Stress is a term used to describe your internal response to new or difficult situations. A normal part of life, stress can't be avoided entirely. In some situations, stress can be helpful—for example, when stress about an upcoming exam makes a student study harder. However, high levels of unmanaged stress can be damaging and even life threatening over long periods of time.
According to 2013 research by the American Stress Institute and American Psychological Association, 77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms of stress. The top four causes of stress are (in descending order):
- Job pressures (e.g., tension about co-workers, bosses, work overload)
- Money (e.g., loss of job, reduced retirement, medical costs)
- Health (e.g., medical crisis, chronic or terminal illness)
- Relationships (e.g., divorce, death of loved one, arguments with friends)
Poor nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation often contribute additional stress. Everyone reacts to stress differently but here are some of the common signals that you are reaching an overload of stress—and that it's time to start paying attention to how you manage stress:
- Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
- Chest pains or rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Loss of appetite or overeating of comfort foods
- Increased frequency of colds
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Memory problems or forgetfulness
- Short temper
How Well Do You Manage Stress?
Assess Yourself Using This Test
This quiz will help you evaluate your ability to manage the unavoidable stressors in your life. Answer each question and give yourself points accordingly: Always = 5, Often = 4, Usually = 3, Occasionally = 2, Rarely = 1, Never = 0
____ I exercise three times a week.
____ I eat a balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals.
____ I share my feelings with my partner or a friend on a regular basis.
____ I avoid perfection and set realistic goals for myself at home and at work.
____ I practice relaxation or "refueling" activities each week.
____ I avoid alcohol and other drugs for dealing with pressures.
____ I'm good at giving and receiving positive strokes.
____ I plan regular recreational activities that provide a complete change of scenery.
____ I get 8 hours of restful sleep each night.
____ I have learned to say "No" when I need to and can do so comfortably.
____ I feel satisfied with my work commitments and my employer's expectations of me.
Tally your points. If you scored:
- 40 and above. CONGRATULATIONS! You have developed effective ways to deal with stressful situations. Keep up the good work.
- 29 to 39. You have a number of ways you are effectively dealing with stress. Keep up the good work and look for additional avenues to help you manage difficult times and emotions. There are likely some areas you could fine-tune to assist you even more.
- 15 to 28. Stress is probably having a major impact on your well being—and it's time to start exploring ways to manage the stress in your life.
Do You Know What's Stressing You Out?
Many people are unable to identify or unwilling to admit the causes of stress in their lives. For example:
- Holidays and family gatherings are "supposed to be" relaxing—but for many people such events are incredibly stressful.
- You may feel you "should" be able to handle whatever stress life hands you—but are unaware that different people experience stress differently.
"If you feel guilty about admitting you aren't looking forward to the holidays, or ashamed that you aren't handling stressful situations well, those feelings can become additional sources of stress," says Jody Bertram, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife.
Recognizing And Addressing Stressors:
How Your EAP Benefit Can Help
When it comes to managing stress, your EAP benefit can be a valuable resource. "Helping people recognize the things that cause stress in their lives and helping them figure out healthier ways of managing those stresses is one of the things we do best," says Bertram.
Your EAP includes free and confidential professional support services—24 hours a day, 365 days per year—by calling 800.383.1908. Your benefit also includes free, face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals. They can help you evaluate any issues you or a family member is facing over the phone, and also schedule free face-to-face counseling at a time and place that's convenient for you.
Web-Based Work & Life Resources: Free, Unlimited Access
Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based Work & Life resources at the VITAL WorkLife Member Site. You'll find helpful articles on stress management, including:
- Six Myths About Stress
- Mind and Body Health: Stress
- Is Being "Supermom" Stressing You Out?
- Keeping Holiday Stress at Bay
- Listening to the Warning Signs of Stress
- Overwhelmed by Workplace Stress? You're Not Alone
We Can Help
To access your VITAL WorkLife EAP, contact us at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App.