Nothing prepared me for the stress of being a Case Manager in the mental health field. In my twenties, a long night out would alleviate much of my discomfort from work. Even then, I was working as a Paramedic on an Ambulance, and this produced an enormous level of stress. But it was my relatively young age that allowed me this ability to decompress. As time went on, I began noticing that my mind had grown fragile, as though it would slip into a tremble when external stressors effected it, and my physical health also lacked resiliency.
The job of Case Manager involves a lot of administrative time, appeasing the gods of Medi-Cal through paperwork, justifying our services. This job depended on superior organizational skills and time management, as our success at the end of the month relied on our productivity. My stress levels went through the roof after six months! To add to this, I’ve never been good with caffeine, not knowing when is enough until it is too late and my heart beats on like a drum. In this state, problems with obvious solutions become magnified due to anxiety. I even remember once, sitting at my desk trying to begin my paperwork and feeling so stressed out that I couldn’t raise my hand up to the keyboard.
So whats wrong with a little stress on our life?
Well, nothing; When it’s minimal and enough to motivate you, I suppose. But similar to my physical symptoms, stress can, and often will effect your mind and your body in the sense that it forces your body to react. Your Cardiovascular, Nervous, and immune system are all activated in the moments of high-level stress. This will cause an acute rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and cause long-term disorders like arrhythmias, sleep disorder, chronic headaches and backaches, and anxiety. Sounds fun right?
I decided this didn’t have to be my life.
I found ways to deal with the symptoms I had been experiencing, and much of it is common sense. For example, taking breaks during the day (aside from your lunch break). Not working is, frankly, un-American. We value relentless work effort and positive results. Our greatest leaders, CEOs, Entrepreneurs, etc have always had exceptional work habits. Steve Jobs, for example, woke up at 6am, worked for 3 hours at home, and then headed to work. He also had a list odd habits he would later change that I won’t touch on. But these ARE characteristics of people we revere as successful. Others include Margret Thatcher who was rumored to only sleep four hours a night. President Trump also, four-five hours per night.
We lend credibility to these habits and cobble them with personal work ethic. But as a society, we don’t value the ability to regulate stress. How would you feel running on four hours of sleep five days a week? Would you be at your optimal level of focus, active listening, and personal happiness? Maybe you fall into that category of person who can do it. But if you’re like me, you’d be having a nervous break down at this point. It’s wise, I think, to dismiss these extreme habits as relative to the person and not a guide for anyone desiring success in life.
Which brings me back to alleviating stress. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D. points out that “human beings are actually remarkably resilient to stress. One way or another we manage to persevere, to survive, and to have our moments of pleasure.” I think this is most notable for me and has worked to change the pattern of stress in my life; to have moments of pleasure.
As I mentioned above, we value relentless work effort but neglect one’s ability to take care of him/herself. Imagine being in the gym. For anyone who is active, you would understand that your body needs ample time to recover from the stress you’ve placed on it. Whether it be squats, deadlifts, or running, you need to give your body time to heal itself. This was proven thousands of years ago that athletes require a period of rest for optimal performance.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out in their book The Power of Full Engagement, “Energy is simply the capacity to do work. Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and recover energy.” Whether you’re in the office or out handling manual labor, remember to give yourself a moment or two for a stretch, a glass of water etc. my goal during the day is to stand from my chair and walk down the hall for 5-10 minutes followed by two glasses of water. Another good recommendation would be to bring a canteen of water, typically a half-gallon to be kept by your desk. The reason for this (the breaks I mean) is to conserve energy.
I’ve mentioned in other posts that mindfulness can keep you focused. Using the same techniques of deep breathing can reduce stress as well. Take ten minutes, find a quiet space, even if it’s at work, sit comfortably, and begin by breathing in deeply through your nose, noticing your belly and chest rising. Exhale through your nose and follow your belly and chest as they fall. I perform these exercises at home, so its more comfortable for me to lie on my back. Although, I can understand that you wouldn’t want to scare a colleague at work!! So sitting is perfectly fine. This technique has been proven to reduce stress, and there are several videos available on the internet for guided breathing. Give it a shot!
Hit the Gym!
Seriously! Get off the couch! People have a tendency of doing what is comfortable. The last thing anyone wants is to move faster and harder for an hour in a gym after work. But its been shown that regular exercise can decrease levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.