Cars lined up in traffic

One step at a time

Stress is a part of life. It’s something we all experience and will continue to do so throughout our daily lives. Roughly 75 percent of Americans experience moderate to high stress levels every day, according to a recent article published by Harvard Medical School.

We each experience different stresses and handle them differently. However, our bodies handle stress in the same way. Oftentimes, our bodies activate “fight-or-flight” reactions. Our hearts race, we breathe faster and muscles tense.

Stress may also cause a variety of less obvious symptoms, such as: sweating, tremors, nausea, vomiting, headache, irritability, trouble concentrating and increased reaction time. It is known that irritability, trouble concentrating, and increased reaction time places an individual at greater risk of a traumatic injury.

While we try to de-stress, it is improbable that anyone could eliminate all stress. 

Instead, it’s important to learn to manage stress. This means learning how to recognize when we are under an increased amount of stress and not to partaking in high-risk activities. 

Sometimes, it’s as simple as recognizing the stress, slowing down, taking a deep breath and refocusing on the task at hand. Other times we may need to reorganize our entire day … which seems stressful itself.

Sometimes we drive erratically, trying to make it to the school line in time to get our first child before heading to pick up the second, so that both can make it to sports practice in two different locations.

A few things may happen because of this behavior.

  1. Stress is contagious. Your children will pick up on your increased stress level.
  2. You may drive unsafely. Though you speed through the yellow light, your reaction time was decreased and you may get in or nearly get in a wreck. 
  3. Though you all made it to practice, you made unsafe driving decisions. 

There really are many outcomes, but is important to remember that our decisions do not only affect us. 

How can one realistically manage stress?  

  • Take a break from the stressor and allow yourself personal time.
  • Find a physical activity you enjoy and do it routinely.
  • Talk regularly with someone who makes you smile.
  • Think positive – sometimes the only thing we can change is our attitude.
  • Allow time for celebrations.
  • Participate in music therapy – music releases all sorts of good feelings.
  • Smile and laugh – especially when you feel things could not get worse.
  • Ask for help – Understand your limitations and ask for assistance before your head is under water.
  • Say no – It is OK to say no. If you know you physically or mentally cannot fulfill a request, it is better to say no, then to undertake something and not give it the attention it deserves.
  • Keep in mind: “This too shall pass,” whatever “this” is.
  • Don’t forget to sleep! Getting rest will help you feel more prepared for your day.

Like many things in life managing your stress will take time and practice. The outcomes of a less stressed life are grand and may potentially prevent life-altering injuries. Please don’t meet us by accident. 

T.J. Mack, RN, BSN, is the trauma injury prevention and outreach coordinator for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.