- About Us
- Legislative Center
Managing Stress Through Times of Change
Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
How many times have we heard, “The only constant in life is change?” Yet, many of us are caught off guard when a change event occurs. Human beings are creatures of habit; change brings about the need to grow, leave our previous comfort zones and do things differently.
We must learn new information, master new skills and navigate new processes and ways to adapt to change. Few of us welcome change because change usually is accompanied by stress. Many believe that unplanned changes or changes not in our control create stress. That’s not always the case, though.
It’s important to note that even positive, planned and welcomed changes can be stressful, such as the birth of a child, the purchase of a new home or car or even getting that promotion toward which you have been working. Why is it even important to manage stress? Because stress can have negative impact on our bodies.
According to Mental Health America, stress can cause emotional and physical reactions in the body:
Therefore, managing stress, whether by reducing overall stress or its impact on your life, can help protect not only your physical and mental health, but also your happiness and your family’s happiness.
The first step toward stress management is acceptance. Accept that the process may be cumbersome and you may need help along the way. This is the time to take stock of your support system(s). A support system is defined as “a network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support.”
What does your support network look like? Who do you go to first for support? And, if that person or system is not available, where do you go next? Is there additional support you can add to your portfolio?
Some of the best ways to be prepared for changes, especially unwelcome ones, are to get back to the basics of self-care. Self-care involves being proactive about taking care of yourself; for example, making sure you get enough restful sleep. Some tips for restful sleep are to have a set sleeping schedule, make sure your bed is comfortable and limit television watching to end two hours before sleeping. Research indicates the blue light from screens disturbs sleep cycles, also known as circadian rhythms.
Another idea for self-care is to eat a well-balanced diet—one that typically includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats and protein and is tailored to your specific dietary needs and restrictions. Incorporating exercise also is a part of self-care. Physical activity helps release the effects of stress hormones that help balance your mood. According to the Mayo Clinic, “physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.”
Choose an activity that you enjoy doing and make time for it a few times a week. Biking, walking, running, hiking, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, dancing, weight-lifting, swimming and more are great physical activities. Having a group activity in which to participate also may give you an additional support system of workout buddies. Self-care does not have to be complicated; simply taking breaks from your daily routine can work wonders.
Practicing mindfulness can help center your central nervous system. Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. Eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was found to increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory and, in certain areas of the brain, plays roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There was a decrease in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress. These changes matched participants’ self-reports of their decreased stress levels, indicating that meditation not only changes the brain, but it changes our subjective perception and feelings, as well.
Revisiting old extracurricular activities or developing new hobbies also can help reduce stress. Knitting, word finds, coloring, playing solo/group or digital games or binge watching a TV series or drama are some ideas for varied activities. Sometimes just trying something new can help keep your mind off the mundane.
Planning an event, taking a vacation or doing activities with friends and family also can help provide self-care by reconnecting you with activities that are meaningful and engaging. Even a simple social media break can give you some time off to just relax. All these strategies help provide a “safety net” to catch you at times when you might become overwhelmed.
Spiritual activity has been known to help with grounding. According to the Mayo Clinic, “cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life.” By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress. For many, believing there is a greater power that is in control helps ease their burdens. That connection to a grander purpose can make you feel more connected to the world at large and help you build relationships and traditions that can provide support themselves.
In addition to self-care, taking a practical look at the issues related to change also can reduce stress. You always are in control of your reaction(s) toward change events. Identifying over what you have power and control can help guide your vision for the blueprint with which you can break down and tackle different aspects of the change process.
There’s an old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Breaking down the process and brainstorming the different stages or impact on your daily life can help determine what resources you will need to effectively adapt to the changes. Once you’ve determined the stages involved, create a rough timeline for implementation. Add room for future events or circumstances that cannot be predicted with certainty, then determine what actions would help ease each stage.
Also, think of how to delegate or even streamline some of the work in these different stages. Remember that, although perfection may be a desired ideal, keeping it simple and basic may, in the end, help you adjust to the changes. Know that it is okay to ask for help, assistance and guidance.
Remind yourself that change is constant. Although you may be dealing with changes and the related stress for a while, those circumstances, too, eventually will change. But, the routines, activities and support you develop and invest in to help you navigate through these changes will only strengthen your ability to adapt successfully.
Following are ideas to consider when talking with an employee assistance clinician:
The USPS Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help you create an environment at home and work to help make this process more manageable. You can customize EAP options to suit your individual needs. For example, you may choose telephonic or video counseling with an EAP clinician or text/Skype therapy through TalkSpace.
Maybe you already have a goal or two in mind and just need some life coaching. To explore more options of what services are available, contact the USPS EAP at 1-800-EAP-4YOU/ 1-800-327-4968, TTY 877-492-7341 or go to www.EAP4YOU.com.