5 of Today's Greatest Stressors and How to Minimize Them
We all have stressors. They give us headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, and make us kick innocent dogs. If only the medical bills would go away. If only the car would operate without maintenance. If only the house didn't need maintenance. If only the kids would do their chores and homework. If only ….
The list of stressors continues to grow despite technology. iPhone updates necessitate relearning our phone apps once every month or two. Siri doesn't understand plain English. Alexa understands too much English! Inventors have created an affordable robot to make the coffee and clean the floor, but no one's invented a robot to mow the lawn and trim the hedges which takes four times as long!
Confronting stress means first, understanding what your stressors are. Being busy isn't necessarily stress if you find peace or solace in the act of being busy. Each of us have stress triggers that are unique to us, but most of us share a few common stress makers. This article focuses on reducing stress associated with common stressors.
Stressor No. 1: The 40-Hour Work Week
Contrary to popular belief, the idea of a 40 hour work week isn't American (although it was born of capitalism). The 40 hour work week has British origins, and in fact, leaders of the industrial revolution recommended 10 hour days or more until labour unions fought back.
We might wonder why America, which sought to escape the tax impositions of Britain, didn't fight to escape long work weeks as well. Well, America did fight back. As a result, the average work week slowly declined leading up to the 1900s. It may be disheartening to learn that the average work week was rounding down to 35 hours when World War II changed the American labor landscape. Many women entered the work-force for the first time and were forced to work long hours to meet supply demands for America's soldiers. It seems that was the linchpin that made the 40 hour work week a household staple.
During Franklin Roosevelt's tenure as president, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 made the 40 hour work week permanent. An optimistic President Nixon advocated a 4 day work week where families could become a greater priority, but sadly, his advisors quickly "nixed" the idea of a mere 5 hour reduction in the work week.
How to Destress the 40-Hour Work Week:
There are a number of employers who are fighting the 'system' by cutting back their average work week regardless of the Fair Labor Standards Act. A number of law offices offer 37.5 hour work weeks, particularly for staff support who spends hours at a desk. Increasingly, doctor's and dentist's offices are closing at noon or altogether one day a week. Employers are offering flexible work plans which enable a 40 hour week to be worked in four 10 hour shifts or some other variation. Government offices are closing during regular hours to allow "catch-up" time. Businesses affected by the Coronavirus have learned that employees can work from home.
Despite changes from employers, the problem is still very real and still very overwhelming, particularly if both parents work. There is very little time in a two day weekend (especially if you go to church) left to do laundry, mow the lawn, maintain the house and car, etc. Oh, and remember those children that deserve so much of your attention and just aren't getting it because of the 40 hour work week? Try tossing in a soccer tournament or a dance recital. It's no small feat to accomplish all of these tasks and remain sane.
Here's what you can do?
- If you have any tenure and can accomplish your job in less than 40 hours, ask for a reduced work week. Ask to cut back to 32 or 35 hours so that you can maintain your health insurance benefits. If you feel this idea will meet with a definite no, then ask for a flexible work week which enables you to get your 40 hours in without the rigidity of an 8 to 5 schedule.
- A lot of office policies now allow for telecommuting up to 2 days per week. Ask your employer to let you work from home on a trial basis. At least the laundry can be running while you're cranking out spreadsheets. Who knows? You may be the single positive force that changes the entire company's way of looking at how their employees balance work and home.
- Budget for a nanny, or at the very least, a lawncare specialist and a housekeeper. In some scenarios, a nanny is more practical than daycare. A nanny can care for the children, and do the cooking and cleaning. Removing the time spent doing the lawn and housework frees you up to spend time with the children.
- Keep life simple. Learning to say no to projects or activities is hard when you want to participate and give back to your community, friends and family. But learning to say no and apologizing for your long work week and busy lifestyle is understandable to most people. Learn to let retirees or stay at home moms pick up the big projects like PTA chairman and the girl scout jamboree. There will be a time in your life when you assume those roles, but the time is not while you're working 40 or more hours a week with long commutes.
Stressor No. 2: Traffic
With work, comes travel. And with travel comes traffic. With urban sprawl, comes even more travel and more traffic. The latest census data shows a mean average commute 25 minutes one-way. That adds at least an hour to an already long day, notwithstanding the time you sit at each red light. By the time you drop the kids off for school, ensure the car has gasoline, pick up a prescription, or run some other litany of errands, you've added significant stress to your day. Sadly, despite travel and traffic being known major stressors in and of themselves, employers complicate commutes by setting uniform 8 to 5 office hours for everyone.
How to Destress Your Commute:
- Use your commute wisely. Turn it into time to catch up with the kid's lives. Find out who their friends are, what subjects they are struggling with, what subjects they're exceling in, whether they have a crush on anyone. You get the idea!
- Obtain books or music and let your favorite novel or artist detoxify your day. Listen to a podcast and get information about a topic that interests you. If you choose news channels that educate and broaden your knowledge base, you will find yourself craving this time rather than dreading it!
- Use your commute (safely, of course), to audibly communicate with friends and family. If you're driving you can't text and moreover, nothing replaces the human voice for maintaining connectivity. Facebook and messaging are great social media tools, but they are just that — tools. Far too many of us are allowing these mediums to replace human contact. If nothing else, leave messages for your loved ones and tell them you'd love to hear their voice when they get a few minutes to return the call. You'll become known as someone who stays in touch and that's a good thing. You are also building a network. At last check, we all still needed each other.
- Use this time to create to-do lists. It's easy to think of things you need to do while you're driving. Ask Siri to make you a note or call your office and leave yourself a voice mail. This prevents you from texting and driving.
Once you learn to turn travel time into productive and useful time, traffic magically fades into the background. Just don't let your thought processes distract you from driving.
Stressor No. 3 - The Healthcare Industrial Complex
The healthcare system in America is failing us, barring a bonafide medical emergency and sometimes even then. Specialists abound and internists are seemingly incapable of practicing functional medicine, that is, whole body medicine. You visit one clinic and you're then sent to another facility for diagnostic work. Sometimes you can't even see a doctor without a referral, requiring two doctor's visits. Second opinions are frequently wise and necessary. All the while the prescriptions you take merely eliminate the symptoms, not CURE what ails you.
Healthcare finances are like peeling back the layers of a bad onion. The dollars never make sense because rates vary patient to patient and insurance to insurance. Co-pays change based on physician credentials. Deductibles aren't always straightforward. Double billing is common for certain procedures. EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) never seem to match a medical facility's billing. If a diagnosis code gets entered wrong, you lost coverage. The doctor may prescribe a drug that costs $800 while an over-the-counter drug which is tried and tested, would have worked just as well. The drug you take causes side effects which then require a new drug or a change in drugs.
The healthcare system in and of itself is stressful and you were sick to begin with.
How to Destress Healthcare:
- Find a good diagnostician and develop a history with him/her. The best diagnosticians are disguised as a family practitioner. They see lots of patients with a myriad of conditions every day and are consequently more adept at pinpointing a condition that even specialists miss. Some patients prefer VIP health providers which offer concierge medical services for a fee, but getting a diagnosis means finding a diagnostician whether a VIP internist, a family practitioner, or a nurse practitioner. All too often, doctors rely entirely on a CBC and ignore bodily symptoms. Your doctor should always perform a mixture of lab work, physical examination, and ask you a lot of questions.
- Functional or wholistic medicine physicians are on the rise around the nation and are trained to look at every part of you and your medical history when trying to diagnose a condition. They tend to focus on a curative plan which saves you money, time, and the peril of dealing with your illness on a chronic or long term basis. In other words, wholistic medicine seems to have curative interests at heart while modern medicine seems to have pharmaceutical interests at heart.
- Subscribe to health newsletters or periodicals which pertain to your health problems. Doctors aren't all-knowing and are frequently biased. (For instance, I recently visited an endocrinologist who hadn't even read about a breakthrough drug published in her own medical journal several months before). Don't be afraid to educate yourself and then discuss what you learned with your doctor. Being proactive and involved in your healthcare means better outcomes. If you're doctor responds to your information or questions with distaste, it may be time to find a doctor with more humility.
- Outline the health pros and cons of foods that affect your condition(s). Nutritious food has healing properties. Look for other alternatives to conventional medicine like essential oils and supplements. If your condition isn't life threatening, the internet is a vast source of information about how to reverse disease. There are dozens of studies conducted by the National Health Institute each year that prove the validity of food, essential oils, and vitamin efficacy. Try what seems prudent without risk such as eliminating certain foods or increasing certain vitamins, but do your homework first and then consult with your doctor.
- Make it a habit to hold medical billing for at least 45 days. This gives insurance time to process and cuts down on unnecessary calls and stress associated with things crossing in the mail. That said, be prepared to pay any unsettled balances shortly thereafter. A lot of people don't realize that providers will sometimes reduce their fees by as much as 50% if a lump sum balance is paid all at once. It never hurts to ask for a reduction. If the answer is no or a lump sum payment is not feasible, get on a fixed payment schedule so the balance doesn't affect your credit.
Staying healthy is far easier than treating disease. Diet and exercise are essential to good health. Find time to make your health a priority and you won't lose that time chasing treatments or cures.
Stressor No. 4 - Financial Peril
Financial peril is no discriminator. It can happen to any of us. Home repairs are so expensive they sometimes require a loan. Likewise, car repairs can be astronomical leaving you to thing it would be cheaper just to buy a new car. Healthcare expenses can drive a family into bankruptcy. Any lack of adequate insurance can be a game changer to any once financially stable family. Staying out of the red requires knowledge of the financial system in general, the types of insurance products available, and a lot of self discipline. Dealing with the stress of creditors is small in comparison to the stress of dealing with the actual debt; therefore, these tips focus on how to stay out of debt or resolve debt.
How to Destress Your Finances:
- Most creditors will negotiate a reduction on your medical bill balance IF you agree to pay a lump sum. (See Item No. 5 under How to Destress Healthcare).
- Negotiate payment of your highest percent interest bills first, then work your way down to the smallest percent interest bills. Whenever possible, avoid putting debt on a credit car. Consolidating balances can be beneficial if you are disciplined enough to pay them off before zero interest periods expire. If you find yourself transferring balances to avoid fees, you are endangering your credit more than you are helping it. Budget a plan for payment of your debt and stick to it.
- Avoid paying rent where possible since it's like throwing money out of the window. But when you buy a home, you must realize there is no magic pill to resolve mortgage debt. You must make your mortgage your biggest priority because it builds equity which translates to wealth. The farther you fall behind or rents or mortgage debt, the greater the chance you will be forced to move or face bankruptcy. Keeping your utilities cut on is a second priority so as to avoid cut off fees. The more late fees and cut on fees you pay, the farther behind you get. Despite the common threats of bill collectors, the things that most affect your credit are rents and utilities.
- Taxes are inevitable and self-employed folks frequently find themselves in trouble at year end. Estimate your taxes each year and set the monies aside during the year to avoid a large payment during tax season.
- Insurance is unfortunately necessary. Research what is available to you at what cost but always maintain minimum coverage on your home and car. A fixed term life insurance policy is extremely affordable and prevents unexpected debt associated with losing a loved one.
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Stressor No. 5 - Things You Can't Control
Probably the greatest stressor for all of us is trying to control what we have no control over. You can take a problem in your life and convert it to a stressor simply because you try to manage what can't be managed. Problems abound in every aspect of life. As a mother, I also understand that worry is a major stressor.
Deliberate solutions should be what follows problems but oftentimes we try to fast forward to a solution just to end the stress and in that process, create more problems. We often internalize problems risking depression, or conversely, we inappropriately verbalize things making the problem worse.
Finding balance in problems and their solution is critical. For instance, violence and worry solve nothing. Prayer and collective brainstorming do. It's okay to be frustrated or angry and it's okay to want change. However, you have to realize you can't change everything and when you can't change a situation or a problem, you must change your response to it.
How to Deal With Things You Have No Control Over -
- Say the Serenity Prayer Aloud. As you actively deal with a problem, take time to analyze how it affects your life. Are you better off to ignore it? How do possible attempts to solve it affect others (such as causing them harm)? Problems require exploration and solutions require patience. Can you accept it? Can you change it? Are you sure? As you deliberate problem solving, be cognizant of a problem's ability to add stress to your life and that your reaction to it can add even more stress.
- Problem solving has several steps (define, clarify, design resolution by finding the root cause and developing an action plan). But making problems a stressor only has one step — YOU ALLOWING IT TO BE A STRESSOR. Find a way to categorize issues from low to high priority so they don't become stressors. By this I mean you need to determine why it's a problem to begin with. Is it an efficiency issue? Is it because you desire to be seen in a certain way by others? Is it because the problem poses a potential risk to you or others? Are you making something a problem just because you are punishing yourself? For example, losing an operable vehicle required for work is a high priority problem. But driving a Jaguar to work to stroke your ego is a low priority. A vehicle gets you from point A to point B and when it becomes something else, you may have just made your wheels a major stressor.
- We sometimes get crossways with our employers through no fault of our own. We may be emotionally bullied at work. We may be passed over for a promotion. We may get discriminated against. There are definitely times when you can't change anything and you're held hostage, more or less, by the way an employer treats you or fails to treat you. This is a significant stressor because it affects our emotional and physical health. Knowing when to cut your losses (change jobs) is important, but long before that comes the realization that you can't change the situation, you can only change your response to it. Maintaining your sense of self, finding Zen time, and ensuring you have an outlet for your stress is critical. You don't have to subordinate yourself to injustices, but you do have to protect your integrity and understand the power that has in helping you overcome the situation.
- What's your favorite candy? Yeah, I know it's bad for you. But sometimes it can relieve stress. Find something you enjoy but withhold it from yourself until the most stressful part of the day. For instance, a chocolate turtle would be on my list. On Monday, the turtle may last until noon, but by Friday it lasted until the evening. Why? Using something like this as a tool to help you analyze your stress levels, may also help you understand what's stressing you out the most and when. If it's something you can control, you'll be able to deduce it. If it's not, you still get the candy !!!
The Importance of Erasing Stress
Whatever your stressors, the goal is to erase as much if not all of them. Stress has a cumulative and negative affect on human health and should never be ignored. It's an inflammatory agent in an all-too-often inflammatory world. Finding your Zen, if only for five to ten minutes a day, should not be underestimated. It could be time on a porch swing with a cup of coffee, or a walk through the hosta plants when they start blooming, but find ways to make Zen time a personal and daily ritual. You'll find yourself looking forward to that time and when you do, you will finally be making the transition from letting stress control you to you controlling your stress.