Brown Bag: Stress, Strategies, and the Importance of Self-Care

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Presented by Ranjit Dhari
Recap by Ashley van der Pouw Kraan
(@ashvdpk on Twitter)

SCWIST’s Brown Bag events are an opportunity to ‘lunch and learn’ with professional women from a variety of STEM fields. Visit our events calendar to register for our upcoming Brown Bags.

“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” Hans Selye

Stress is inevitable. It happens to all of us, for a myriad of different reasons – perhaps a looming deadline, the start of a new school year, or the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also essential to our survival.

Ranjit Dhari, MSN, BN, is an expert on stress. She teaches a course of foundational knowledge related to stress, stressors, resilience, social support, plus strategies to foster physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health at the UBC School of Nursing, and knows all the effects – both positive and negative – stress can have on your body. 

We sat down with her at a recent Brown Bag, where Ranjit walked us through: 

  • The positive and negative effects of stress
  • Maintaining your mental health
  • How to develop a self-care plan
  • Key wellness resources 

What is Stress? 

When you think of the word stress, what comes to your mind? Panic? Feeling overwhelmed?

Stress is…

  • Any change you encounter
  • Wear and tear on the body
  • The inability to cope with problems
  • The loss of emotional control
  • The absence of inner peace 
  • Part of a normal life.

Stress is the response of your body and mind to the demands being placed on you. It may increase your vulnerability to illness, or cause anxiety, fear, anger and depression, but some stress is helpful, and can motivate you to perform. 

Issues occur when there are too many stressors at one time, or you cannot appropriately deal with the stress you are feeling. You’ll be left with all the negative effects of stress – the physical and mental health problems – and none of the positive. 

TED Ed: How Stress affects your body

The Positive

New research from psychologist Kelly McGonigal ‘urges us to see stress as a positive’ and suggests that ‘stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case.’  Her work is not alone. Further research shows when you are positively stressed, or know how to deal with your stress pro-actively rather than reactively, you enter what is known as the ‘Achievement Zone’. In this optimally stressed state, the stimulation can help you perform, take notice, and work harder to achieve your goals. It can even encourage you to move, become active, and be more creative!

The Negative

When you’re negatively stressed, it may affect your body, mind, or behaviour (or a mix of all three). You might experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Harder time focusing, concentrating and getting work done
  • Dissatisfaction with life, job, or relationships 
  • Negative emotional states (depression, anxiety, problematic substance use, etc)
  • Poor physical health (sleep disruption, chronic health conditions, frequent illnesses etc)
  • Decreased empathy for yourself and others
  • Burnout

How to Develop a Self-Care Plan

There are many different strategies you can use to manage your stress. To determine what might work best for you, take some time to reflect on your key stressors, and how you might want to cope with them. Don’t limit yourself to one or two solutions – it is helpful to learn and practice a variety of different coping, relaxation and health promotion strategies. This will help you take charge of the stress in your life by understanding what works for you and the evidence behind those strategies. 

Mental Health

When you begin to develop your self-care strategies, consider looking at the ‘Thrive 5’ to begin fostering and maintaining good mental health. We are in an unprecedented time, and you may be feeling stressed and worried, and practicing physical distancing may leave you feeling isolated. These five points can be easily implemented to help support your mental health. 

  1. Moving more: Adding activity to each day can help you manage stress and can boost your mood. This is especially important when working or learning from home, where you may tend to be more sedentary
  2. Sleeping Soundly: Getting enough quality sleep can help you tackle work, classes, and life’s everyday challenges. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep per day also helps boost your immunity and maintain your physical health
  3. Eating Well: Eating a balanced diet can help fuel your body and mind; many studies have shown a link between a healthy diet and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression
  4. Giving Back: Helping others adds to your sense of purpose, connection, and wellbeing. Although physical distancing means we are not able to volunteer in person or with others, there are still many ways to let people know you care and give back
  5. Saying Hi: Spending time with family, friends, and community can reduce stress and provides a sense of belonging. Physical distancing does not need to mean social isolation. Join an online community, or book times to video chat with friends and family

Strategies for Management

There are many strategies you can implement – both in the moment and as a long-term practice – to manage your stress. Take a look at the list below and see if any of the suggestions stand out to you as something you would like to try. 

This is not an exhaustive list, and each person will implement each strategy a bit differently – the key is to find your groove and make it a practice to disrupt your cycle of stress.

Key Wellness Resources 

There are many resources available online, over the phone or in person. If you are feeling overwhelmed, aren’t sure where to start, or want a person to talk to, check out the resources below.

Anxiety/Depression in Adults

Community Resources

Courses and Programs

Don’t miss out – check out our events calendar to see all our upcoming networking events, workshops and speaker series.

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