National Stress Awareness Month – a simple shift

“Hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “on the run,” “way too fast” – do any of these accurately describe how your life feels lately? Stress rears its ugly head.

In her book Overwhelmed:  Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte interviews Ann Burnett, who since the 1960’s has been chronicling how people describe their lives through holiday letters.  The above descriptions have all become increasingly popular.  After reading this article by Hanna Rosin, I decided to think about how the people in my world handle stress.  What can we be doing more (or less) of?

Whether you’re a parent, a full-time employee, a student, or a ‘do-it-all-er,’ a simple thought shift just might do the trick.

The stress response

We are all aware of nature’s “fight or flight” stress response in animals, and that we humans also possess.  Reactions to a fight or flight situation can include:

  • heart rate acceleration
  • flushing or paling of the complexion
  • constricting of blood vessels
  • shaking

But are all stress responses created equal?  I’ve had these physical reactions occur before a simple audition as well as just before receiving some very bad news.  In reality, the key lies in recognizing the response and how you handle it.  A little bit of stress here and there can be a helpful thing that can propel you forward.  But it’s the way in which we handle stress long-term that can affect our health positively or adversely.

Stress-related health complaints

WebMD claims that “stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.” We’ve all probably experienced a tension headache or difficulty breathing as a result of pressure.  While there is no clear scientific connection between stress and ulcers, nervousness is certainly a contributing factor in many upset stomachs.

A simple shift

Let’s go back to the Hanna Rosin article.  The solution is to make a simple shift in the way you approach your daily tasks.  This shift is to stop telling yourself you’re too busy, and simply accomplish what you need to.  Then, ask yourself what’s totally necessary and where you can replace “crappy bits of leisure time confetti” (Schulte’s words) with real, quality relaxation time.

There are many ways to do this, but since I’m a musician and facilitator, I’m inclined to tout the benefits of music.  Relaxation is not just about fitting something into your day, like playing a game on your phone. It’s about adding up those bits of confetti and turning them into something with long-term benefits – like taking a class, learning a new skill, or scheduling an evening with family. So much research shows that incorporating music into your daily routine in some way can have significant health benefits.

If we can find the time to be as playful in our busy adult lives as most of us were in our childhoods, there’s no telling what we can accomplish.

An invitation for you

So, this month during stress awareness month, I invite you to critically examine your schedule. Identify at least 3 hours (separate or consecutive) of uninterrupted time in which to devote to your well-being.  Check your city’s web page for rhythm and music events, plan an unplugged afternoon, or try a new activity.  Not only will it be fun and relaxing, it will also contribute to being your best you in the future, if you keep it up.  And, trust me on this one – go bang on a drum.


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  1. Pingback: Rhythm – A Helpful Tool in Recovery and Mental Wellness – FemCity /

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