Stress, Self-Care and Resilience

We all know that work can be stressful at times. But did you know that stress has a big impact on your health and well-being? In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of all doctor visits are stress-related.  Unfortunately our lives are probably not going to get less stressful anytime soon. So learning how to manage stress and cultivate resilience are critical skills.

It’s also important to remember that getting stressed is a natural and normal part of life. Stress is simply the body’s natural response to situations that we see as challenging. It is designed to get us ready for action, and to protect us from harm. In fact, moderate stress can help us to focus and to overcome setbacks. The problem arises when we stay stressed for days or weeks, or even longer. Our bodies begin to wear down from being on constant alert.

Mindfulness practice can help us to manage stressful situations more skillfully, and to get out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and back to ‘rest and digest’. By bringing our attention back into the present moment, mindfulness helps us to break the mental cycle of rehashing the past and rehearsing the future. It helps us to focus on what we can do right here and now, to meet our challenges with a clear mind and an open heart.

Here are three mindfulness tips with you that can help you to manage stress more skillfully.

Notice your stress reactions
When I get stressed, my foot starts to tap. I stop listening, and start getting impatient. When stress persists, I start waking up at night, and I have a hard time getting back to sleep. These are signs that stress is taking over, and that I need to do something about it. What are your signs? Learning to recognize when you’re stressed is a critical skill. It’s not hard to develop, yet many people would rather deny or hide their stress than face it.  

Build a resilience toolkit - and use it
Think about what you’ve done in the past that has helped to de-stress you or bring you back into balance. Then identify three tools that you will commit to use.

  • One that you can do daily, such as exercising or meditating

  • One that you can do during the work day, like going for a walk or doing a 5 minute mindfulness practice

  • One that you can do in the moment, like taking a deep breath or turning away from your monitor and looking at the ceiling

Practice self-care
Many people take good care of themselves when things are going well - but when times get challenging, self-care takes a back seat to ‘getting things done’. We stop going to the gym, we eat whatever is convenient, and we can’t spare even ten minutes to meditate. This is backward. In order to thrive, it is at these times that we need to take better care of ourselves - to eat better, be more physically active, and get to bed earlier.

When things get challenging, we need to bring the same level of focus and energy to our own well-being that we bring to our work and our other responsibilities. This means that you may need to cancel social plans, or work projects, or even family time to make it happen. It’s that important.

I do this by dedicating a half-day or more on the weekend, just to self-care. I call it a ‘spa day’. I spend the time meditating, exercising, reading, and catching up on sleep. It’s amazing what a difference it makes.

Stress is a natural and normal part of life. By learning to notice our own stress reactions, building a resilience toolkit, and being laser-focused on our own well-being when we need to be, we will have the tools be prepared to manage the ebbs and flows of stress with skills and ease.

Andy Lee
Chief Mindfulness Officer - Aetna