April is National Stress Awareness Month. But, honestly, we don't really need a month-long initiative to remind us of the effects, hazards, and symptoms of stress. The last few weeks have been one long blur of stress, anxiety, and panic. It's hard not to feel entirely overwhelmed by the scary news around us. But a little perspective and kindness can help turn our stress into motivation and gratitude. We've tapped eight experts and authors for their words of wisdom and their tips for managing stress in a healthy way that puts well-being first.

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1. Judy Gaman, CEO of Executive Medicine of Texas, radio/ podcast host, longevity expert and author of Love, Life, & Lucille: Lessons Learned from a Centenarian

"Think of all the great things you have going on in your life. Then grab a sticky pad and list them out, one per square. Perhaps, your messages would look something like 'I am healthy' or 'I have a roof over my head' or 'I have a great book to read'. Then start attaching them to a wall in your house. This wall of gratitude will be a reminder of all the good things that are still in place."

Tip: "Build a wall of gratitude!"

2. Dr. Jill Grimes, Family Physician at UT Austin and author of The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness

"Mental anxiety triggers our body’s fight-or-flight reaction, whether or not the fears are realistic. The body prepares to run by revving up the heart rate and dumping excess weight (emptying your bowels and bladder). The total anxiety response also includes shortness of breath, actual or perceived muscle shaking, sweating, upset stomach, and brain fogginess that includes difficulty concentrating, fear, and “blanking out.”

Tip: “Breathing exercises—many variations exist, but an easy start is to take one full minute to focus on your breathing. Breathe in for a slow count of four and then breathe out for a slow count of four. Repeat this sequence three or four times till you feel your body relaxing.”

3. Ruby Walker, college student and author of Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen

“With the internet, we can see information about the developing COVID-19 situation coming in in real time. I've been trying to spend at least a few hours every day keeping my nose out of the news and focusing on something else, in solitude. Constantly communicating with everyone and filling every second up with information doesn't leave any room for us to have our own thoughts- which can be seen as a perk if it seems like those thoughts are going to be scary. My advice is to spend some time walking in nature, taking a bath, or just eating a meal without constant distraction. If you let your scary thoughts trickle out slowly in small moments throughout the day, then they're less likely to keep you up in a rush of panic the second your head hits the pillow. In most situations, relaxation is extremely therapeutic.”

Tip: "Spend some time alone and offline."

4. Michael Ungar, Ph.D., Child, Family and Community Resilience Expert and author of Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success

“Stress can cause worry and worry wears us down. All that catastrophic thinking colors our experience. Even good days can seem bad. People who reach out to us are perceived as manipulative and untrustworthy. It’s important to challenge our thinking and conduct a realistic appraisal of where the real threats lie. There is plenty of research showing that changing our thoughts can produce small changes in mood over time. They even bring down biological markers of stress in our body like heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol. But beware. If we don’t keep up a reflective practice like daily thoughts of gratitude, or meditation, or taking a few deep breaths when someone insults us, then we lose the benefits of those practices quickly and our thoughts and feelings return to their previous problem-focused ways. The best technique to cope with stress is to remake our world so that stress triggers are less likely to occur. That can mean putting aside toxic relationships, avoiding situations that make you feel hurt or angry (turn off your smartphone and get some sleep) and finding new opportunities to like yourself.”

Tip: “Spend more time with friends and colleagues (virtually if necessary). Together, you’ll be able to resist stressful situations much better.”

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5. Kay Hutchison, media professional and author of My Life in Thirty Seven Therapies: From Yoga to Hypnosis and Why Voodoo is Never the Answer

“Stress creates an unbalanced emotional state and, as I found out, can lead to poor physical health too. I began having frequent panic attacks, sleepless nights, often fearing the worst and believing I couldn’t recover. I tried many things to get out of the cycle of negative thinking. I travelled far and wide in search of answers, trying many different physical treatments including ayurvedic medicine, cupping, acupuncture and reiki. In the end, my physical health was improved by all of these - the ayurvedic vegetarian diet helped support my 'always on the go' body type and the others, in different ways, released trapped ‘chi’ or energy in my system. One of the best all-round stress-relievers for the body is yoga. Yoga improves mental focus, helping clearing the mind of negative thoughts and also looks after your physical wellbeing by relaxing the entire body through gentle stretching of tense muscles.”

Tip: “If you haven’t tried yoga, you’re missing out. And if you are currently self-isolating, now might be a great chance to try out a few online whilst you’re at home - many of them are free. You don’t need any special equipment and it’s a positive and uplifting practice with a beautiful relaxation at the end called ‘shavasana’.”

6. Leslie Landis, licensed therapist and author of CHENDELL: A Natural Warrior

“Remember that there are times when circumstances are beyond our control. This pandemic is one of them. Try to be thoughtful and creative. Sell something online. Teach something online. Solicit ideas from others. Commiserate with others who are in the same boat as you are. There is still a world out there. Reach out and integrate yourself into it.”

Tip: “Be thoughtful. Check in with friends and family. That thoughtfulness makes everyone feel better and less isolated.”

7. Dr. John Chuback, personal development & success training expert, Make Your Own Damn Cheese: Understanding, Navigating, and Mastering the 3 Mazes of Success

“As a cardiovascular surgeon, I have performed countless, highly technical, high risk surgical procedures. Such operations would be intensely stress provoking for any individual who had not spent many years training for such experiences. However, in the same operating room, an observer - a medical student for example - feels no stress during cardiac surgery because they bear no responsibility. Stress is only experienced in the mind of the individual. Stress is a feeling. It’s a perception of a situation; it’s not the situation itself. Once one masters one’s mind, stress begins to gradually dissipate and be replaced with self-confidence, self-control, and tranquility. It is essential that we understand the workings of our mind in order to take control of how we will respond to the challenging situations life has to offer. This is perhaps the most empowering skill one can acquire, develop, and perfect – the ability to control one’s mind.”

Tip: “To take back control of your mind quickly when you feel stressed, try using a single breath meditation.”

8. John Fitch & Max Frenzel, authors of Time Off: A Practical Guide to Building Your Rest Ethic and Finding Success without the Stress

“Unfortunately, much of society has forgotten the vital role of a rest ethic. Without it, any professional will become burned out, and the more the burnout meter goes up, the creativity, effective decision making, clear communication, and enthusiasm meters go down. Showing up to work well-rested and filled with enthusiasm is one of the best things you can do for the patience and coworkers. If you are feeling burned out, simply open up about it to your team and leaders, don't hold it in. Nobody wins if a professional is overwhelmed and overworked. You can remind them that in order to stay professional and effective, you need to also stay well-rested. “

Tip: “Rest Often.”


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