Sounds Good Explores Identifying, Reducing, and Dealing with Stress

Apr 9, 2019

Stress is a common phenomena in today's world. From positive to negative circumstances, many people can feel overwhelmed and pressured to fix problems, accomplish greatness, or a mix of the two. Michael Bordieri, Murray State professor of psychology, visits Sounds Good to discuss how to healthily identify and manage stress.

WalletHub recently released a study that identifies Kentucky as the 4th most stressed state in the United States. In today's world of hectic schedules, continuous changes and advancements, and heavy competition, it's not difficult to succumb to feelings of anxiety, stress, and nervousness. "When we think of stress, at least psychologically," Bordieri explains, "we see it as a challenge to adapt to some sort of change or something new in the environment. We're stressed when there are things around us in our environment that are different, scary, the potential for something good - there's just something different there." Bordieri suggests that this adaptation to change, however, should not be 'viewed as the enemy.' 

"Stress comes from caring about things, from wanting things in the future, from thinking about how we could make our lives better," says Bordieri. "The idea of completely eliminating stress, while we might be able to achieve it, probably wouldn't lead to a very meaningful or rich life." Rather than seeking to completely remove stressors from one's life, it proves to be more beneficial to identify stress as something that will never go away, and healthily dealing with it within that context. One way to deal with stress is to counterintuitively slow down and relax. 

"It's precisely when we feel we have so many things happening that we feel we have to do everything at once. Maybe the first thing we can do is briefly step back. Not completely, but simply taking a breath, maybe even doing something kind for yourself for 5 or 10 minutes. Getting a cup of tea, taking a walk outside for 5 minutes, then coming back and saying 'where do I want to start?' could be a way to relate to stress in a more positive way," Bordieri says. Allowing oneself to let go of stress resurfacing from the past or creeping in regarding the future will also alleviate tension. "Let go of fixing all the problems at once," Bordieri explains. "Let go of worries in the future, let go of all the worries ruminating in the past."

Taking care of one's physical self is also beneficial in stress management. Exercise, for example, can be one of the most effective stress relievers. This doesn't necessarily mean joining an expensive gym or exerting oneself to the point of exhaustion, but a brisk 5-10 minute walk as mentioned earlier, a short bout of yoga, bike ride, etc., can all help ease the pressure associated with stress and anxiety. Sleep is also closely related to stress. "One hour of sleep loss can manifest cognitive deficits [and] emotional challenges that are consistent with what we see in psychological disorders," Bordieri explains. Protecting time for sleep is important, as is protecting time for eating a balanced meal. "Skipping meals when stressed doesn't make [anyone] more productive, it usually makes things worse."

Bordieri encourages those feeling overwhelmed with stress, or those who are simply looking for ways to manage it in the future, to not label stress as the ultimate antagonist. "It's not the fact that there's stress there, it's how we try to manage it that tends to get us into trouble. 'I'm so busy, so I'm going to stay up all night thinking about what I'll do tomorrow, and planning what I'll do, but not actually solving any of the problems infront of me. I'm going to skip lunch and work through so I get more done. I don't have time to exercise today, I'll take care of myself once I solve this problem. Those are the types of things that really feel like they're helping, they feel like we're doing something, but they really just feed into that stress. Sometimes slowing down, taking a step back, and picking one thing to do in the moment can be the best way to make room for something that's always going to be a part of our lives, but we don't have to struggle with it along the way."