February is Heart Health Month; a time when we increase awareness about the effects of heart disease, especially in women. We know the statistics all too well. 1 out of 3 women die each year from heart disease. We also know that heart disease is preventable. We encourage our patients and loves ones to take care of their hearts by reducing their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, by eating healthy, exercising and reducing their stress level.
How much of this advice do we take on ourselves? When was the last time you checked in with yourself? How much stress are you dealing with right now? Stress is hard to quantify, but if you are having feelings of overwhelm on a daily basis, this chain of events can eventually lead to health problems and increase your risk for heart disease.
As women we spend so much time taking care of everyone else, that we put our own needs and sometimes our health on the back-burner. We are by nature caregivers, problem solvers and nurturers. We carry the weight for the whole team. As leaders we have the responsibility of carrying out a vision and making sure the team is on board as well. These characteristics can lead to feelings of stress and burnout if we take on too much and push ourselves too hard. Stress sometimes cannot be avoided but it can be managed.
To help manage your stress, answer the following questions:
What causes your stress? What are your triggers?
Each person has a different stress trigger. For some it’s lack of time or control over a situation, for others it may be finances or lack of work life balance. Whatever your trigger is, identify it so the next time you’re faced with the situation you can address it before it becomes a bigger problem.
How do you respond to stress?
Some people respond to stress by exhibiting physical symptoms. They may get headaches, muscle aches, digestive symptoms or feel fatigued. Some will have changes in their behavior like irritability, anger, increased eating and withdrawing. Other responses can be psychological like feeling exhausted, having trouble concentrating and feeling anxious. By identifying your response to stress, you can tackle it head on.
How can you change your response to the stress?
Now that you know your stress triggers and how you respond to stress, you can start to work on changing it. When you feel the symptoms coming on, divert your response. Instead of allowing the negative response to happen, develop some positive responses. Go outside for a walk, take some deep breaths or write your feelings down in a journal. Other activities like exercise, meditation and reciting positive affirmations are also great to have in your toolbox. You also need to rely on others to help you when you're feeling overwhelmed. You can't do everything yourself. Rely on your team and your tribe.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another"-William James
Are you doing a great job of taking care of yourself? Recent studies show that self-care is a necessary component to prevent stress and burnout. How great are your efforts at making yourself a priority?
Take this assessment to get an idea of how much or little you are prioritizing self-care. You can then start taking the steps to creating a healthier and stress free lifestyle.