Sometimes employees need to own their stress

Try these tips for managing personal stress

It’s fairly easy to blame the government and your boss for all of your stress because they often contribute to it, especially in the home care industry.

But not all of a person’s stress is the result of outside factors. A good part depends on what an individual does and how he or she thinks about the work situation. Also, stressors may be both positive and negative events.

"A wedding could be stressful for someone, and that’s a positive event in people’s lives," says Samantha Jeska, MSSA, LSW, a social worker with MedCentral Mansfield (OH) Hospital. Jeska has taught home care workers how to cope with their personal stress by using a variety of techniques. She and other experts give these tips on coping with stress:

4 Observe your own stressors and reactions.

"It’s a chore just to notice what your distress is," Jeska says. "What are you telling yourself about the meaning of the events that are stressing you out?"

Also, people should observe how their bodies react to stress, looking for these clues:

• Do you become nervous or physically upset?

• Does your stomach start to cramp?

• Do you break out in a rash?

• Do you have a headache?

• Are your hands and feet cold?

• Is your breathing faster?

4 Recognize what you can change.

Ask yourself, Jeska suggests, if you can change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them entirely.

If not, then can you reduce their intensity, or manage them over a period of time, or shorten your exposure to that stress?

That could mean leaving the premises and taking a break when someone or something is upsetting you.

"My suggestion would be if they can’t totally eliminate the stress they’re having, then they should try to figure out how they can minimize the stress," Jeska says. That’s where learning a breathing or meditation technique would help.

4 Keep things in perspective.

Some people view their stressors in exaggerated terms, or they can take a difficult situation and make it more stressful, Jeska says.

For others, the bigger problem might be that they are trying to please everyone and therefore have unrealistic expectations.

"If you’re going around expecting to please everyone all the time, and they’re not pleased or satisfied the way you want them to be, that can be very stressful," Jeska says.

Changing the emotional reaction starts with changing the way you think, she adds.

A person’s emotions respond to what they are thinking, and what they think is based on what they perceive.

"Are you always looking at everything as absolutely critical and urgent? Is everything a disaster?" she says.

Instead, Jeska suggests, you try to put the situation in perspective and avoid laboring on the negative aspects and the what-ifs of life.

4 Moderate your physical reactions.

A slow deep breathing will bring the heart rate and respiration back to normal.

Other physical stress-reduction techniques include:

• taking a few minutes to close your eyes and visualize yourself in a peaceful environment, such as a beach or woodlands;

• massaging your chest muscles along the midline and below the collarbone;

• stretching periodically, particularly when sitting at work for long periods of time;

• taking a hot bath or shower;

• counting to 100 or 1,000 before responding to something that makes you angry.

Visualization is particularly effective and is a typical emotion-focused stress management technique, says Arthur Nezu, PhD, chairman of the department of clinical and health psychology for Allegheny University of the Health Sciences in Philadelphia.

"Have someone visualize himself on vacation in a safe spot," Nezu says. "For example, imagine yourself on the beach, and try to incorporate as many of the five senses as you can."

Nezu says the person could imagine feeling the breeze on the cheek, smelling and tasting the salty air, seeing the beach, and hearing the ocean.

4 Build your physical reserve.

These are simple enough actions that everyone knows and few do:

• Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.

• Exercise regularly.

• Maintain your ideal weight.

• Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and other stimulants.

• Take breaks from work whenever you can.

• Get as much sleep as possible and be consistent with your sleep cycle.

4 Maintain your emotional reserves.

First you could increase your positive experiences and make appointments with yourself to have fun, Nezu says.

Here are some examples:

• Go out to a movie.

• Visit the local library.

• Walk in the park.

"People say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that when I have time,’ but most people don’t do that, and that causes stress," he says.

"So plan for it. Make next Friday the day you’ll go to the movies," Nezu advises. "If they become routine parts of people’s lives and experiences, then they will increase the number of positive experiences and become something to look forward to."

Jeska suggests people also develop mutually supportive friendships and relationships and pursue realistic personal goals, rather than goals that others expect.

4 Change your approach to solving problems.

"This goes back to people’s attitudes or world view," Nezu says. "Maybe they feel helpless and think nothing is going to work out."

Some people will insist that there’s no way they can solve a problem because it doesn’t matter how they do it. Even when they’re asked to visualize themselves solving a problem, they come up empty-handed.

"Then you say, ‘OK, who is one of your favorite heroes?’" Nezu suggests. And you ask the person to tell you how that hero would solve this problem. "Usually that helps a lot more because they can distance themselves from it," he explains. "Then you say that if this person can do it then we’re going to get you to do that too."