Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

Everyone Has Limits

834002_53926801Stress is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s required for growth. But we weren’t designed for constant levels of high stress. We need rest; we need to ebb and flow. Not only does an ocean’s tide approach to stress allow our bodies the rest and relaxation they need, it also allows for the mental space necessary to process and deal with life in a healthy way.

Is stress constant in your life, or do you get regular relief from its pressure?

Everyone processes stress uniquely, and every person holds a different tolerance level for stress. Not only that, but how we handle stress and how much we can handle also varies contextually.

The Energizer Bunny

My husband and I provide perfect examples of this reality. I don’t handle chronic stress well and need lots of rest after a stressful event or situation. I also don’t do well with thinking quickly and making a lot of quick decisions, especially with people watching and waiting.

841712_81663505My husband is the opposite. He is energized being around other people and pushing through challenges, and he has an amazing ability to think quickly and act efficiently. In fact, he thrives under pressure.

We are also different in our down time. I need a lot of quiet & down time. He recharges very quickly, and his down time usually involves a lot of activity.

While my limits are quickly obvious, my husband seems to not have them at times. In fact, he’s earned the nickname “The Energizer Bunny” because he keeps going and going and going with uncanny consistency.

Recognizing Limits

It’s obvious to everyone nearby when I’ve reached my limit of stress, and I feel it internally well before it’s visible to others. I look fatigued, my digestion slows, and I get over-sensitive to sensory stimulation.

My husband’s limits are not so obvious. He works hard, sleeps deeply, and shows very few visible signs of stress. But when stress lasts too long, a limit well past that of most people, signs begin to show and include an increased obsession with work and falling asleep in 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes.

Are you like me who needs more ebb & flow or my husband who can handle bigger waves?

My husband struggles recognizing his limits because he, like many high-achievers, doesn’t like admitting he has them. I usually recognize the signs before he does, though he’s improved in this area over the years.

How to Recognize Limits

578724_45121810Regardless of whether limits come quickly or seem higher than most people’s, there are always signs indicating their existence. Learning to recognize those signs can prevent you from speeding down life’s highway at a reckless pace.

Which of the following 5 areas best help you recognize approaching limits?

  1. Sleep – What’s your optimal number of hours, and are you hitting it every night? How’s the quality of your sleep? Consistency in this area brings almost instantaneous overall improvement in the ability to handle stress in a healthy way.
  2. Energy – Is your energy level consistent throughout the day? Or, do you have periods where yawning increases & eyes grow unbearably heavy? Are you constantly reaching for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy boost? An inconsistent energy level is a caution light indicating limits are getting near.
  3. Thoughts – Do you struggle focusing? Do you zone out when others are talking? Are your thoughts constantly wandering to impossible scenarios of relief? Or, perhaps all you can do is think about work or whatever is causing stress. Has your concern turned into worry? Remember that thoughts determine reality, so understanding thoughts can help sense approaching limits.
  4. Leisure – When was the last time you took a day or even an afternoon off? Do you constantly bring work home? Even if you do take a day off, do you sneak in time for work? CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time in 2011 with most of them leaving 11 days unused. That means they only took 30% of their allotted vacation time mostly because they felt they had too much work to do. An avoidance of leisure is a sure indication of approaching stress limits.
  5. Relationships – Do you spend regular time with your spouse and kids/grandkids? What about dinner with your family regularly? Do you have any friends you hang out with outside of work? Strained relationships indicated stress limits are rapidly approaching or have been reached.

Taking time to assess these areas of life can make a tremendous difference in preventing the crash and burn that comes when limits are reached, exceeded and ignored. Don’t let a heart attack or adrenal burnout or worse force you to recognize and respect your limits. Choose to do so on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

DISCUSSION: What experiences or other perspectives can you share regarding limits?

18 thoughts on “Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

  1. Interesting comparison about dealing with stress. I wonder if some of the differences is in our creator’s design of our DNA? Is there a correlation between a male and female (though likely a generalization) where a wife and mother handles the daily stress different than how the father? Do our roles play a part in how we each handle stress?

    On dealing with stress, all of us should remember we can build up our strength and stamina by training to handle stress better. Like a weight lifter: sometimes he will lift lighter weights seeking to increase the number of reps we can handle, then cycle lift with increased weight until we cannot lift the bar even once, always looking to add just one more pound on the bar the next time – STRENGTH AND STAMINA. Consider the difference between an endurance runner and a sprinter. Our muscles adjust to how we train them. Recovery of a sprinter and a endurance racer also is much different too! A sprinter can recover and race again the same day. The endurance runner likely will require several days, depending on the distance he ran. (JUST more of coaching thoughts to share.)
    My recent post Words of Wisdom: Choices Do Have Consequences

    • I think DNA has something to do with it for sure as does being male/female along with the roles of wife, mother, husband, provider, etc. Our roles & our genetic makeup definitely play big parts in our ability to handle stress. I also believe we can become better at it and that some of us are more like sprinters and some more like marathoners. I'm a pacer, personally. We all have unique ways to handle stress, and figuring that out is the key. I will likely not be a marathoner like my husband, but he will likely not be as much of a pacer as me (he always goes out too fast in a race). A lot of factors are at play here, and we all have a unique combination of factors. We can get ideas from each other, but we ultimately have to find our own combination for handling stress. And, once again, the coaching analogy fits very well. You need to write a book 😉

  2. I seem to handle stress pretty well, sort of more like your hubby than you. I try all along to balance my work/stress load with my exercise. The latter is the biggest way I handle it. I find my ability to deal with life is often proportionate to how much exercise i get. I sleep better. I eat better. I relax better.
    My recent post More

    • He's a runner (likes 1/2 marathons), and this helps him tremendously to deal with stress. I encourage him to run because I know how much it helps him in all other areas of life. There's definitely a connection between the physical and mental.

  3. Kari, I can let stress build up real well and then I overflow & the world knows. I was like your husband for years, kept going and going. When I had my heart attack I realized I had never stopped to grieve, to deal with the stress, but stuffed it down. I survived by keeping going, doing what had to be done next. Now I can sense when I am getting stressed and stop and take time to be still before the Lord. That makes all the difference in the world. If I fail to focus on God, then life gets to me really quickly. If I stay in His Word and focus on gratitude I can rest in Him and stay safe. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I think everyone needs to read this, numerous times!

    I used to burn my candle at both ends, but when my dad died in 2008 I began to analyze what really matters. My life has turned 180 degrees since then.

    As much as possible, I take my leisure when it comes, I relish my rest and I try to embrace limits (though I still tend to over extend my time).

    I pray my spouse can learn them and not burn himself out.

    • Praise God for taking a tragic situation with your dad & leading you to victory in your own life. He hears your prayers for your husband for sure, and I'm certain He is using you to help your husband. We live in a "no limits" culture, and it has sucked so many people in. But God… He can lead us through the necessary change. Thank you for sharing your testimony, TC.

      • I'm starting to realize how powerful our testimonies are. Even our day to day, small struggles and victories. Rev 12:11 is deep on my mind.

        I think I've written it in several comments lately.

        • The word of our testimony is a powerful thing, and it's the only "Bible" many people will ever read. So many examples throughout the NT speaking to the power of a testimony, something Jesus even encouraged at times. I've come to believe in the power of our seeming small, everyday struggles that we experience and the victories that replace them.

  5. Great areas to analyze, Kari. I definitely need to start taking more leisure time. It’s odd because my life used to be almost completely leisure time until the last couple of years when i learned how to work finally after 54 years! I still take off at the drop of a hat if a friend calls or a family member wants to play a game or visit. But I’m not good at initiating relaxation. Have to change that!
    My recent post 10 Things to Thank God For When You’re Trying to Lose Weight

    • It\’s all about finding your own balance for sure. Plus, we have to continually adjust with the seasons of life. Never give up making those small adjustments Barb.

  6. I try to manage stress by managing the things that I give attention too. I try to know what is important in the key areas of my life and to give them attention on a regular basis. When I don't do that stress builds because I may be in a fog wondering what am I supposed to be doing in that area of my life. Scheduling important things daily and weekly goes a long way in lessening stress in my life both at work and home.

    • Working on a guest post about this very idea, Mark. The more our attention is divided, the more stress we feel and the less simple our lives. Scheduling & being organized is part of it, and so is just decided on a few areas of focus instead of spreading ourselves thin so much. Great confirmation for this thought I have been working on this week.

  7. Don't you just love the way the Lord often partners us with spouses who balance us. I am easily anxious, so I try to keep my stress levels to a minimum. I think it's important to know our limits and make boundaries for ourselves.

    Your evaluation points are spot on. I know I'm reaching my stress limits when I have trouble focusing my thoughts and insomnia begins to rule my nights. At that point I know it's time to dial back and take a break.
    My recent post Ideas for Make Your Own Holiday Day

    • He has done that so perfectly well with my husband and I for sure. They key with these evaluation areas is simply awareness. I think so many people don't know their limits & when they are approaching overload simple because of remaining unaware for a variety of reasons. Being aware is the first step toward being able to make changes.

  8. Awesome post, to handle the stress. Thanks for sharing the post. Sleep plays a vital role, lower or disturbed sleep will increase the stress levels more. Getting good and sufficient sleep at least for 6-7 hours daily will lower the stress and recharges the body for the next day.

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