“Experiencing stress is inevitable, but managed well, stress can promote emotional and intellectual growth and resilience as we age,” says Johns Hopkin stress management expert Frances Callahan, LCSW-C.
Callahan has mapped an easy-to-follow plan for how to manage stress — at any age.
1. Identify your triggers
Once you know where your stress is coming from — a relationship, kids, workload, a health problem — you can sometimes reduce or prevent the stress. After giving the matter some focused thought, you may identify practical steps to improve the situation.
Even if changing the trigger isn’t possible, a shift in perspective may help mitigate stress. For example, if a friend is pushing your buttons, stepping back and adjusting your expectations may allow you to keep this close bond.
2. Stay connected
Maintaining, improving, and increasing healthy relationships with supportive friends and family powerfully promotes resilience. Many find that connections with a faith family, neighbors, and even pets, help them feel positive and energetic, even if children and grandchildren aren’t close at hand.
3. Stay active
Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins. Taking short walking breaks several times a day is a powerful tool for channeling stress. Exercising or joining yoga, dance, or tai chi classes with friends also helps achieve Step 2 — staying connected.
4. Find your ‘pause’ button
“After experiencing times of great change, high demand, or significant loss, it’s essential to press pause and rest. Often creating time and space for rest means saying ‘no’ to invitations and requests for help, at least temporarily,” says Callahan. Consider spending quiet time daily: contemplation, reflection, and breathing fosters resilience and calm.
5. Plan your fun
To prevent the daily rush from consuming your life, plan your fun for the day, week, month, or year. Callahan recommends, “instead of channel surfing, make a date to watch a special program, alone or with a loved one. Plan a monthly game night with friends and ask them to bring goodies to share. Identify fun activities that suit you and schedule them.”
6. Reframe your thinking
Stress responses, including faster heart rate and breathing, evolved to improve our performance in stressful situations. Reminding yourself of stress’s evolutionary value may improve your performance and paradoxically reduce feelings of stress, in that you’re not adding “stress about stress” to the stress the original trigger aroused.
(Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Identifying mood disorders and knowing when to seek help
If you have a mood disorder, your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function. You may be extremely sad, empty or irritable (depressed), or you may have periods of depression alternating with being excessively happy (mania).
Anxiety disorders can also affect your mood and often occur along with depression. Mood disorders may increase your risk of suicide.
Some examples of mood disorders include:
• Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness.
• Bipolar disorder — also called manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, depression that includes alternating times of depression and mania.
• Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a form of depression most often associated with fewer hours of daylight in the far northern and southern latitudes from late fall to early spring.
• Cyclothymic disorder — a disorder that causes emotional ups and downs that are less extreme than bipolar disorder.
• Premenstrual dysphoric disorder — mood changes and irritability that occur during the premenstrual phase of a woman’s cycle and go away with the onset of menses.
• Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) — a long-term (chronic) form of depression.
• Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder — a disorder of chronic, severe and persistent irritability in children that often includes frequent temper outbursts that are inconsistent with the child’s developmental age.
• Depression related to medical illness — a persistent depressed mood and a significant loss of pleasure in most or all activities that’s directly related to the physical effects of another medical condition.
• Depression induced by substance use or medication — depression symptoms that develop during or soon after substance use or withdrawal or after exposure to a medication.
For most people, mood disorders can be successfully treated with medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy).
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
Talk to a health care professional if you:
• Feel like your emotions are interfering with your work, relationships, social activities or other parts of your life.
• Have trouble with drinking or drugs.
• Have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — seek emergency treatment immediately.
• Your mood disorder is unlikely to simply go away on its own, and it may get worse over time.
• Seek professional help before your mood disorder becomes severe — it may be easier to treat early on.