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?

How to… Have the Best Summer Break Yet

After adopting our youngest son two years ago, we discovered the need to create more structure in our summers than we’d had previously. (Our oldest is very independent and keeps occupied easily.) The tips below are the result of what has worked well for us over the past two years and that look to make this third summer with him the best one yet!

  1. Know Your Priorities. Many parents save vacation time or adopt a modified work schedule for the summer months. Do this if at all possible. The challenge of summer break is only for a season, and parents whose kids are no longer at home stress the importance of making the most of every opportunity while the kids are still young as a top priority. If a changing work schedule isn’t an option, do what you can to make evenings and weekends as focused on family time as possible.
  2. Create Goals. Have goals to help motivate and focus you and your kids. Set reading goals summer, such as a certain number of books or completing a certain series. Set physical goals such as training for a 5k or exercising so many times a week. Set academic goals too, such as memorizing multiplication facts or completing a summer bridge workbook. Having goals gives kids a “go to” activity when boredom strikes. And, of course, have rewards for reaching goals too!
  3. Have Balanced Structure. Partly because my youngest needs structure and largely because I like sanity, we create a daily and weekly schedule. We allow for alone time, time together, and time out. We schedule TV and electronics time, and we schedule projects and activities such as cooking new foods, visiting interesting places, and playing with friends. We don’t schedule to the point of exhaustion but enough to avoid boredom.
  4. Be Flexible. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re not fanatics about it. We allow for the spontaneous and unexpected such as weather changes, friends calling and those joyful moments when the kids come up with something to do together all on their own. We keep a list of summer activities to help create our schedule but remain flexible.
  5. Set Boundaries. Many kids would play video games and watch television all summer if they could. To avoid this, schedule media time into the day. Also, even though kids are at home, I still have work to complete. So, the office door closed means I need some time to write without disruption. The office door open means they can sit and talk to me while I work.  Also, they stay in their rooms until 8AM every morning and let me have time to exercise, pray and do devotions until 10AM. Setting these types of boundaries goes a long way in maintaining balanced structure.
  6. Get Input. Toward the end of the school year and when school first gets out, my boys and I spend time creating a list of summer activities. They usually have terrific ideas, and giving input creates excitement for the summer ahead.
  7. Include Mental Stimulation.  Tell kids they need to do schoolwork all summer to keep from losing what they learned during the school year, and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. But include mentally stimulating activities such as summer camps and going to the library or museums, and kids get excited. Get creative, but find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds.

Whether parents are home with their kids or not for summer break, the above suggestions provide ways to help make this summer break the best one yet. Take time within the next couple of days to go through these suggestions and create a plan of action. Oh yeah, be sure to write down what you come up with. My kids love looking at the schedule and list of activities to find out what’s coming up.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you plan on trying? What suggestions can you add?

Additional Resource: The article Keep Your Summer Organized by Simple Mom has some terrific suggestions that go well with today’s post. Check them out and let Tsh at Simple Mom know how great her ideas are!

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