Balance Your Stress: How to Avoid the Tipping Point

By Lindsey Johnson
Rocks balancing on beach representing stress scale

Stress. We all have it. Some see it as a badge of honor – the more stressed they are, the more important their role is. While some acute stress can be beneficial to spur us into action, chronic stress can cause burnout, fatigue, unhappiness and a multitude of health risks. Learning to control stress before it controls us is a skill that is often overlooked and underdeveloped. Understanding how to deal with and balance your stress is imperative.

Drs. Lazarus and Folkman in their book, “Stress, Appraisal, and Coping,” outline a widely used definition of stressful situations in which the demands of the situation threaten to exceed the resources of the individual. When applied to real-life scenarios, this could be trying to meet a work deadline but fearing you don’t have the information you need to complete your project in time. It could be having so much on your plate that you feel the resource you’re lacking is time or money. Or maybe you’re dealing with a stressful situation with your child and feel you don’t have the right words or discipline to take charge of the situation. Regardless of the source, ongoing stress can wear us down until we reach a tipping point where we boil over because we just can’t take it anymore. This is why it is important to know how to balance your stress.

Preventive Maintenance

Prevention is often the best medicine. Just as you’d routinely service your car, it’s important to regularly refill your own cup by making small daily deposits into the happiness bank. Schedule a few non-negotiable minutes into every day to do something that restores you. Maybe it’s a few minutes at the beginning or end of the day or during your lunch break. Journal, pray, meditate, listen to a podcast, read, call a friend, get outside, go for a walk, listen to music, organize your day — whatever it is that helps you stay calm and rejuvenates your energy.

Besides your daily replenishment, schedule a longer activity on a regular basis. This can be anything that you think of as fun or relaxing or gets you excited. Go fishing, play basketball with friends, schedule a pedicure. Regularly investing in yourself by spending time doing the activities that bring you joy will pay dividends when you’re thrown into a stressful situation.

Tipping Point

During periods of intense and prolonged stress, many people experience a “tipping point” where they transition from being able to manage to feeling completely overwhelmed or defeated. As we reach this tipping point, our stress and anxiety escalate, and we have trouble functioning in other areas of life also.

Pay attention to your body

Take notice of the signs and symptoms of burnout and approaching the tipping point and head it off before it slams you against the wall. Pay attention to your body. Do a physical assessment and notice EVERYTHING about how your body is reacting. Stress often manifests in physical form. Is your breathing shallow or quick? Do you feel restless or fidgety? Are you sweating? Do you feel sick to your stomach? Are you having trouble falling or staying asleep? Are you getting a cold or other minor illness? Is your heart beating faster? Are you clenching your teeth? Do you have a headache? Do you feel either extra hungry or not hungry at all? All of these can be ways stress manifests in the body.

Take regular stock of your emotions

It’s also important to take regular stock of your emotions to balance your stress. Are you easily agitated? Are you snipping at others? Do you feel overwhelmed? Exhausted? Hopeless? Frustrated? Crying over something seemingly insignificant? Are you able to smile, laugh or enjoy yourself?

If you start noticing these physical or emotional changes, put yourself in timeout. Before you damage relationships at work or home, take a pause for yourself. Use one (or many) of your daily or weekly joy activities to take a break from the situation that is causing you angst. Turn off your phone, leave your thoughts behind and fully immerse yourself in your happy activities before coming back to face the world with a little rejuvenation.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many people take on too much because we don’t want to inconvenience others. (And after all, there’s blank space on the calendar so why not?) Ask others to complete tasks for you or give you a break until you can recover if you feel yourself moving towards your tipping point. Skip unnecessary activities (eating cereal for dinner every once in a while never hurt anyone).

Just like that line in the airplane safety announcements — you must put on your own mask first before helping others. Your first priority is your own physical and emotional wellbeing. If that’s not in check, you won’t be effective in your other tasks and will approach them with resentment and a negative attitude. Invest in yourself — don’t feel guilty for taking the time you need to experience fulfillment and balance your stress. Avoid the breaking point whenever possible!

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