By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services
In our last two articles, we’ve covered a few issues surrounding stress management – first, why it is so important to eliminate chronic stress and what we can do in the moment to address it. In this article, we’re shifting our focus a bit deeper: Looking carefully at the stressors we hold in our lives consistently, how we can work to reduce these, and how we can devise and implement a self-care routine that meets our needs.
Analyzing Stressors: Journaling
The thing about stress is that it is both a shared human feeling, yet one that varies wildly between each person. What causes our stress and how we feel it will be different for each of us, so one of the most important steps you can take to start assessing your stress is by journaling each day about it. This doesn’t have to be an overly time-consuming process – just a simple notebook and pen is all you need to start. Each night, spend five minutes reflecting on those moments in your day that elevated your stress levels. Note what caused the event, what impact it had on your stress, and any techniques that were effective in mitigating this. Focus on being specific and descriptive. For example, instead of saying, “Traffic,” try saying, “Stuck in traffic when already late for work with an immediate phone appointment I’ll be late for.” This level of detail will help tremendously when you start analyzing your entries later.
Analyzing Stressors: Reflecting
Once you’ve completed journaling for about two weeks, set aside about an hour to reflect on your entries (try to resist the urge to do this before completing two weeks of journaling!). As you analyze your entries, note the themes that emerge. What stressors occur most frequently? Which stressors had the greatest impact on your well-being? Are there patterns in the time of days (for example, are mornings consistently stressful? Or the after-work rush?). How about the people involved (spouse, family members, co-workers, etc.)? Through this analysis, some clear themes should start emerging as to what is actually causing your stress. The next step is to address them.
Identifying the Lifestyle Changes Needed to Reduce Stress
This is the point in your journey where carefully identifying the changes needed is key. I think one of the best approaches to starting this is to ask yourself honestly, “If my life had minimal stress, what would need to be different? How would my day look? What kinds of relationships would I have? How would I spend my time?” Once you’ve reflected on and answered these questions, consider the differences and similarities between your life NOW and your life of minimal stress. What things would remain the same? What things would need to change? Just note – this is not an easy process. Through this work, you’ll likely identify choices you are unhappy with, toxic relationships, and things about yourself that you may feel compelled to alter. You’ll also find the need to embed a daily self-care ritual that will need time and require the giving up of other things you do with that same time currently. It’s an excellent idea to have a trusted confidant that can help support you during this work.
Committing to the Change: What It Means to Engage in Self-Care
At this point, you should have the workings of an action plan – the ways you’ll remove unneeded stress from your days, what you’ll be doing to accomplish this, and how you’ll be embedding self-care techniques. Every person’s plan will look different, but let’s take a look at my own from years past as an example:
- Running late for work in the mornings due to long commute, getting children ready, and not having help to get out the door; Health anxiety; Feeling isolated from friends and family due to relocation.
- Request later start time and hiring a morning mother’s helper; Making and keeping needed doctor’s appointments and engaging in mindfulness meditation around health symptoms when feeling anxious; Setting aside scheduled time for phone dates with friends and family.
Seems simple, right? Unfortunately, this is where many of us stop this work. Why? Because it requires action on our part – it requires sacrifices. Hiring a mother’s helper was an incredible help for me… but it was also costly. It required weighing these costs with what I needed to make it through this challenging time. For each of us, our commitment to self-care will force us to make similar choices, create new routines, and make decisions around what we are willing to give up for our own self-preservation. What works for you will be individualized and necessary – for ideas, check out this video:
As you move through this work, find ways to hold yourself accountable to the changes you’ve committed to. Talk to someone you trust. Continue to journal. Forgive yourself for regression and remember every moment is a new start – there’s no better time for making the change than the one you are living in right now.