Confronting Major Stressors

The January 2018 issue of School Nutrition seeks to address stress—whether that’s at home, on the job or just due to constant mental strain and anxiety. In her article, “SOS! Your Body’s Under Stress,” Freelance Writer Duffy Perkins enumerates the grand toll that lasting, chronic stress takes on each part of the body and the mind. Once you read the piece, work toward confronting stress at the source rather than fixing the consequences after stressors have already taken a toll on your body—and while the magazine also touches on this with suggestions for meditation and other antidotes to handling chronic stress, read below for a discussion on chronic stress, common stressors and how to manage when your trigger comes into play.

What’s the Problem?

Everyone has a triggering stressor: family, money, the mounting political climate, body image, your job. Some people have more than one, or even many. In, “Stress in America™ 2017 Snapshot: Coping with Change,” the American Psychological Association (APA) reports 31% of American’s saying their stress increased over the course of 2016. And a significant portion (20%) said that they experienced stress that rated an 8,9, or 10 on a 10-point scale.

How do you manage these increasing stressors (APA also reports constant phone-checking to be a contributing factor), making sure that you aren’t just “coping” and that your stress isn’t managing you?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocate for several methods:

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. If you smoke, you should also consider quitting. While leaving behind this seeming-relief may seem like an immediate stress, the energy boost, health benefits and subsequent “jones-ing” will lead to less stress in the long run.
  • Find support. Don’t be afraid to seek help—from a family member, friend, doctor or religious advisor. Having someone to vent to will ease some of the tension, rather than bottling it up.
  • Connect socially. You are never alone with a major stressor (although it can seem that way). Take your mind off your troubles and focus on a fun activity. If you’re more on an introvert, the library can be a great place where you don’t need to interact, but you still remove the isolation of staying at home with your troubles.
  • Focus on self-care. Eat healthy; exercise (with doctor-approved recommendations); don’t skimp on sleep; keep a routine; treat yourself (whether it’s to a chocolate bar, a therapeutic massage or a date night and a movie)—make sure you take care of your needs, mentally and emotionally.
  • Stay active. Whether you’re ready to join SNA’s STEPS monthly challenges, you’ve decided to go for daily walks or you’re ready for something more adventurous, make sure to squeeze in just 15 minutes of activity per day.

What Do You Do?

Above are some techniques for every day, but what do you do when directly confronted with a stressor? Here is an example scenario and several ideas of how to cope.

Unhealthy Work Environment

If you’re in an unhealthy work environment, this can be damaging in a number of ways—your job affects your bank account; your colleagues can be friends or frenemies; your attitude at the start of the day is decided once you rouse yourself from sleep and realize that you are, once again, headed to work. If you love your job, that puts a smile on your face.

            But what if:

  • A clique of coworkers has formed and they gossip about you, or don’t include you in social engagements?
  • Your boss doesn’t do their work, forcing you to complete extra assignments with no credit?
  • You were passed over for promotion for a younger person, who has not held the position as long or as effectively?
  • You are contending with a coworker who suffers from substance abuse issues?
  • Your boss, on occasion, yells at you or allows other employees to take out their anger on you and your coworkers without stepping-in to assist?
  • Quite simply, every day, going into work makes you sad?

What if several or all of these things are present in the same environment?

When faced with an unhealthy work environment, first ask yourself if, with improvements, you would enjoy the work or if improvements could even be made to your satisfaction—if not, remove the stressor and find different employment. This is a serious, drastic method, but unhealthy work environments are also serious things.

If you believe there can be improvements, the first tactic is to speak to your manager. Stick to the facts, leaving out opinions and accusations—think “I feel…” statements.

If your manager is the issue, you can still confront them directly, or you can speak to their management, and even HR, if you’re not comfortable. The key to a work environment-based stressor is to make sure that even if everyone else isn’t following protocol, you are. It’s a small comfort, but following the rules in times of chaos can be less stressful than trying to figure things out on your own.

In addition, lower the stress of the environment by taking your lunch break, listening to peppy music on your commute, being social with coworkers and otherwise diverting attention from your gloom. Try to find and/or create things to enjoy about your workplace every day.

SN further addresses this topic in the February 2017 issue of School Nutrition and the article “Mean Girls (and Guys)” by Editor Patricia L. Fitzgerald, as well as online in Bonus Web Content titled “Don’t Let Your Bad Boss Get the Best of You”.

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