Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free
The American Psychological Association released the findings of its’ annual stress survey today. According to the survey, America is an “overstressed nation.” American’s are struggling with pressures at work and home and are often not finding ways to make time for healthy behaviors, such as exercise and balanced eating.
Almost half of women report eating or eating unhealthy foods as a result of stress, only 33% report that they are successful in efforts to get enough sleep and many get little or no exercise each week. When asked why they don’t exercise, women were more likely than men to say that they are just too tired. Hardly a surprise, considering the reported lack of sleep. And chronic fatigue can have a significant impact on willpower, which women cite as the number one barrier to making changes in their lifestyle.
It is impossible to eliminate stress from our lives. And there are no easy or universal answers to combat the issues of willpower and fatigue that interfere with making life changes. The following are some strategies taught in DBT that many have found helpful in reducing painful and debilitating emotion.
Recognize how you deal with stress. Emotion regulation skills include learning to identify and label current emotions. In DBT, you learn to observe the prompting event, thoughts, body sensations, action urges and actual actions associated with stress. Recognizing and understanding your own personal experience of stress can help you better respond when you are stressed.
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Change one behavior at a time. DBT emphasizes doing things that make you feel competent, self-confident, in control, and capable. These can be small accomplishments that you do every day or steps towards large accomplishments. In order to stay focused, DBT teaches Mindfulness skills. When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to get scattered and distracted by multiple stressors and tasks.
Take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s necessary to focus on accepting the current situation and find ways to survive and tolerate the moment without engaging in unhealthy behaviors that create more problems. Comforting, nurturing, and being gentle and kind to yourself is essential when you’re stressed.
Ask for support. Over half of the women surveyed reported spending time with friends as a strategy to manage stress. Clearly relationships and connecting with others is a key stress management strategy for women. But support is more than just connecting with others. It’s also about getting what you want and need, in order to better manage your life. According to the stress survey “Six times as many women as men say that having more help with household chores would allow them to improve their willpower.” DBT skills prioritize obtaining changes you want and need and maintaining relationships with the people in your life, while maintaining your self-respect. These are essential skills for women, who are often managing multiple, competing demands.
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