We all hear that the holidays are the most stressful of seasons. However, stress can happen any time of year and can be triggered by a number of different situations. Everyone experiences some level of stress at different points of their life—how we all manage our stress is a completely different story. Something that could roll off of one person’s back could send someone else into a panic. An important aspect to managing stress is knowing what triggers your own stress and learning how to cope with it. For people who are mentally ill, coping can be more challenging.
The month of May has been identified as Mental Health Month. In order to raise awareness of this taboo subject, we’d like share some information on how to identify what triggers stress, and how to manage and avoid stressful situations.
Triggers are people, places, words, or situations that increase negative feelings that can make it difficult to cope, especially if you have a history of mental illness. One way to learn how to cope is to work on exposing yourself to triggers when you are well so that negative experiences are lessened when you’re stressed. For example, if going to the grocery store or crossing bridges is scary – take small steps to expose yourself to these situations. However, there are some triggers, like yelling, or abusive relationships that you might consider avoiding all together. It’s important to take care of your own well-being first and identify some triggers that you can work through. And identify if there are triggers that you should avoid.
Early warning signs of how you are coping with stress are personal changes in thoughts or behaviors that signal that things are getting worse. The sooner you intervene when these signs occur, the better. Stress can creep up on you when it seems like you have so much to get done and not enough time to do it. Or sometimes when symptoms of mental illness come back, normal every day activities become stressful. When stress comes, it often affects sleep.
Some examples of not being able to cope with a situation might include:
- withdrawing for more than two days;
- feeling so agitated you haven’t slept for three or more days;
- finding it difficult to get out of bed.
When these signs occur, it’s helpful to call your treatment provider, or call your emergency contact so you can talk through what is going on in your life.
Some other activities that can reduce stress include:
- Make a routine
- Stand up and stretch
- Take 4 slow, deep breaths
- Work a puzzle or color
- Talk to someone who is a good listener
- Give yourself a pep talk (”I can do this.”)
- Close your eyes and listen to sounds around you
- Look at pictures of cute animals like puppies
- Watch a funny video. There are lots of cat videos on YouTube!
- Take a brisk walk
- Read a magazine or a book
- Watch the sunrise or sunset
- Massage your temples
- Do a good deed or random act of kindness
- Listen to music
If you feel like the stresses of life are more than you can bear, and are beyond the simple steps to reduce stress, please talk to your doctor about other options including counseling and medication. And be sure to talk to your pharmacist to make sure any new medications prescribed don’t counteract other medications you are currently taking.