Stress Less
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Stress Less

Tips for giving your mind and body a break

Spilled coffee, a missed bus, overdue bills, cranky toddlers, and that guy who just had to have the very parking spot you were eyeing… There’s seemingly no end to sources of stress in our lives.

Often triggered when we experience something new or unexpected or when we feel we have little control over a situation, stress is a normal reaction that happens to everyone. For the most part, short-term stressors (remember that guy and the parking spot) are not the problem, especially if we’re able to find ways to move past the experience quickly. However, long-term or chronic stress can take a toll on the body and increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, weight gain, a weakened immune system, anxiety, and depression.

Tips for handling high-stress moments
According to Kristina Schmidt, RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach and owner of Plan for Wellness in Sunderland, VT, one of the keys to addressing stress is learning to recognize it. “While we think of stress being related to our thoughts, our body is fully engaged in the experience too. The minute we start to experience stress, our body reacts in any number of ways, including an increased heart rate, a tightening in the neck or jaw, sweating, or a knot in your stomach. Learning to recognize your body’s stress cues actually empowers you to take control of the stress and how you’ll experience the situation.”

For in-the-moment high-stress situations, Schmidt recommends a technique called “heart-focused breathing.” She explains, “The goal is to reduce the intensity of a stress reaction by shifting your focus from the cause of the stress to your heart and your breath.”

The three steps to heart-focused breathing are:

  1. Focus your attention on the area of the heart.
  2. Pretend your breath is flowing in and out through the area of your heart.
  3. Change the pace of your breathing until it is a little slower and deeper than usual.

“In a matter of 15 seconds or so, your body and mind will respond. Your thoughts will slow, so you can process and respond to whatever’s happening more calmly,” says Schmidt. She adds, “I encourage clients to practice this type of breathing, even when they are not stressed. The more we practice slow deep breathing throughout the day, the stronger the muscle memory becomes, and the easier it is to call upon the skill when we need it.”

When stress becomes more than a passing moment
Over the past few years, psychotherapist and mindfulness meditation teacher Sue Budz, MSW, LICSW, OSW-C, of Berkshires Stress Management in Williamstown, has noticed an uptick in patients struggling with chronic stress.

“For many,” she says, “life was hard enough pre-pandemic. Doing well at work, raising a family, making ends meet, and trying to make it all look effortless… it was a lot already. Then you layer on an ever-evolving virus that ground the world to a halt, isolated us, required us to trust institutions for guidance on what to do, and to trust others to do ‘the right thing.’ Suddenly, we had to distance ourselves from the very people we loved and appreciated the most. Here we are, two-plus years after the virus first settled in, and there’s still a very pervasive sense of uncertainty and mistrust.”

While Budz is also a proponent of being mindful of when and how you experience stress, she reminds us to stay aware of when we need additional help.

“If your stress is persistent and is interfering with specific areas of life—such as work, sleep, relationships, or your health—when you’re feeling like those things are out of rhythm, that’s the time to reach out for help,” she says.

As for where to turn, she advises contacting your primary care provider or health insurance company for suggestions on therapists. “You also want to ask if your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These programs are designed to help employees resolve personal problems that may impact their work performance, health, and overall well-being. EAPs often provider free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, and referrals.”

She notes, “Sometimes it can take a while to find the right person, so don’t get discouraged. The goal is to find someone with whom the conversation flows naturally and who makes you feel heard and respected. They’re out there.”

Help is at hand
There are a number of apps specifically designed to help with stress management. Many include techniques and recommended strategies for stress management, including deep breathing practices, mindfulness, meditation, and tips for stopping negative thinking. Used on their own or as an add-on to therapy, apps like the ones listed below provide a no-appointment-necessary option for helping you manage your stress on the go.

Happify.com
Available in free and paid versions

Headspace
Free 10-day trial

Mood Gym
Free

SuperBetter
Free

Woebot
Free
For more options, visit psyberguide.org

Previous Article Living with a Serious Illness
Next Article 20 Tips for Slip-and-Fall Season
Print
1094

Theme picker

Theme picker


Theme picker


Our Services

PARTNERSHIP IS POWERFUL MEDICINE

A commitment to excellence and a patient-centered approach sets Southwestern Vermont Health Care apart.

 Cancer Care
 Orthopedics
 Emergency
 Maternity
 Primary Care
 ExpressCare
 Cardiology
 Rehab & Residential Care
View All Services

Theme picker

Theme picker

Theme picker