Stressed Out? It’s Not About What Happens To You. It’s About How You Respond.

A life coach reveals how you can manage stress and anxiety in today's world.

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Before the coronavirus pandemic, we busied ourselves with too much work, too many social activities, and too little self-care. Then, due to quarantining guidelines, most of us were suddenly forced to spend less time with others and more time with a person who had, somehow, become a stranger to us: our selves.

Connection to Yourself. When you’re truly connected to your authentic self, you’ll never feel alone. But, without realizing it, many of us had spent a great deal of time trying to run away from ourselves. We’ve over-emphasized pleasing others while forgetting to please ourselves. And, now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve become more isolated than ever before — isolated not only from our coworkers, family, and friends but from the person who matters most: you.

There’s a difference between solitude and loneliness. If we’re in tune with ourselves, if we’ve learned to love ourselves, then we’re never alone. Whether in a meditative state, in a busy workplace, or on a crowded beach, when we’re comfortable with ourselves, we always feel connected. Solitude provides us the opportunity to get in deeper touch with our inner selves. In sharp contrast, loneliness comes from an over-reliance on others to make us feel good. Of course, by our very nature, we’re social beings. So, engaging in social activities satisfies a biological imperative for our survival. Being a part of a family, a tribe, a community, a nation, a world, a universe, is comforting. But, when circumstances, such as the pandemic, forced us to be alone, the strength of our relationship with ourselves was put to the test. Were you prepared for self-intimacy? Or, did such intimacy cause you to become even more stressed out? By learning to be at home in ourselves, we’re better equipped to be at home by ourselves. Ironically, feeling at home within ourselves and loving ourselves is what enables us to love others more completely, to be kinder, more compassionate, and more willing to share our gifts. It’s what makes us better listeners and more present for our fellow humans.

Stress Prevention. Feeling stressed out has less to do with what happens to us and more to do with the way we choose to react to what happens in our lives. While many of us try to control our lives, the truth is that much of what happens to us is beyond our control. However, we can control our response to what happens to us.

What Causes Stress? According to the APA’s report, One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Concerns, Americans are stressed by more than 500,000 American deaths due to the coronavirus, racial injustice, a brutal election cycle, and civil unrest. In the midst of a loneliness crisis, sheltering at home caused further isolation. We’ve also faced workplace and school disruptions and skyrocketing unemployment. The incidence of hate crimes, mass murders, and hit-and-runs continues to rise. Americans are rightly concerned with America’s future — including, long-term individual and societal consequences, our mental health crisis, and strain on our healthcare system.

The High Cost of Stress in the USA. According to healthline.com, stress costs $300 billion each year. Unmanaged stress takes its toll not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and financially, as well. It’s hazardous to our health and threatens our mental and emotional wellbeing. Workplace stress is responsible for up to $190 billion in annual U.S. healthcare costs. Additionally, according to Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer by Circadian, unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 for each salaried worker. While around 40% of employees consider talking to their employer about stress, 31% are afraid of being seen as weak, 22% are afraid of being denied a promotion, and 20% fear being laughed at (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

Unintended Consequences. Since the pandemic started, according to the APA’s report: a majority of adults (61%) reported experiencing undesired weight changes, with 42% reporting unintended weight gains of 29 pounds, on average; 67% reported sleeping more or less than they wanted to; nearly half of Americans said they delayed or canceled health care services; nearly half of parents reported increased stress in their lives; and, essential workers were more than twice as likely as those who are not to have received treatment from a mental health professional.

Stress Management Statistics. According to the American Institute of Stress, about 33% of Americans report feeling extreme stress. 77% of us experience stress that affects our physical health. 73% of us have stress that impacts our mental health. 48% of us report having trouble sleeping because of stress.

The American Psychological Association’s 2011 survey reports that 44% of Americans reported that their stress levels had increased over the past five years, due to money, work, and the economy. A 2020 APA report, Stress in America, sounded the alarm: America is facing a mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come. A 2021 APA survey reported that our stress levels continue to be on the rise, due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, bitter political divisions, the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and concerns over the future of America.

Over the past 15 months, Americans have witnessed over 600,000 deaths and experienced traumatic levels of stress, due to grief and isolation. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our work, education, health care, the economy, and relationships with others. 84% of Americans reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the prior two weeks, with anxiety reported by 47%, sadness reported by 44%, and anger reported by 39%. American is one of the most stressed-out nations on Earth. So, clearly, Americans are desperately in need of stress relief!

According to a 2007 APA report, many Americans are making matters worse by engaging in unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress, including: overeating or eating unhealthy foods (43%); drinking (39%); smoking cigarettes (19%); excessive TV watching (43%); and, excessive video game playing or surfing the internet (39%). While these behaviors may temporarily divert your attention from feeling stressed, these remedies are only “bandaids” that mask the long-term consequences of stress. Fortunately, some of us are trying to manage our stress with healthy behaviors, including: listening to music (54%); reading (52%); exercising or walking (50%); spending time with family and friends (40%); and, praying (34%).

Stress Management Techniques. The management of stress should soothe four aspects of ourselves: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Practices that build our physical selves include high-intensity interval training or fast walking to build physical strength. Relaxation practices include massage, gratitude, and mindfulness. Practices that build intellectual prowess include reading and crossword puzzles. Practices that comfort our emotional selves include listening to music and self-compassion exercises. Healing practices that build our spiritual growth include spiritual writing and prayer. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline. While 30% of adults who exercise regularly report feeling less stressed (American Psychological Association), 85% of people who practice yoga daily report feeling less stressed (Psychology Today). Of course, attending to the needs of each aspect of ourselves affects all aspects of our overall wellbeing.

We can and should customize our stress management routines to reflect our personal natures. An effective stress-reliever for one of us, may not relieve stress for another of us. For example, some of us are more visual and beautiful sunsets are calming to our nervous systems. Others of us are more auditory and listening to music brings us serenity. Some of us are more tactical and dancing or touching energizes us. Others of us are more creative and painting brings us inner peace. Some of us love nature and a walk on the beach or shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) provides an oasis of serenity. Some of us are turned on by a gastronomic feast of fine foods and wines. Others of us yearn to travel to far-off places. Still, others find supreme comfort in curling up with a good book, a loyal companion, or a beloved pet.

No matter what stress management techniques we choose — whether progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, creative visualization, coloring mandalas, positive self-talk, self-love, self-compassion, forgiveness, meditation, yoga, focused breathing, journaling, spiritual writing, crossword puzzles, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), healthy eating, mindfulness, walking, hugging, kissing, making love, aromatherapy, emersion in hobbies, spectator sports, kite flying, hiking, surfing, or biking — self-care requires that we make time for stress-relieving leisure activities that float our boats.

What’s Holding You Back?! As a life coach, I help clients examine what holds them back from acting in their own best interests. Most typically, clients know what’s healthy and what’s not. I help them answer the harder question: why aren’t I doing it? My role is more about providing guidance, encouraging people to persevere in their self-care practices, supporting them on their journey, and holding them accountable.

By making self-care a priority, we provide ourselves with necessary breaks from a frenetic world. By making stress management a priority, we can build our resilience, so that we’re better equipped to handle life’s inevitable challenges, no matter what they may be. We’re worth it; aren’t we?

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