Stress: For the most part, we just accept it as a part of life. If you have a job, a daily commute, a family to care for, or bills to pay, you know just what I’m talking about. Life can throw new challenges your way without warning, and it can be difficult to manage your physical and emotional responses to them. While stress is a nearly universal experience, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you or that you should ignore it. Managing stress to the best of your ability is an essential form of self-care. Here, I’ll explain more about tracking your stress level for personal growth and improved physical and mental health. When you know your stress level is on the rise, you can take simple action steps to lower it.
What Happens When Stress Levels Rise?
Let’s face it: Life is stressful. No matter how much you may enjoy your job, work can be challenging, frustrating, and exhausting at times. In a similar vein, even the happiest of families can experience tension and worry, especially when young kids or teenagers are involved. Coping with a serious health problem, whether it’s an acute injury or a chronic illness, can cause you to feel anxious, depressed, and burned out. The same is true for caring for a loved one who is ill, especially if they’re homebound and fully dependent on you. And anyone who has experienced major financial problems can attest to their ability to keep you up at night.
When you’re experiencing an increased level of stress, you may find yourself feeling tired, irritable, and impatient. What you may not realize is that stress also has a major impact on your physical health. You might experience symptoms like insomnia, gastrointestinal distress, or headaches. In the longer term, stress can weaken your immune system and even increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Stress also affects your mental health on a long-term basis. In addition to feeling grouchy and tense, you could experience difficulty concentrating, memory issues, depression, anxiety, and anger or sadness. That’s why learning to manage your stress level is an important part of taking care of yourself. You can’t enjoy everything you have and reach your full potential if you’re feeling chronically toasted. Next, I’ll give you some important tools for stress level management.
What a Stress Monitor Can Reveal About Your Mental Health
Have you ever stopped in the middle of the afternoon and realized that you were starving because you’d forgotten to eat lunch? Stress can be kind of like that sometimes. You’re on autopilot, going through the motions of your day, and when you pause to take a breath, you realize how tense and anxious you feel. Monitoring your stress level is a key part of learning to manage it.
If you’re new to this, you have a number of tools available to you, like this quick stress quiz. You might give it a try, record your results in a journal or a note-writing app, and revisit the quiz in a week. How has your stress level changed over the past seven days, and what caused it to rise or fall? Revisit the quiz in another week, and repeat the exercise. If you find yourself unable to achieve and maintain a manageable stress level, it’s time to level up on those healthy coping strategies!
If you’re a technophile, you might try a wearable device called a stress tracker, which is like a fitness tracker but with a special emphasis on your stress level. A stress tracker monitors symptoms of stress—in particular, your heart rate variability—to give you an idea of how stressed you are on a daily basis. If you’re not looking to invest in a new device right now, you may already own a fitness tracker that can give you clues about your stress levels. Look into apps that monitor your heart rate and sleep habits.
If any of these metrics reveal that your stress level is higher than ideal, you might feel, well, a bit stressed out about how to manage it. That’s why your next step will be to develop a personal development plan to help you tackle your stress in healthy ways.
Managing Stress for Personal Growth
Your stress management plan will be unique to you. There’s no one out there who lives your life, faces your challenges, and responds to things exactly as you do. That’s why you’re going to map out a unique personal strategy for coping with life’s more trying moments. Your best friend, next-door neighbor, or colleague may have a personal development plan that looks nothing like yours, and that’s okay. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you can determine what will work best for you.
Your stress management strategy should include some form of physical activity, preferably for thirty minutes every day. (Shoot for five days each week if you can’t do all seven.) You might try gentle yoga, power walking or running, swimming, or riding a bike. If you’re able to get outside, fresh air can serve as an extra source of stress relief.
You should also make time every day to quiet your mind, whether it’s through journaling, practicing mindfulness meditation, reading a book, or playing an instrument. Choose an activity that feels good to you and draws your attention away from your stressors. Giving yourself a quick mental break can help you feel calmer and more centered so that you’re better able to meet your challenges head-on.
Managing Stress: Good for Your Health – Veterans Health Administration
Your stress management plan should also include time away from your sources of stress. While you can’t simply abandon your responsibilities, spending some time elsewhere can give you a chance to relax and recharge. If your drive to work is hellish, for example, try taking the bus once a week or asking for permission to work remotely on occasion. If you’re a long-term caregiver for an ailing loved one, see if you can employ respite care so that you can decompress and visit a friend or run errands. And if you’re a full-time parent, don’t feel guilty when your partner offers to take the kids to the park while you watch a marathon of reruns. No matter how much we love our careers and the people we care for, it’s nice (and necessary) to have a little you-time.
Stress will always be part of the human experience. Learning to monitor your stress level and respond with proven stress management strategies is one of the most important forms of self-care you’ll ever practice. So, please, set aside some time each day to take good care of yourself, physically and mentally. You’ll live a longer, happier, and more productive life.