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Health & Wellness

Don't Borrow Worries: 5 Tips to Help Manage Stress and Focus on What You Can Control

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If you’re feeling stressed lately, you’re not alone.

Vaile Wright, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association (APA), says many people indicate they experience symptoms of stress, such as difficulty sleeping, irritability and fatigue. That, she says, is troubling. While stress, itself, is a natural process that everyone experiences, Wright says it may impact health when it registers at elevated levels for extended periods of time. “We know that chronic, untreated stress may be related to obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, insomnia, anxiety and depression. So that's when I get worried,” she says.

But there’s hope. People can make choices about how they handle stress, says Wright. “For most of us, what’s in our control are our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviors. And when we can focus on those three things, then I think that may really give us a leg up on being able to control our stress.”

Wright shared the following advice on how to focus on what you can control and not get swept away with stress.

Establish boundaries. “You have this conundrum. You want to be informed but you know that checking your Facebook, checking the news and reading too much information may cause you stress.” One solution: set boundaries around how much you take in, what it is and where it comes from. “In a very practical sense, what that could mean is maybe you give yourself an hour in the morning and an hour on your commute home, and that’s it.” She says it may also be helpful to turn off the TV/social media notifications on your phone, and to avoid watching TV or looking at your devices at least one hour before bed.

Take care of yourself. Think back to the basics that mom and dad talked about and follow that advice. “Try to eat healthy, get some activity and prioritize sleep,” says Wright. She says that self-care often takes the backburner because, to many people, it may feel selfish. But, she points out, your health may be a building block for everything else in your life. “The reality is that you have to have a strong foundation to be an effective problem solver. Try to take care of yourself first.”

Make time to see friends and family. Wright says that when people feel stressed they have a tendency to isolate. “I really want to encourage people not to do that,” she says. Reach out to loved ones and commit to getting together and doing an activity you enjoy.

Focus on the positive. Hone in on the good things in your life. Wright encourages people to maintain a gratitude journal and reflect on valued interactions and accomplishments. She says that mindfulness is another approach that may help people become aware of their surroundings and live in the moment. And she recommends volunteering within your own community so that you can feel as though you’re helping make changes for the better.

Ask for help. Wright says that if you’re no longer able to do your job the way you were, or you’re struggling to take care of your family or engage in family or social responsibilities, “those are real red flags.” She encourages people to reach out to a professional for guidance.

Stress isn’t a choice you make. But how you handle that stress may be, says Wright. “When we get stuck and feeling like everything is out of our control, that's when we start to feel hopeless,” she says. “There’s a lot of reason to feel hopeful, if we actively tackle our stress.”

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