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Monday, April 7, 2014

Happy Stress Awareness Month!

2:46 PM Posted by Stephanie Horgan , , , ,
I haven’t blogged in a while (I’ve been stressed!) and realized that it is Stress Awareness Month.  I am not sure how widely it is recognized, but according to one organization, the effort has been taking place for 22 years. After such a long and harsh winter here in Chicago, I have noticed a large influx of new client referrals. People seem to be hitting their breaking point. Some manifest with depression, some with anxiety, and all are facing stress.
Stress is a part of life and something we can’t avoid, at least not for very long. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the common effects of stress include headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, upset stomach, and sleep problems. If left untreated, stress can contribute to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. We learn a lot about our bodies when we are stressed. Do you know where you hold stress in your body? If not, I encourage you to do a short body scan exercise and see where you feel tension.

Stress can resemble a chronic illness sometimes. There is no “cure.” A person experiencing extreme sterss can also have periods during which the symptoms get worse or improve. Just as we need to be proactive about managing our chronic illnesses, it pays to be proactive about stress reduction. I recently found out about an app for smartphones called Mindfulness. It is a tool I have started using personally and professionally in sessions with clients. It is so simple, yet profound. Just by spending three minutes with a guided meditation, it can calm the mind, slow your heart rate, and help bring some stillness into the room. You can choose from various lengths of guided meditations from three minutes up to thirty minutes. As with physical exercise, the more time you put in, the better you may feel. Even adding a few minutes of meditation before bed can make a huge difference in your sleep quality and daily mental health.
I have blogged before about a Stress Toolbox, and I encourage each client of mine-- and anyone dealing with stress-- to make a list of activities that help them combat stress. When we are stressed, decision-making skills can go out the window, so it is helpful to have a physical list to reference. The list should have a variety of activities. For example, include some that are free or low cost, add some that can be done alone, and some that can be done with other people. Vary the level of activity required-- you might have activites that can be done laying down, and others that require you to be active. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making a relaxation list:

What do I like to do on vacation?
What activities recharge me after a long day?
What is pleasing to all five of my senses? (Touch, Sight, Taste, Hear, Smell)
Which friends do I turn to for my various needs?

I would love to hear your lists if you are open to sharing! I am always looking for good things to add to mine. And I wish you a happy, healthy April, full of relaxation despite the unpredictable weather.