A client reached out recently to Gina McDonald, senior health coach at Capital Blue Cross, hoping to find ways to handle extreme stress.
Among McDonald’s several suggestions was prompted journaling.
“That’s when you pose questions to yourself and free-write about them,” McDonald said. “Questions such as, ‘What brings me joy? What am I grateful for in my life?’ Or ‘What achievements have made me the person I am?’ This helped this person move away from some of the stress and pave a healthier path forward.
“Sometimes, when we’re feeling like we’re drowning from stress, we forget the good things in our lives, and journaling is one positive way of reminding us, and helping us emerge from that feeling.”
April is National Stress Awareness Month, and the anecdote McDonald shared illustrates how critical it is for those suffering from stress to master coping mechanisms. Stress is a major issue in the working world: Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 report” finds that U.S. employees are among the world’s most stressed.
Journaling is one of many techniques McDonald teaches in a Capital Blue Cross stress-management course called “Balance.” Capital offers the six-session, six-week course to many of those with Capital health insurance through their employers.
Such courses are clearly needed. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS):
A third of people say they’re extremely stressed.
More than three-quarters say stress affects their physical health, and nearly three-quarters say it impacts their mental health.
Nearly half report that stress causes trouble sleeping.
About half of all Americans say their stress levels are rising.
Stress’ impact is particular severe at work. The AIS reports that 80% of employees feel stress on the job, and a quarter of them have felt like screaming or shouting due to job stress.
All of which costs employers and the U.S. economy a pretty penny; absenteeism, diminished productivity, and stress-related accidents cost the U.S. about $300 billion a year.
Setting a Course toward Coping
The Capital Blue Cross “Balance” course McDonald instructs takes a proactive, multi-pronged approach to stress management.
“Through this course, a person can walk through strategies to fill their stress-management toolbox,” McDonald said. “These strategies are not one-and-done exercises; they’re about adding to your everyday lifestyle to manage your stress.
“I compare it to physical therapy. You do the exercises not only during the session, but as prescribed out of the session. That’s how you get long-term success.”
The course covers a variety of areas, including:
Time management skills and strategies.
Mindfulness skills such as deep breathing, observation, and anchoring (also called grounding; an example is touching something near you to feel the sensation, or feeling the heaviness of your hands and feet).
Thoughtful responses, as opposed to emotional reactions.
Minimizing negative self-talk (being kinder and more compassionate when you talk to yourself).
“It’s all about mind-body connection,” McDonald said. “The way we think can influence the way we feel, and that’s one of the main things we talk about.
“It’s these little techniques you do every day that can make a difference, like reminding yourself each morning and night what you’re grateful for. These positive influences, over time, can slowly but surely change a damaging mind pattern into a positive one that can improve your mental and physical health.”