Stress is a normal part of life. In fact, manageable levels of stress are healthy for our development and ability to experience enjoyment and fulfillment in our lives. While addressing commonly held myths about stress, The APA drew an appropriate comparison by stating “Stress is to the human condition what tension is to the violin string: too little and the music is dull and raspy; too much and the music is shrill or the string snaps.” Many of us, however, have grown too accustomed to the latter, despite overwhelming evidence indicating that a failure to manage our stress leads to detrimental effects on our health.
Finding relief isn't always easy
We encounter stress from various areas of our lives. Money, school, career, and parenting all demand a great deal of us . Having to be so thoroughly engaged in so many ways is exhausting. To further complicate matters, our self-care is almost always what suffers first. We stop eating healthy, we don't sleep enough (or we sleep too much), we stop exercising, and we isolate ourselves from friends and family. Furthermore, we form unhealthy habits as a means of coping, rather than making time for ourselves. We may procrastinate, spend hours in front of the TV or computer, self-medicate with alcohol, comfort eat with fast food, or take out our stress on others.
Many of these unhealthy outlets are habit forming and abstaining from them isn't always as simple as deciding to do something else. Sometimes managing our stress means cultivating new habits and making lifestyle changes. However, making lifestyle changes requires effort over a period of time and it's easy to become discouraged when we fail. We need patience, support, and realistic expectations.
KNOWING OUR LIMITATIONS
It’s one thing to be challenged in your life. Learning a new job, earning a degree, and becoming a parent are all normal, healthy challenges that can be overwhelming at times. But we also need the tools to navigate these challenges and an awareness of when we need support. If it's a daily struggle to catch your breath and you frequently feel your life is on the verge of crumbling, then you're getting overwhelmed with too much stress. By not being aware of our limitations or taking steps to address our needs, we're putting ourselves at risk for even greater problems.
Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of knowing (or even accepting) when the stress in our lives has grown beyond our control. Finding a sense of direction among so much chaos can feel impossible. For every problem we attempt to address, two more emerge. Just when we feel like we're getting some traction, something unexpected happens. The car breaking down, an unexpected illness, or a sudden loss of employment can all create a sense of unpredictability that gradually wears down our health and wellbeing.
How can counseling help?
Counseling can play a critical role in helping you not only learn to effectively manage your stress, but to develop an understanding of what a healthy work-life balance looks like for you. Remember, you're not trying to eliminate stress from your life. You're trying to master it. When you take steps to understand and manage your stress and stop allowing it to control your life, you're not just going to survive, you're going to thrive.
Whether you're enduring a transitional period in your life, or simply struggling with a day-to-day responsibilities, counseling can help you learn to accept what you can't change and focus on what you can. Taking breaks, setting boundaries, managing your attitudes, and engaging in what you love will ensure that you remain resilient, empowered, and moving forward.