Posted on: Monday, December 17th, 2018
The end of year crunch equals too much work, not enough time, and can be most stressful than all other months combined. At work, we are racing to complete our annual goals and make plans for the upcoming year. At school, we are preparing for finals exams and finishing projects. At home, we try to organize holiday family gatherings by cooking, gift shopping, and so on. Don Braun, a registered psychologist, discusses the following strategies to make the last weeks of the year more manageable – and maybe even enjoyable!
What are some simple things you can do to manage and ease stress?
Stress can be thought of as a glass of water. It is normal to experience stress, and much like taking a sip of water, we can often roll with what comes our way without too many difficulties. Problems tend to arise when the amount of stress outstrips our ability to cope. Imagine yourself as very thirsty and sipping the water from that glass until it is dangerously close to the bottom.
We can do two things to address the dilemma of stress. The first is to reduce the stressors in our life, where we can. Think of this like decreasing the number of sips from the cup. Some stress, like the pressure of work or school, may be unchangeable in the short-term. Other stressors, perhaps, excessive pressure on ourselves, too much time online, or engaging in toxic relationships may be more possible to change. The other thing we can do is to increase the experiences that fill our cup with fresh water. What fills us up with the mental energy to deal with stress is different for each person.
To help with my year-end stress, I am trying to schedule my calendar with a few more gaps for downtime and I am practicing patience and self-kindness amidst the deadlines. I am also making sure to engage with friends and family, even when there is work to do because I know this fills my cup!
Should I see a therapist to help me manage my stress?
It is time to consider seeing a therapist when your cup is near, or at the bottom. Signs that you have reached this place can include negative moods that remain and leave you feeling stuck, frequent irritability, anxiety that is affecting your ability to function, difficulty bouncing back from setbacks, and a loss of hope for good things. It is also important to watch out for changes in the way you sleep and eat. A common sign that your cup is getting near the bottom is when you find yourself impatient and angry while driving your car.
Is talking about your problems important for managing stress?
We all tend to know intuitively that talking to someone often helps us cope with stress, but we may not know why this is the case. We are relational animals and our brains are hard-wired to seek and experience connectedness with others. Talking to a supportive person helps tell our brain that things will be okay, we are not alone, and this helps structures in our brain associated with stress to settle down. Also, talking to someone can be like giving a boost to the stress-coping systems in our brain which sometimes become out of sorts when stress is too high.
What are the consequences of long-term stress?
There is a certain amount of stress that is healthy and we are well able to cope. In fact, some stress is needed to keep us motivated toward action in our lives. Sticking to the cup of water analogy, the problem with long-term stress sets in when our cup is empty for a long time, and our relationships, work, and our body begins to suffer. In 1993, McEwen and Stellar coined the term, allostatic load, to describe the amount of stress experienced. Allostatic-overload refers to the situation when our stress experience outstrips our coping resources (think about the empty cup). Researchers have found that allostatic overload actually makes us more susceptible to illness and disease.
-I would like to credit Dr. Stuart Shanker with helping to shape my thinking on stress.