than 9 hours.  If you are having difficulty sleeping, listening to peaceful, slow music web site www.tuneyourbrain.com and/or do progressive relaxation just before you go to sleep.  If you still have trouble sleeping, contact the NIU Employee Assistance Program at 753-9191.  Sleep is how our body heals and strengthens our immune system.
  • Identify or create a nurturing place in your home.  A rocking chair, a nice view, and soothing music are  important components to a nurturing place.  Twenty minutes of rocking in a rocking chair reduces both your physical pain and anxiety. It is like giving yourself a hug.
  • Practice relaxation or meditation.  Go to your nurturing place and listen to guided relaxation tapes. Time spent in meditation or prayer allows your mind and body to slow down and let go of the stress.  Take a mental vacation in the midst of stress by relaxing your body, shutting your eyes and visualizing yourself in your favorite vacation spot or quiet haven.