Stress… and your health

Stress at work… stress at school… stress at home… and ignoring your self-care routine.  Stress leads to more stress, along with emotional and physical exhaustion.  Does this cycle sound familiar?

It seems that we humans have a way of putting ourselves on a treadmill as we try to react to all the demands around us.  As a result, our own needs can end up in last place.  We forget that only by managing our self-care can we be truly effective in our jobs and school and in our home life.  And so the negative cycle begins.

It also seems to me that once you let your physical and emotional self-care sit up on the shelf while you scramble around trying to respond to all those competing demands, it’s all too easy to leave it sitting there. Operating in stress mode can start to feel normal.  But whether you’re aware of it or not, operating in stress mode, and neglecting self-care can lead to feeling more and more depleted, which can lead to burnout.  If you are feeling burned out, you may be even more likely to neglect your self-care.

Another consequence: When your self-care routine is off the rails, it may seem that much harder to start up again.  The cycle continues…

Here’s the bottom line.  If you let stress get in the way of taking good care of yourself, you run the risk of being less able to cope effectively.  As a result, stress leads to more stress.

What can you do to avoid the stress cycle? Here are some ideas to think about:

Be aware of your basic self-care needs.  Take an inventory of what you need to function at your best every day.   What do your meals need to look like? How many hours of sleep? Exercise? Breaks?  Managing your hemophilia? Sure, on some days, you may have to settle for meeting the baseline requirements.  But don’t allow yourself to let the self-care regimen slide day after day.

Take a look at what triggers the stress cycle.  While you perform that inventory, you might also think about the last time you fell into the stress cycle that brought your self-care crashing to a halt.  What happened at your job that kicked it off?  At school?  At home?

Create a strategy for coping with triggers.  Once you’re aware of what can kick off the stress cycle, then you can also introduce ways to cope.  Is there someone you can vent to when the pressure builds up? Get support! Talking can help release those pent-up emotions.  Is there a way to prepare for the crunch times? Are there times when you could be asking for help? That need to be perfect – or to be the hero – can lead to additional stress that doesn’t need to be there.

Be proactive: Set daily goals.  You probably have a list of what you need to accomplish every day.  So, consider adding your self-care to that list.  Include the key tasks from that inventory you did.  Healthy food? Check.  A break? Check.  Managing your health? Check.  You might enlist a friend or family member to help you be accountable for maintaining your daily self-care.

Schedule, schedule, schedule.  You put your hours of work on your schedule.  You put family obligations on your schedule.  You put your other commitments on your schedule.  So how about putting your self-care on your schedule? Schedule a few minutes to clear your mind, even if that means taking a walk for a quick change of scenery.  Give yourself a bedtime every night.  And don’t forget mealtimes, and with enough time to get real food and not raid the snack cupboard.  If you treat doing what you need to do to take care of yourself as an afterthought, and fit it in when and if you can, chances are it won’t get done.

Recognize where you have control and where you don’t have control.  The pressures of daily life are not going away.  You may not have control over the demands of your life.  But you do have control over how you handle those demands.  Starting with making sure you stay on top of what you need to do to take care of yourself.

Stress is not going away.  But stress doesn’t have to derail your self-care routine.  Put yourself at the top of your daily list of priorities.  If you’re taking care of yourself, you’ll be that much better able to cope with the demands of the day.  And to be there for yourself and your other priorities in life.  So take good care of yourself.  Every day!

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals.  He maintains a website, www.JustGotDiagnosed.com.

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