April is Stress Awareness Month so I asked my friend and stress expert Elizabeth Scott to share some of her insights about managing our stress so we’ll be happier.
Make the Most of Stress Awareness Month!
By Elizabeth Scott
April is a wonderful month for both happiness and stress management–new flowers begin to sprout as the weather becomes more beautiful, the days get longer, and there’s a sense of new beginnings. It’s also Stress Awareness Month, which is a fantastic time to take stock of your life, look at where your excess stress is coming from (and perhaps what’s robbing you of some of your happiness), and make plans for healthy changes that will bring less stress and more joy into your life. This sounds like a tall order, but it’s actually much easier than it sounds.
Stress Awareness Month
The key to making the most of Stress Awareness Month is action. Now is the time to move forward and take things a little further than you have already. Because stress and happiness are linked (read this article to see one of the most important science-backed ways of how they’re linked) you can make a few small changes in your life to increase your happiness in big ways while also improving your stress situation and even your health. The biggest stumbling block for most people is just putting their intentions into action. Here’s why:
1. Some people have difficulty knowing where their stress is coming from. Others have a hard time actually detecting when they are over-stressed in the first place. Knowing what needs to change can stop people before they start.
2. Others have a difficult time knowing what specific changes to make that will do the most good. They choose the wrong changes for their personality and lifestyle and then can’t keep up with them for long. Or they make changes that don’t really help their situation and wonder why they don’t feel better. Determining the best course of action is another stumbling block.
3. Making changes and maintaining them in the long term is one of the more difficult parts of each new year for many people. This can be the case during Stress Awareness Month as well. Understanding the process of change and sticking with it is one of the most important aspects of Stress Awareness Month, and one that is overlooked.
These are common stumbling blocks, but they’re not insurmountable obstacles. When you realize what’s holding you back from managing stress in a more effective way or adding things to your life that cause you joy (or both), you can make a few small changes that can lead to an entirely different experience in life.
Here are some important steps you can take during this month. Where you put your effort depends on your situation and what you need, but chances are good that when you read the above about the three challenges people face, at least one of them stood out to you as something you may face yourself. If so, that’s where your focus should probably go! Try the following.
- Determine What Needs to Change. Pay attention to where your stress is coming from the most in the next week or so. Do you feel most stressed at the end of the day, after certain activities, when you see certain people, or when you face particular situations? Take note. You may even want to keep a “stress journal” and record how you feel and when, throughout the week, and it’ll become more clear what’s stressing you most and why. Then you’ll be more able to make a plan to take action.
- Make a Plan. If you know where your stress is coming from, now is the time to make a plan to tackle it. You can either look for ways to minimize the stress of your situation (learn and employ new conflict-resolution skills with a difficult co-worker, for example, or cut out some of the stressful activities in your schedule), or develop coping strategies to help you feel less stressed overall (meditation or exercise, for example). You may want to do both! Make a plan for what can minimize stress and add fun to your life (see this article for more about that), and you’re taking big steps in the direction of transforming your life.
- Learn How to Change. Then Change. If you’re someone who takes on new habits easily, sticks to diets with little effort, and is able to reshape yourself without much work, you’re ahead of the game. Far ahead. For most of us, change isn’t a straight line or even an easy process. But it’s highly doable if you know what to do and are motivated to stick with it. The simple version of the change process is to set goals, break those goals down into actionable steps, reward your progress, and don’t give up! This works with gym habits, meditation practice, healthy diets, and other long-term changes. It’s well worth the effort, too.
For more ideas on how to make the most of Stress Awareness Month, please read the linked articles, or check out my book, 8 Keys to Stress Management. And enjoy your month!
Elizabeth Anne Scott is a stress management writer, wellness coach, the author of 8 Keys to Stress Management (published by W. W. Norton as part of their 8 Keys to Mental Health series), an award-winning blogger, a wife and a mother who lives in southern California. You can subscribe to her newsletter to get regular tips on stress management and happy living.