Category Archive: Stress

Back to School Stress

It is that time of year- when children and parents alike prepare for another year. A new school year means a new grade, new teachers, new goals, and maybe even a new school! For many children, this is a time of great excitement as they anticipate a successful year. However, for some families, the return to school causes reflection on difficulties experienced during the previous year and continuing concern about a child’s academic weaknesses. If these same concerns continue for an extended period of time, it is possible that a child may be experiencing a learning disability.

Learning disabilities are problems that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze, or store information. These problems can make it difficult for a student to learn as quickly or in the same way as someone who is not affected by learning disabilities. There are many kinds of learning disabilities (e.g., difficulty with reading, math or written expression) and many students are affected by more than one kind.

Children who have an undiagnosed learning disability will feel extremely embarrassed and frustrated by their academic progress. Such a child may also experience self-doubt in other areas of their life. They often dislike school and sometimes demonstrate behavior problems. If not addressed, they may have limitations in career choices and income later in life.

As untreated learning disabilities have such significant impact, it is important to find the reason(s) for a child’s poor school performance and come up with a treatment plan early in the year so that the child can perform up to their full potential.

Beth Wykle, Ph.D.
School Certified Psychologist

If you suspect that your child may have a learning disability and you would like to schedule an evaluation please contact us at 610.873.4748


An Introduction to Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

First let me explain what it is NOT. Mindfulness is not a religion; it is not solely a form of relaxation; mindfulness is not an escape from reality; it is not an unattainable type of meditation meant only for monks and yogis. Mindfulness IS, quite simply, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. It can also be: relaxing, an escape from stress, and is practiced by plenty of monks and yogis (they’re onto something!).

Why bother?

There is a growing body of research that suggests mindfulness helps to improve a variety of human struggles, including: depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders, relationship dissatisfaction, and physical health problems. New research indicates that practicing mindfulness actually changes your brain- in a good way.

Where do I start?

Wash a dish. No, really. That’s what I tell many of my clients as an introduction to mindfulness. Set the timer for 5 minutes and during that time, wash a single dish. Over and over. Don’t do anything else and, during that time, focus all of your attention on the act of washing the dish. Connect with your senses. Notice the feeling of your hands in the warm water, smell the dish soap you are using, listen to the sound of your swishing sponge. And when your mind drifts to the many other things you might (you may think “should”) be doing, gently redirect yourself back to the dish. That’s it. Sounds simple, right? It is and it isn’t. This may feel like a very long five minutes! You will likely have many thoughts about how silly and pointless the activity is – and each time you do, simply redirect yourself back to the task.

Where will it get me?

Engaging in this task- and any other mindfulness exercises- will flex your mindfulness muscle. As this metaphorical mindfulness muscle becomes stronger, it will start to help you in other areas of your life. When people focus on their experience in the present moment, it tends to make life more manageable. Mindfulness need not only be employed in the quiet moments of your life. The skills you will learn through mindful practice will help you when you’re frustrated, feeling disconnected from your spouse, fed up at work, stuck in a long line, or wrestling your toddler into his car seat. Once invited in, mindfulness can grow to be a lifelong companion. And unlike some other frequent visitors (depression, anxiety, anger, stress), this is one you’ll want to have around.


About the author:

Susanna Francies, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who joined Psychology Associates of Chester County, Inc. in March of this year. Dr. Francies sees both children and adults and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, PTSD, depression, parenting, autism, and post-partum depression.


Staying Hopeful After a Job Loss

Beyond providing us with an income, jobs can serve multiple roles in our lives, such as providing us with a sense of identity and purpose. In these challenging economic times, those who are laid off or facing a potential job loss can find themselves feeling significant stress. In fact, according to an April 2009 poll by the American Psychological Association, 82 percent of American workers whose employers have instituted layoffs report that their stress has increased in the past year as a result of employment changes in their household.

Those who lose their job may feel shocked, sad, angry and fearful, asking themselves anxiously, “What do I do next?” It’s a good question to ask-especially with a hopeful, positive attitude. Staying open to new opportunities is one way to lessen worries and move on with your job search, psychologists recommend. Whether you’ve worked with an employer for less than a year or more than 20 years, change is a constant in life and workplace change is no exception.

It may seem frightening to make a fresh start. But accepting a new job, switching to a different industry, returning to school or starting your own business doesn’t have to mean an overhaul of your identity. Rather, you are finding a new setting in which your skills and strengths are valued and useful. Here are some things you can do to get through the hardship of losing a job and looking for a new one:

Take action right away. It may be tempting to consider a layoff a mini vacation and initially enjoy watching daytime television in your pajamas. After all, it can be a struggle to build the motivation needed to look for a new job. But some research has found that people who wait ultimately have regrets. Those who are successful are the ones who start planning and searching immediately after their final day of work, if not before.

Connect with those around you. It could be tempting to sit at a computer for hours, zapping off your resume to every job opening you can find. But most people find their jobs through a network of people they know. Keep in touch with former co-workers, classmates and friends-anyone who cares about the outcome of your job search. Online social networks can be a valuable way to connect and let people know of your job search. Such a network might serve as both the link to your next job and a critical source of support along the way.

Keep your eyes-and mind-open to new opportunities. Be curious and engage the world around you. Talk to friends about the work they do, attend free seminars and workshops in your community, volunteer for a few hours a week for a cause that means something to you. Sometimes a job opportunity will find you when you aren’t looking. And you may discover you’d enjoy work that is different than what you’ve done previously.

Take care of yourself. You may not feel like doing much of anything. Or you want to spend every moment pouring over job listings. Give yourself a break from the search-go for a walk, meet up with a friend, read a book. Pay attention to how you are managing your stress-some people are more likely to relieve stress by turning to unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking, gambling or emotional eating. Be alert to these behaviors.

Ask for professional support. Job placement agencies and college career offices are two services available to help you find a new job. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or find it increasingly difficult to cope with your feelings about job loss, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address your concerns and manage life’s changes.

Special thanks to APA member Dr. Chris Ebberwein for help with this article.


Managing Your Boss

Q. How do you manage the prototypical “difficult boss?”

A. Successfully managing a difficult boss is a challenge but often feasible. First, you should try to understand the reasons for your boss’ difficult behavior. Assuming your boss generally behaves in a fairly reasonable manner, and that his/her difficult behavior seems to be a result of stress overload rather than his/her character, chances are good that the behavior can be modified. If your boss’ behavior seems to reflect a chronically hostile, abusive style of interacting regardless of the amount of stress in the worksite, the chances are less positive that the behavior can change. In fact, you may want to consider seeking counsel from a trusted mentor or human resources professional to evaluate your options. Second, you have to manage your own negative emotions regarding his/her behavior so that you do not engage in self-defeating behavior (e.g. stonewalling, or counter-attacking your boss). Third, once you understand and have managed your own negative reactions, you may work to communicate your issues/concerns — but framed in a helpful positive manner — creating an atmosphere for problem resolution.

Q. If you feel you’ve been criticized unfairly by your boss, what’s the best way to confront the boss with your concerns?

A. You should discuss your concerns — not confront your boss. There is a difference. You need to carry out the discussion of your concerns in a non-adversarial way. Like a marriage, you should try to handle your complaints in a manner that does not do further damage to your relationship.

Q. What’s the best way to respond to criticism from your boss?

A. Try to see the criticism as valuable information about how to do better, not as a personal attack. Try to separate your personal ego from your business persona. Try hard to control your impulses to react emotionally or defensively. Try to see the criticism as an opportunity to work together with your boss on a development plan. See yourself as a partner with your boss on this plan, rather than on seeing yourself as a victim of a power struggle.

Q. What’s the current trend of job stress? Is there more or less?

A. The downsizing and reorganization of corporate America in the last 10-15 years has set off unmistakable pressures and stresses. There is a very real and persistent fear of loss of employment and job insecurity in the majority of employees. The impact of job loss on individuals and families has been enormous. According to the New York Times, more than 43 million jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 1979.

Q. How can empowering employees help lessen stress agents in the workplace?

A.When employees feel less like “victims of circumstances out of their control,” they feel more empowered. Employees who are given candid timely and consistent communications from management about the status of their careers, as well as more responsibility to directly manage their careers and their work relationships, they tend to be less anxious and more highly motivated. Although few employees believe that job security is a guarantee anymore, employees who are empowered with ore information and responsibility over their future, tend as a whole, to cope more effectively — because they feel less powerless.

Q. Sometimes employees are hesitant to speak to their boss about criticism. Is there a way to overcome that fear or retribution?

A. The chances that your fear of retribution will turn into reality will be significantly reduced to the degree that you can discuss criticism with your boss in a reasonable non-emotional, non-defensive manner. You can avoid setting up your boss to be angry at you and therefore risk retribution by careful planning and diplomatic communication.

Q. What’s the best way to deal with stress in the workplace?

A. Stress is always in the eye of the beholder. What may cause one employee stress in the workplace, may not even cause a ripple of concern to another. The key to dealing with stress is knowing the specific stresses on the work environment that you are particularly sensitive to and the warning signs in your own body and mind that signal stress overload. Once you have identified your vulnerability, you can create on-going stress management strategies to cope with the issues.

If you feel unable to manage this process yourself, or feel overwhelmed, it may be a good idea to consult an objective professional, such as a psychologist. Your collaboration with a professional may go a long way in making you feel more empowered to manage the stresses.

Thanks to Marilyn Puder-York, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in workplace stress issues


Overwhelmed by Workplace Stress? You’re not alone.

Americans are known for placing great emphasis on work and career. Working hard, however, should not be confused with overworking at the expense of relationships and physical health. According to a 2007 nationwide poll by the American Psychological Association, three-quarters of Americans list work as a significant source of stress, with over half of those surveyed indicating that their work productivity suffered due to stress. Furthermore, almost half stated that they did not use their allotted vacation time and even considered looking for a new job because of stress. Job stress is also a concern for employers, costing U.S. businesses an estimated $300 billion per year through absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees.

Stress can significantly affect physical health. The APA survey found three quarters of people have experienced physical symptoms as a result of stress, such as headache, fatigue, and an upset stomach in combination with feelings of irritability, anger, nervousness, and lack of motivation.

The stress people are experiencing comes, in part, from the pressures of today’s connected world. Because of e-mail, cell phones and the Internet, Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off from the stresses of the workplace and concentrate on their personal priorities–over half of respondents said that job demands interfered with family or home responsibilities.

“While technology undoubtedly improves our lives, information overload can add to the stress levels of an already overworked nation and lead to using unhealthy behaviors to cope with that stress,” says psychologist David Ballard, Psy.D, MBA, of the American Psychological Association. “What is important is to learn how to effectively manage your stress, so you can perform at your best both at home and at work.”

Increased stress can lead to using unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, comfort eating, poor diet choices, inactivity and drinking alcohol to manage their stress. APA warns that reliance on such behavior can lead to long-term, serious health problems and offers these strategies for managing your work-related stress:

Know yourself. Be aware of your stress level and know what stresses you out. People experience stress in different ways. You may have a hard time concentrating or making decisions, feel angry, irritable or out of control, or experience headaches, muscle tension or a lack of energy. Learn your own stress signals.

Recognize how you deal with stress. Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking or eating poorly to cope with your stress? Do you lose patience with your children or spouse or coworkers when you feel overwhelmed by work pressures?

Turn off and tune in. Communication technology can take you to productivity heights never imagined, but it can also allow work to creep into family time, dinner and vacations. Set rules for yourself, such as turning off your cell phone or BlackBerry when you get home, or establishing certain times when you return calls. Be sure to communicate those rules to others, so you can manage their expectations. Let technology be a tool that works for you, rather than the other way around.

Keep a “To-Do” list. Worried that you’ll forget something important? Constantly thinking through all the things you need to get done? Clear your head and put those thoughts on paper (or in an electronic task list) by creating a list of work and personal tasks and marking those with the highest priority. Not only will you reduce the risk of forgetting something, you’ll also be better able to focus on the task at hand.

Take short breaks. Stay energized and productive by taking a minute or two periodically throughout the day to stand up, stretch, breathe deeply and shake off the accumulating tension. Short breaks between tasks can be particularly effective, helping you feel like you’ve wrapped up one thing before moving on to the next. Take a 10-15 minute break every few hours to recharge and avoid the temptation to work through lunch. The productivity you gain will more than make up for the time you spend on break.

Find healthy ways to manage stress. Work to replace unhealthy coping strategies, such as eating junk food, smoking or drinking alcohol with healthy behaviors, like exercise, meditation or talking with friends and family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Take it slow and focus on changing one behavior at a time. Some behaviors are very difficult to change and may require the help of a licensed professional such as a psychologist.

Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity. Ensure you have a healthy mind and body through activities like yoga, taking a short walk, going to the gym or playing sports that will enhance both your physical and mental health. Take regular vacations. No matter how hectic life gets, make time for yourself-even if it’s just simple things like reading a good book, listening to your favorite album or enjoying a leisurely Sunday brunch at your favorite café.

Ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to manage stress. Your employer may also have stress management resources available through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), including online information, available counseling and referral to mental health professionals, if needed. If you continue to feel overwhelmed by work stress, you may want to talk to a psychologist, who can help you better manage stress and change unhealthy behavior.

Employers can visit for information and resources to help your employees and organization thrive.


Now? No, wait – procrastinate! The art of putting things off

Let’s face it, we are all guilty of procrastination. How many times do you tell yourself that you will get something done only to keep putting it off? Maybe its something around the house like cleaning the garage, paying bills, or filing your taxes. Perhaps its a doctor or dentist appointment you promise yourself to schedule. Whatever the task, there may be several reasons why people master the art of putting things off. Let’s examine some of these factors.

Magnification and Minimization
Procrastinators typically overestimate or magnify the time and difficulty of the tasks that they put off. As a result, their to-do list feels more difficult, tedious and unpleasant than it may actually end up being. Others may minimize time estimates by saying, “It won’t take that long”, which leaves them scrambling at the last minute.

Can’t Find the Time
“I will do it when I can find the time”. Does this sound familiar? Sometimes we hope or convince ourselves that time will magically appear, thus allowing us to finally get down to business.

Perfectionists sometimes often adopt the mindset, “If you can’t do it right, then don’t do it at all”. This all-or-nothing approach can create a perception of needing more time than might actually be required. It also presumes that there is a “right” way to do things, which can be a counterproductive.

Emotions and Stress
Emotions often get in the way of being efficient and productive. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, tired, or pulled in too many directions you may not know where to begin. If you are anxious or depressed, then getting through the day can be enough of a challenge. Sometimes the task itself can causes anxiety or stress because its something you don’t want to do, but rather you have to or should. Addressing your emotional needs by reducing external stressors, where possible, can give you renewed energy to tackle the things that you never seem to get to. Professional help may be needed if your emotions are having a significant impact on your day to day functioning, or if your relationships are suffering.

Getting Down to Business 
Now that we have examined some of the factors that contribute to procrastination, you may be wondering what you can do about it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Improve your predictive ability. Whether you magnify or minimize, it would be beneficial to more accurately assess the tasks at hand.
    • Try this: Before you start a task rate it on a scale of 1-10 in terms of difficulty. Also, estimate how much time it will take to complete it. Note these predictions and compare the actual time and difficulty you experience. Doing this will help you improve the accuracy of your predictions.
  • Unwind from stress. Find some healthy outlets to unburden yourself from the stresses of life.
  • Break down tasks in to smaller, manageable steps. Use dates and reminders to keep you on track.
  • Get help for more serious emotional difficulties like depression or anxiety disorders
  • Don’t try to find time, make time. Use a calendar, computer, day planner or smart phone app to help you manage and better plan you time. Visualizing your to do list will help you plan accordingly. (Check out Astrid and GQueues for task management apps)
  • Prioritize. Write down all of your to do’s and put them in order based on priority. Consider using three categories: “Must Do”, “Would Like To” and “Later”. Make sure to use all three categories! Set a time frame for each and start with the “Must Do’s”.
  • Make a public commitment. Telling someone that you will do something increases the likelihood that you actually will. You can tell a friend, your spouse or update your status on Facebook. Positive feedback, accountability and encouragement from others can be highly motivating.
  • Free yourself of perfectionistic expectations. Practice being okay with things being “good enough”.
  • Use the 15 minute rule: Make it a goal to work on the task for 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes feel free to stop, but try to go for another 15 minutes if you can. Slow and steady progress is much better than none at all.
  • Start with the easiest task first. This can help build momentum by building on your successes while shortening your to-do list.
  • The two minute rule: Adopt the mindset “If it takes less than two minutes, do it now”.

Now that you have some ideas on how to be more productive, try to tackle something today. What are you waiting for?

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APA: Americans Report Willpower and Stress as Key Obstacles to Meeting Health-Related Resolutions

As the Obama administration tackles the national obesity epidemic, a new American Psychological Association poll shows that individuals need ongoing support to make lifestyle and behavior changes.

WASHINGTON — An administration task force chaired by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health and Human Services is asking the public for recommendations to solve the American obesity problem, and a new poll by the American Psychological Association (APA) may have some answers.

Long-term behavior change is necessary to overcome the barriers to healthy living. According to the APA poll conducted online by Harris Interactive in early March, fewer than one in five adults (16 percent) reported being very successful at making health-related improvements such as losing weight (20 percent), starting a regular exercise program (15 percent), eating a healthier diet (10 percent), and reducing stress (7 percent)1 so far this year, although about nine in 10 adults (88 percent) who resolved to make a health-related change say they have been at least somewhat successful at achieving it since January. Despite these efforts, about three-quarters (78 percent) of those who made a health-related resolution say significant obstacles block them from making progress, such as willpower (33 percent), making changes alone (24 percent), and experiencing too much stress (20 percent).

“Lasting lifestyle and behavior changes don’t happen overnight. Willpower is a learned skill, not an inherent trait. We all have the capacity to develop skills to make changes last,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice at APA. “It is important to break down seemingly unattainable goals into manageable portions.”

Lynne Vaughan, chief innovation officer of YMCA of the USA – which is partnering with APA to provide families with resources for healthy living – agreed. “YMCAs work with individuals every day to support them in achieving their healthy living goals. We’ve found that those who set short-term goals along the way toward a longer term behavior change are more successful at maintaining those changes,” she said.

Psychologists with APA report that, with the right support, individuals can learn how to make lasting lifestyle and behavior changes, regardless of the importance they place on willpower or the influence of stress. “Is it will or is it skill?” asks health psychologist and past president of APA’s Division of Health Psychology Dr. Karina Davidson. “The reality is that, with the right guidance, people can build and strengthen the skills they need to make even the toughest lifestyle changes,” she said.

APA recommends talking about lifestyle and behavior goals with friends, family, or a professional, such as a psychologist, who can help navigate feelings and gain skills to successfully change behavior. With help, individuals can develop willpower and stay on track with their health-centered goals.

For additional information on lasting lifestyle and behavior changes, visit the Psychology Help Center, read the campaign blog Your Mind Your Body, and follow @apahelpcenter on Twitter.

1 The full list of health related-resolutions also includes stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and getting more sleep on a regular basis.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association between March 2 and March 4, 2010, among 2,073 U.S. adults age 18+, of whom 1,104 made a New Year’s resolution. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 152,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial, and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare.

Making Lifestyle Changes That Last

You’re once again feeling motivated to eat better, exercise more, drink less caffeine or make any number of the positive lifestyle changes you’ve been telling yourself you want to make. You’ve tried before — probably declaring another attempt as a New Year’s resolution — but without feeling much success. Making a lifestyle change is challenging, especially when you want to transform many things at once. This time, think of it not as a resolution but as an evolution.
Lifestyle changes are a process that take time and require support. Once you’re ready to make a change, the diffi cult part is committing and following through. So do your research and make a plan that will prepare you for success. Careful planning means setting small goals and taking things one step at a time.
Here are five tips from the American Psychological Association to help you make lasting, positive lifestyle and behavior changes:
Make a plan that will stick. Your plan is a map that will guide you on this journey of change. You can even think of it as an adventure. When making your plan, be specific. Want to exercise more? Detail the time of day when you can take walks and how long you’ll walk. Write everything down, and ask yourself if you’re confident that these activities and goals are realistic for you. If not, start with smaller steps. Post your plan where you’ll most often see it as a reminder.
Start small. After you’ve identified realistic short-term and long-term goals, break down your goals into small, manageable steps that are specifi cally defi ned and can be measured. Is your long-term goal to lose 20 pounds within the next five months? A good weekly goal would be to lose one pound a week. If you would like to eat healthier, consider as a goal for the week replacing dessert with a healthier option, like fruit or yogurt. At the end of the week, you’ll feel successful knowing you met your goal.
Change one behavior at a time. Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time, so replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Many people run into problems when they try to change too much too fast. To improve your success, focus on one goal or change at a time. As new healthy behaviors become a habit, try to add another goal that works toward the overall change you’re striving for.
Involve a buddy. Whether it be a friend, co-worker or family member, someone else on your journey will keep you motivated and accountable. Perhaps it can be someone who will go to the gym with you or someone who is also trying to stop smoking. Talk about what you are doing. Consider joining a support group. Having someone with whom to share your struggles and successes makes the work easier and the mission less intimidating.
Ask for support. Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking help from a psychologist. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body, as well as the factors that promote behavior change. Asking for help doesn’t mean a lifetime of therapy; even just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.
Making the changes that you want takes time and commitment, but you can do it. Just remember that no one is perfect. You will have occasional lapses. Be kind to yourself. When you eat a brownie or skip the gym, don’t give up. Minor missteps on the road to your goals are normal and okay. Resolve to recover and get back on track.
Reproduced with permission from the American Psychological Association.  Visit

Stress Won’t Go Away? Maybe You Are Suffering from Chronic Stress

Some stress is positive. It causes our bodies to release adrenaline, which helps us to accomplish assignments and projects, and can even enhance our performance and problem-solving ability. But chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be debilitating and overwhelming. Chronic stress can affect both our physical and psychological well-being by causing a variety of problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. The consequences of chronic stress are serious. Yet, many Americans who experience prolonged stress are not making the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce stress and ultimately prevent health problems.

According to a 2009 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), adults who were advised by their health care provider to make lifestyle changes specifically associated with behaviors or symptoms of stress — such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods, getting more sleep or reducing stress overall — were the least likely to report success in making lifestyle changes. Fortunately, it is possible to manage and alleviate chronic stress. Improving lifestyle and making better behavior choices are essential steps toward increasing overall health. APA offers the following tips to address chronic stress:

Set limits. List all of the projects and commitments that are making you feel overwhelmed. Identify those tasks you feel you absolutely must do in order to survive, and cut back on anything non-essential. For projects that are work-related, discuss a list of your responsibilities with your supervisor and get his or her input on priorities and how best to tackle the projects at hand. For commitments that are social or non-work related, such as community or volunteer activities, consider contacting the people you’ve made these commitments to and letting them know that you cannot meet those obligations at this time. You also may ask for assistance in getting these tasks accomplished. Refrain from accepting any more commitments until you feel your stress is under control. Setting limits on non-essential obligations is important to mitigating chronic stress.

Tap into your support system. Reach out to a friend and/or relative with whom you’ve enjoyed a close relationship over the years. Let them know you are having a tough time and welcome their support and guidance; a shared burden is always lighter. Your friend or relative may have tackled similar challenges and have useful ideas and perspectives. There is no need to face challenging life circumstances alone. In fact, support from family or friends may help you start and sustain taking better care of yourself.

Make one health-related commitment. Do what is possible to bolster your health so that you can have the energy and strength to tackle the challenges you are facing. One small step, like cutting back on your caffeine consumption, can have a positive effect. Studies show that without caffeine, people reported feeling more relaxed, less jittery or nervous, slept better, had more energy and experienced less heartburn and fewer muscle aches. Similarly, a brisk walk or other aerobic activity can increase your energy and concentration levels and lessen feelings of anxiety. Physical activity increases your body’s production of good-feeling endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter in the brain, and decreases the production of stress hormones. Taking positive steps for your health will help you manage your stress.

Enhance your sleep quality. People who are chronically stressed often suffer from lack of adequate sleep and, in some cases, stress-induced insomnia. According to APA’s 2009 Stress in America survey, 47 percent of all adults say they lie awake at night because of stress. It is important to take steps to increase the quality of your sleep. Experts recommend going to bed at a regular time each night, striving for at least 7-8 hours of sleep, and if possible, eliminating distractions, such as television and computers from your bedroom. Begin winding down an hour or two before you go to sleep and engage in calming activities such as listening to relaxing music, reading an enjoyable book, taking a soothing bath or practicing relaxation techniques like meditation. Avoid eating a heavy meal or engaging in intense exercise immediately before bedtime. If you tend to lie in bed and worry, write down your concerns well in advance of bedtime and then work on quieting your thoughts before lights-out. You can figure out how to address stressful issues in the morning, after a good night’s sleep.

Strive for a positive outlook. Looking at situations more positively, seeing problems as opportunities and refuting negative thoughts are all important aspects of staying positive and trying to minimize your stress. In some people, stress can be caused by their attempts to handle things perfectly. Setting more realistic expectations and positively reframing the way you look at stressful situations can make life more manageable. Also, difficult circumstances have a way of working out; it is important to keep challenges in perspective and do what you can reasonably do to move forward.

Seek additional help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, are feeling hopeless or are having trouble getting through your daily routine, seek consultation with a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to help you develop strategies to manage stress effectively and make behavioral changes to help improve your overall health. For more information, visit

Thank you to psychologists Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD, and Helen L. Coons, PhD, ABPP, who assisted in creating this tip sheet. (Reproduced with permission from the American Psychological Association)

Min/Body Health: Job Stress

Jobs and careers are an important part of our lives. Along with providing a source of income, they help us fulfill our personal aims,build social networks, and serve our professions or communities.They are also a major source of emotional stress.

Stress at work

Even “dream jobs” have stressful deadlines, performance expectations, and other responsibilities. For some, stress is the motivator that ensures things get done. However, workplace stress can easily overwhelm your life. You may continually worry about a particular project, feel unfairly treated by a supervisor or co-workers, or knowingly accept more than you can handle in hopes of earning a promotion. Putting your job ahead of everything else can also affect your personal relationships, compounding the work-related pressures.

Layoffs, restructuring, or management changes can heighten anxiety about your job security. In fact, a Norwegian study showed that the mere rumor of a factory’s closure caused rapid increases in workers’ pulse and blood pressure. Research in the U.S. has found that workplace injuries and accidents tend to increase in organizations that are being downsized.

The body reacts

Along with its emotional toll, prolonged job-related stress can drastically affect your physical health. Constant preoccupation with job responsibilities often leads to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise, resulting in weight problems, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels.

Common job stressors such as perceived low rewards, a hostile work environment, and long hours can also accelerate the onset of heart disease, including the likelihood of heart attacks.This is particularly true for blue-collar and manual workers. Studies suggest that because these employees tend to have little control over their work environments, they are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those in traditional “white collar” jobs.

Your age is also a factor. A University of Utah study found that as stressed workers get older, their blood pressure increases above normal levels. Interestingly, many of the study’s over-60 workers reported that they did not feel upset or unduly pressured by their jobs, even though their blood pressure levels were significantly higher.

A loss of mental energy

Job stress also frequently causes burnout, a condition marked by emotional exhaustion and negative or cynical attitudes toward others and yourself.

Burnout can lead to depression, which, in turn, has been linked to a variety of other health concerns such as heart disease and stroke,obesity and eating disorders, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Chronic depression also reduces your immunity to other types of illnesses, and can even contribute to premature death.

What you can do

Fortunately, there are many ways to help manage job-related stress. Some programs blend relaxation techniques with nutrition and exercise. Others focus on specific issues such as time management, assertiveness training, and improving social skills.

A qualified psychologist can help you pinpoint the causes of your stress, and develop appropriate coping strategies.

Here are some other tips for dealing with stress on the job:

Make the most of workday breaks. Even 10 minutes of “personal time” will refresh your mental outlook. Take a brief walk, chat with a co-worker about a non-job topic, or simply sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe.

If you feel angry, walk away. Mentally regroup by counting to 10, then look at the situation again. Walking and other physical activities will also help you work off steam.

Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Don’t expect perfection. Talk to your employer about your job description. Your responsibilities and performance criteria may not accurately reflect what you are doing. Working together to make needed changes will not only benefit your emotional and physical health, but also improve the organization’s overall productivity.

Click here to take the online Stress Smarts quiz

The American Psychological Association Practice Directorate gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Sara Weiss, Ph.D., and Nancy Molitor, Ph.D., in developing this fact sheet.

Source: American Psychological Association