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Self-Care and Stress Management

January 25, 2019

Host: Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Extension, University of Kentucky 

Guest: Natalie Jones, Extension Specialist for Family Health

Episode 33

0:00 Welcome to Talking FACS; what you need to know about family, food, finance and fitness. Hosted by the University of Kentucky Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Program, 0ur educators share research knowledge with individuals, families and communities to improve quality of life.

0:20 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Hello and welcome to Talking FACS. This is your host, Dr. Jennifer Hunter, Assistant Director for Family Consumer Sciences Extension at the University of Kentucky.

Today, I'm joined by our extension family health specialist, Natalie Jones. Thanks so much for joining us today, Natalie.

0:35 Natalie Jones: Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

0:37 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, today's topic Self-Care And Stress Management and I think that it's a great topic for this time of year that we've just gotten through the holidays, we've made it through that crazy time of year, we've kind of been through the New Year's resolutions and some of us may be successful and some of us may be unsuccessful. But it just kind of seems like that period of time after the holidays before the weather starts warming back up and that there's time to be outside and maybe be more physically active, that we really should focus on self-care and stress management because it just kind of seems to be a lull time for people and sometimes that that can be difficult.

1:17 Natalie Jones: Totally agree. And it's one thing too is that this experience of stress is universal; everybody has stress, but really what we're here to talk about is developing that healthy response to stress and the skills that will help people, throughout their whole lives, be able to manage stress and allow that time for self-care. Because we know that when people start becoming stressed or overwhelmed self-care is often that first thing to go. Multiple obligations piling up, it's easy to think, “I can't take a break. I have to keep pushing”.

1:47 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Right, you just always put yourself last.

1:49 Natalie Jones: Exactly. But through what we talk about today, I hope to show that people can't afford not to take time for their self-care and how it is so important for our health.

1:59 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, in general, is stress considered a real health issue?

2:03 Natalie Jones: Yes. So, in little doses, stress is not necessarily detrimental to our health, physical or mental well-being. We all need a little stress in our lives; that little kick, that little edge to get us going.

2:16 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Keeps us moving.

2:18 Natalie Jones: Exactly, a little motivated to get those deadlines met. However, if not properly managed, stress can take a serious toll on our physical health. So, longitudinal studies have shown sleeplessness, migraines or headaches, weight gain, quick irritation or lack of that concentration are potential side effects, if you have long term stress. And then we also know that chronic stress can lead to depression, anxiety, low tolerance levels and then relationship challenges. And so, those are also tied to issues that are really serious for health like diabetes and heart disease.

So, when we're under stress, not only does it have these potential harmful side effects, but also people tend not to practice right self-care when they're stressed.

3:07 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Right.

3:08 Natalie Jones: They kind of do the opposite. So, they cope negatively by smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in those high risk behaviors which we all know are not positive for health outcomes.

3:19 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, just making the situation worse as opposed to improving.

3:22 Natalie Jones: Exactly.

3:23 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So this may be the million dollar question; how do we prevent or distress our lives?

3:29 Natalie Jones: It is a million dollar question and a lot of it seems really easy but it's hard; it's very hard to practice. So, I'm going to give five tips on how to prevent or distress our lives.

So, the first one is what we're talking about with good self-care. So, one of the best ways to combat stress, large or small, is just by simply taking care of ourselves.

So, that's maintaining physical health, emotional health and then making sure that we get regular sleep (that's so important) as well as adding movement to our day and eating well.

4:00 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Which like you said before, it's hard when you're stressed because when you're stressed, your mind tends to be whirling so you maybe don't sleep nearly as much and so self-care can be difficult.

4:10 Natalie Jones: Exactly. As I'm saying, it sounds easy, but it's really hard. So, good self-care is the first step.

The second one is evaluating your priorities. So, like you said, the New Year has just started. So, maybe you've spread yourself too thin past activities and what you've been engaged in. So, really taking time this New Year to figure out what is your priority and what's important to you. So, that's the second step.

The third step to de-stress our lives is to consider doing less. So, after you've evaluated those priorities, really making sure that you do what is important to you, and ensuring that you have time left over to kind of relax and reboot yourself. Don't over book yourselves with that calendar. Really, before taking on any other additional responsibilities, making sure to think, “Does this contribute to overall wellbeing or does it not?” So, is the benefits worth that potential stress?

5:04 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And that is one of my biggest struggles is saying no, of taking something off my calendar, or now I think, “Oh, I can do one more thing or I can fit this in” and just doing less is hard.

5:18 Natalie Jones: Doing less is hard.

5: 19 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And that’s one of my personal struggle for sure.

5:22 Natalie Jones: And that's why number four is so important. I'm glad that you segued right into it; is practicing setting limits. So, it can be tough to say “No” to others or to limit yourself from doing everything. Even if you know it might not be better for you in the long run, we still want to get it done. That automatic response of, “Yes, of course I can do that” to those new responsibilities.

So, the challenge is setting those limits and instead of responding with, “Yes” being able to say like, “Let me think about it” or “I'll get back to you” to buy yourself some time to consider the impact of that decision.

5:53 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So I'll start using that. When you hear me walking around the office saying, “Let me think about that”.

5:58 Natalie Jones: And I will respect. I will respect that. The last thing, which is hard for a lot of adults to do, is to work hard and play hard. So, stress in the workplace, whatever your habits are, your day to day, it is hard and it can be draining. So, really ensuring that you deserve time to relax and let loose as well.

So, choose activities that help you unwind and have fun and refuel. So, maybe that is even taking a vacation. A lot of people have a hard time stepping away from the office or stepping away from their job and really making sure that you have that self-time is important as well.

6:34 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: I Have a good friend that his specialty area is actually farm management but he does a lot of business management principles and he always talks about the importance of a vacation. So, that when you're when you're looking at that calendar and considering doing less is that you schedule that vacation in there. That you're such a better manager, you're more productive, etc. when you've taken that time off to refuel and re-energize.

6:58 Natalie Jones: Exactly, it just helps you come back and bounce back even stronger than you were before.

7:04 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, we can do what we can to prevent, but we all know stress is still going to happen. So, what do we do if we have stress? Is there a way that we can get relief when we're really kind of feeling that tension?

7:15 Natalie Jones: Yes, yeah. So, the problem is kind of like what we mentioned is that people don't prioritize that self-care or health when that high stress comes in. And like we know, stress is going to happen all the time; some that can be prevented or we can control right by limiting, but some other stress, we can't really help, other stressors, they're unavoidable. So, all we can do is choose how we react to them and how we handle them.

So, the four ways of handling stress that are proven to be beneficial is first to talk to someone. Whether it's a friend, a family, a counselor, or even a religious adviser, just kind of getting that support; getting it off your chest, is crucial and having someone else say, “I understand” and to help you maybe come up with a game plan.

8:02 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Right. And just having that extra set of ears to offer suggestions or to bounce ideas off of. I think great tip.

8:08 Natalie Jones: Exactly, just kind of deal or take it off. The second thing is to try a relaxation strategy. So, maybe if you feel overwhelmed at work, you check an e-mail and it's just sends you into a major stress, just taking a moment to breathe; just literally three breaths at that moment of high stress can help you respond instead of react.

So, that's the huge thing that I like to say is choosing how to respond instead of reacting with that gut instinct.

8:37 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And are there different relaxation strategies that work for different people?

8:42 Natalie Jones: Yes, yes. So, breathing is just a simple one of just taking that moment. A lot of people also practice different types of meditation, even yoga or massage, if you want to treat yourself; just different times where you could just be in the moment and have silence.

So, for a parent, maybe that is simply closing a door, turning the lights off, maybe listening to your favorite song for three minutes and just having that alone time of silence away from children is enough to relax you. So, anything like that counts.

9:13 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And I think that that's a great tip as well that as a parent it's okay if you have to walk away sometimes.

9:19 Natalie Jones: Yes.

9:19 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And it's okay if they watch 15 or 30 minutes of TV while you take the time that you need as well. That that is okay.

9:28 Natalie Jones: Yes. So, you definitely need to take time to really relax yourself.

The third tip that I have is to move your body or to play. So, stress is a lot and once you're feeling it, sometimes physical activity and movement can really help get that stress out. I know that when I get high stressed, I like going in and going for a run and just getting it all out there and it kind of makes me feel just better; I'm just sweating it out. And so, doing that or just simply doing something that's fun, whatever is fun to you, whatever that activity is, making sure that while you're stressed you still take time to be active and move.

10:09 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And I think that's great. You know, you mentioned to run, my husband and I like to go walk.

10:14 Natalie Jones: Yeah.

10:15 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: And so, we'll try and take times in the evenings, especially when the weather's decent, to go out and walk together. And not only is it some time for us to talk about our days and kind of share our stress and do some of that talking to someone in debriefing, but it also adds some movement to our lives as well.

10:29 Natalie Jones: Exactly, and being outdoors, fresh air, it all benefits.

And then the fourth thing that maybe if you don't have someone to talk to, if you can't really get away or do a relaxing strategy and if you can't move, then the fourth strategy is to write it down.

So, sometimes it's helpful just to get stressful thoughts out of your head and onto paper. And I have friends who do this and sometimes they write it down and then they take it and rip it up because that's stress relieving for them as well; just to kind of get it out there and then be done with it or it can help you see really what you're dealing with and coming up with a strategy to handle it. So, different tips there and different ways that can help you.

11:11 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Yeah, I think all of those, I think someone can see themselves implementing those strategies and it's not a thing that is costly and most of them do not take a lot of time, but it's still allowing us to practice some self-care.

11:26 Natalie Jones: Exactly, and I think that that's one of the key things too is that whatever your stress is, I just want to offer people that option to choose to handle it in a healthy way and that looks different for everyone. It can be maybe you just need to have a dance party and punch it out. You know, like more power to you.

So, it's definitely just finding whatever that stress relief is for you and how you handle it and just making sure that it's a healthy option instead of swinging into coping negatively.

11:56 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: All great tips. And so, one thing that you mentioned to me earlier was this concept of strategic renewal. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

12:05 Natalie Jones: Yeah. So, this is a new concept, new information, that's coming out that researchers are working on. So, they're studying this continuously right now. But what it shows is that adults are kind of meant to be working in 90-minute cycles.

So, if you feel like you are working, maybe you find yourself at a desk and you are just so focused that you're sitting there for two hours straight without moving, that can be stressful, not only for your body but for your brain as well.

And so, it recommends that at least every 90 minutes for adults to engage in an activity that clears their mind and boost their energy. So, therefore that increases their productivity, their performance and their stress levels.

So, this could be just talking with a co-worker or just getting up from your desk or anything like that. Practicing breathing at your desk can help manage stress for people who are working.

13:02 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Is there a suggested length of time for that activity break?

13:05 Natalie Jones: No. So, it could be anywhere from just three minutes of just simple getting up, maybe walking, getting a drink of water and coming back or maybe a 10-minute break depending on what your work schedule allows.

13:20 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: So, really just kind of a change of scenery.

13:22Natalie Jones: Yes.

13:23 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Just breaking from where you are and just doing a quick little reboot and then coming back.

13:28 Natalie Jones: Right. So, let's call that Strategic Renewal. So, every 90 minutes, you're being strategic about coping with your brain, relaxing, having a stress management and self-care while you're at work so that that way you're rejuvenated and ready to go every 90-minute cycle.

13:44 Dr. Jennifer Hunter: Natalie, I think these are great tips to make distressing manageable. That it's one of those things that seems, I think, really big to people. And just how you outlined how we can kind of take those baby steps in to really practicing self-care. Thanks for joining us today.

14:01 Natalie Jones: Thanks for having me.

14:04 Thank you for listening to Talking FACS. We deliver programs focusing on nutrition, health, resource management, family development and civic engagement.

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Visit us online at fcs.uky.edu to learn more about the University of Kentucky Family and Consumer Sciences Extension program or contact your local extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences. We build strong families. It starts with us.