Let’s suffice it to say work has been stressful as of recent.  I love my job and I love helping people learn how to eat properly and manage their diabetes.  So you say, what’s the stress?  Paperwork + charting = long days.  Just let me do what I love, which is teaching and educating, and let’s forget about all the minor details.  Yes I know I have to document what’s been discussed, I get it.  But why can’t I dictate my note like the doctors do?  Now there’s an interesting food for thought.  That would speed up some time, now wouldn’t it??   I can see up to 6 people in a day (at an hour per person or more) and each person will take between 20-30 minutes to chart.  You do the math.   Oh and I type fast, thanks to my 8th grade typing teacher Ms. Barker.   There have been some long days recently and that alone contributes to the stress.  Stress is a normal part of life.  Our bodies are designed to experience stress and react to it.  Stress can be positive but it also can become negative.

Stress can affect the mind and body in various ways:

Emotional – Mood swings, irritability, loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem

Psychological – Problems concentrating impaired judgment, anxiety, and memory issues.

Behavioral – Problems eating, poor sleep patterns, neglecting responsibilities, and drug/alcohol abuse 

Physical – Headaches, muscle pain, nausea, chest pains, and possible flare-ups of preexisting medical issues.

Consider the following:

-Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. 

-Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

-Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.

-OSHA declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs the American industry more than $300 billion annually.

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My last job I didn’t manage my stress as well as I should have.  I was constantly upset by my long commute as it was a daily reminder to me not only at the beginning but also at the end of the day – it literally would be sometimes too much to bear.  With my new job I’ve committed to identifying my stresses and finding ways to help resolve the stress that I’m feeling before it can affect me in any negative ways.   While my days aren’t getting any shorter just yet, I have been managing the stress better.  Here’s how:

Talking to Someone – Simply by talking to someone that you trust will help you to get a fresh view on the work problems that are stressing you out.  Just by putting my issues into words has made a big difference in how I see things.  Again, it doesn’t always solve the problem immediately at hand, but it has helped me reflect and recognize – whereas before I kept it all internally, which in many cases was worse.   

Meditation – It’s easy to be skeptical but the truth is that whatever you want to call it – meditation, mindfulness, relaxation breathing – it has a subtle yet real power to help deal with my work stress.  Do not get me wrong, there are days when I barely get to have lunch, but it’s on those days that I need this even more!  I simply take a pause amongst the chaos.  If I keep going I will not be of any benefit to my next patient.  And even though I get stressed out about getting a few minutes behind for my next patient I know the simple act of pausing and breathing will help me reset my way of seeing what lies before me.   While I don’t profess to be an expert on meditation I do know that the more consistent with it that I am the more beneficial it is to me.  Dan Harris’s quote always helps me remember that, “Meditation is just exercise for your mind – bicep curls for your brain.”  Here are three simple steps from Dan to help you begin:

  1. Sit comfortably – you don’t have to twist yourself into a cross-legged position – unless you want to, of course.  You can just sit in a chair (You can also stand up or lie down, although the latter  can sometimes result in an unintentional nap.)  Whatever your position, you should keep your spine straight, but don’t strain.

  2. Feel Your Breath – Pick a spot:  nose, belly or chest.  Really try to feel the in-breath and then the out-breath.

  3. Return to the Breath – This one is the key:  Every time you get lost in thought – which you will, thousands of times – gently return to the breath.  I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game.

I’ve been using a couple of apps to help me be more consistent with meditating.  Apps like Headspace and Happify have been my go to apps.   Explore and find the ones that help you.   All it requires is a smartphone and 10 minutes a day.  Just make sure to turn off your notifications.  10 minutes of not being connected to anything but your breath.

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Don’t Lean On Bad Habits – The actual direct physiological effects of work stress are damaging in their own right.  But the other dangers, the ones like heart disease and obesity, come as an indirect result of the poor choices we all make while under stress.  I always tell my patients that we’re often too hard on ourselves.  There are going to be times when we make that poor food selection because we’re stressed.  The key is identifying the triggers to make sure we don’t keep repeating these choices, because it’s the frequency that can be harmful.  The fact is you’re vulnerable to making poor eating choices, either because you don’t make the time to prepare healthy meals or because you turn to comfort foods to make yourself feel better.  We all do it, it’s normal.  But like I said, don’t set yourself up to fail.  Even if you don’t have time to prepare healthier meals for yourself, plan ahead what you will eat.  So instead of waiting till you’re famished, have a plan before of when you will break for lunch and know what it is that you’ll eat.  Hangry people don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to food and many times opt for the feel good food option.  Plan a little ahead. 

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Exercise Your Body And Mind – Surprising as this stat is, the American Psychological Association found in a recent study that only 17% of American adults exercise daily.  Yet it’s effectiveness as a stress-fighting tool is profound and clear:  Your body is better physically prepared to deal with the demands that are placed upon it and exercise will help to combat some of the physical effects of the poor lifestyle choices we make as a result of stress.  I truly believe that exercise also helps your mind to simply wander.  I know that whether it’s on my early morning runs or on my brisk walks at lunch, my mind is able to unplug for a moment and focus on nothing in particular.  I can simply let go.   With this freedom to let my mind wander I find I’m able to see things more rationally as well as with less emotional intensity.  I have also committed myself to do more yoga.  With these long days at work I found it hard practicing yoga on my own.  So I joined the gym at work and aim to go to yoga at least 3 of the 5 days during the week.   There are some weeks I’m able to go every day and there are some weeks that my third day ends up being on Saturday.  My goal has been simply to be more consistent with the physical practice of yoga.  This break however, allows me to come back with a fresh mind, creative boost, and fresh perspective.   

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Make Time For Yourself! – While it appears that US working hours have remained relatively stable over the last decade, 47 hours per week, it doesn’t take into account the constant connection to work afforded by smartphones and other technology.  In order to offset stress building up it’s important to disconnect and not be on this 24-hour on-call mentality.  Set a time each night when you won’t respond to work emails or work calls.  The important point, stick to it!  The time spent answering a work email could be spent on some of the suggestions I’ve made here today.  Really truly give back to yourself by making time and keeping boundaries between work and home. 

The takeaway?  We all know that stress isn't helping any of us.  Find a healthy way to respond to stress.  Resilience, the ability to adapt to stress in a healthy way, can start with just your thoughts and your breath.  Be present, be self-aware, and attend to your needs.  How easy is that?