Stress Management 101

We all have stress…I mean it’s normal, right?!  Yes, absolutely.  So when does stress become harmful  and what can you do to reduce stress’ harmful effects on your mental and physical health?  Read on to answer those questions.

With the recent election, the campaigning prior to the election, and the reactions of Americans since the election, there has been a lot of stress felt across our country.  I don’t know about you, but just reading my FB feed has become stressful and occasionally traumatic.  In addition, we’re all beginning to plan for the upcoming holiday events, thinking about having family members together who don’t always get along, and how to discuss politics around the family table.  Needless to say, we are surrounded by stress and stressful events.

Did you know there are actually two kinds of stress?  There is good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress).  Good stress helps us focus, proves a sense of urgency, and can help us complete tasks more efficiently.  Distress, on the other hand, causes a host of physical and mental symptoms that can actually keep us from doing our best work and living our best lives.

There is another differentiating factor to stress, too: acute versus chronic stress.  Acute stress is felt when someone is approaching a deadline.  It lasts for a finite amount of time and for a specific reason.  Chronic stress is a heightened amount of stress for a prolonged amount of time.  It’s as though your daily “bar” or threshold for stress is at a higher level than before and it begins to seem like your new normal.

What are some examples of events or interactions that cause stress?

  • discontent at work
  • fear of termination/loss of a job
  • relationship or family trouble
  • illness or death of a loved one
  • planning events (weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties)
  • getting married, divorce, separation
  • moving
  • financial obligations
  • traumatic events
  • family get-togethers
  • having a baby
  • TV, news media, social media

Many of us believe that a little stress is normal, and that it might even help us perform better.  The problem is that we say we can handle a little stress to finish a project, or to finish planning an event, but then one project leads to another and then another and soon our stress level is increased indefinitely.

So what does stress actually do to us, anyway? How would I know if I’m experiencing the effects of stress?  If you are experiencing any of the following, you’re likely experiencing stress at a moderate to high level.  (If these symptoms are prolonged or intense you may need to seek medical assessment and treatment.)

  • headaches
  • chest pain
  • high blood pressure
  • fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • upset stomach & digestive issues
  • anger or irritability
  • sadness or depression
  • overeating, over drinking
  • anxiety
  • weight gain or loss
  • skin conditions
  • nail biting, leg bouncing
  • loneliness/isolation
  • having a negative perspective on most life events

For women, some effects of stress are even more pronounced.

  • Women are 10 times more likely than men to develop eating disorders due to stress
  • stomach issues
  • skin reactions
  • sleep deprivation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • heart disease/heart attacks
  • cancer/breast cancer
  • lowered immune response

So what can you do to help prevent, treat, or combat your high stress levels?  There are many things you can do.  Below is a diverse list of activities, but it’s far from exhaustive.

  • watch a comedy movie or attend a comedy show
  • play with a pet
  • get a manicure or pedicure
  • get a massage
  • read a book for pleasure
  • savor coffee or hot tea
  • journal your stress, emotional responses
  • journal about your hopes and dreams
  • practice a deep relaxation exercise
  • add breathing techniques into your day
  • move your body
    • 10 minute movements throughout the day
    • standing from your office chair every hour
    • walking around the office or around the block
  • meditation
  • yoga
  • stretching
  • improve your diet
    • eat quality protein, veggies, Omega-3 fatty acids, ginger
  • get enough sleep
  • socialize–spend face-to-face time with friends
  • dance
  • avoid drama
  • take a bath
  • take a walk
  • reduce screen time (TV, computer, phone, tablet, video games)
  • Avoid stressors (such as the news, scary movies, social media negativity)
  • express your feelings to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues
  • laugh
  • put things into perspective
  • connect with nature
  • slow down, live in the present moment
  • use your five senses–notice smells, what colors do you see, notice how something feels in your fingers, what do you hear, how does something taste
    • actually take time to intentionally feel the lotion you’re putting on your hands
    • notice the warmth of the blanket you’re napping under
    • notice the color in the leaves of the trees
    • smell the dinner your partner is cooking
    • see the food you ordered at a restaurant before taking a picture of it for social media
  • spend time doing things you enjoy (hobbies, athletics, museums, etc.)
  • learn to say “no” without feeling guilty
  • light a candle
  • reduce your caffeine intake
  • take time to relax
  • use your vacation time
  • cook or bake
  • practice gratitude: what are you thankful for, experience the gratitude, share gratitude with others

Perhaps most important is that we reflect on our current situation and STOP EXCUSING our level of stress thinking “let me just get through this one __________ (project, dinner, event, etc.)” because what inevitably happens is that one project or deadline leads into the next and the next.  We MUST prioritize our health, wellness, and sanity by prioritizing our stress management.  We can do this by creating a daily or weekly routine for self-care.

What could you be doing on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis to care for yourself? 

Some ideas for each time frame are below. (Many of the things listed below could occur more often than I’m suggesting here–there is no limit to your self-care routine!)

Annually: take a vacation, use your sick time, attend a conference, take a class
Quarterly: review the goals you’ve achieved, go to the movies, attend a theater production
Monthly: date nights, coffee with a friend, massage, send a card to someone
Weekly: religious event, counseling appointment, yoga, manicure, dance, sing
Daily: breathing technique, take a walk, journal your gratitude, walk your dog, love

While it’s true we all have stress in our lives, what we don’t all have is an intentional practice for managing our stress.  If you would like to create a self-care routine, or if you have a vision for your life that you would like to clarify or achieve, please email me at  I offer free discovery coaching sessions and I’d love to see how I can serve you and if we would be a good fit to work together.

Dr. Nikki Tobias
Certified Life & Career Coach
Grounded Vision Coaching & Consulting

My Story

In the last several years, I’ve thought a lot about “my story”.  It seems to come to me in a series of beliefs.  I hope you’ll come along with me on this journey of self-discovery and share your story as well.

  • Everybody leaves. As a young person my mom went through two divorces.  Some of my friends moved or went on their own way.  Even my grandparents, the people who helped raise me and provide stability in my life, moved from PA to FL without telling me they were leaving.  Needless to say, I came to believe that “everyone leaves”.  It was only this year, through counseling, that I was able to reframe this belief and come to the understanding that some people were taken away, some had to have their own journey, some people didn’t have the courage to say goodbye, and some were so caught up in their own “stuff” that they didn’t realize the relationships that they left behind.  Whatever the perspective, I realize now that we all have our own journeys to take, our own decisions to make, our own learning to do, and, in our own way, each of us is healing our own wounds.
  • A few years ago I was struggling with comparing myself to others throughout my Ph.D. journey. A wise professor said to me, “you’re comparing your insides with their outsides”.  What a simple, yet profound learning.  Said another way, “you’re comparing your beginning with someone else’s middle”.  Either way, we’ve all come to learn the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy”.  The way someone else shows up publicly doesn’t speak to their internal struggle and insecurities.  You’ll never be able to truly compare yourself with one another—it’s apples and oranges.  And what’s the point anyway?  Your journey is yours, and theirs belongs to them.
  • Very recently I started uncovering a realization that I hide behind my brain and learning. Throughout my youth, school was a safe, predictable, and stable place.  School and learning was affirming for me.  The predictability of school countered the unpredictability of my home life.  I am a powerful and quick thinker and analyzer.  So, I pursued an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and General Science Education.  Then I got a master’s degree in college student affairs through a counseling program!  Perhaps my intuition knew that I was crying out for connection as much as information.  Learning has always come naturally to me.  I love it.  I yearn for it.  But I also yearn for connection, love, intimacy, vulnerability, deep conversations, and people who are REAL with themselves and others.
  • There are two distinct sides of me. I long for people to know all of me.  Most people see me as smart, assertive, goal oriented, drive, competent, tough, steady, stable, a rock, and take no prisoners…  Some people have described me as gentle, intentional, generous, sensitive, loving, nurturing, encouraging, and warm.  To this I would add unsure, seeking, and needing of support.  In this, I have been researching intimacy and vulnerability.  This combines my love of learning with my yearning for deeper relationships.  I want more equity in my relationships.  I want more intimacy and vulnerability and I want to be able to be intimate and vulnerable in those relationships.  I want deep conversation that matters.  I need love, support, and personal investment from others.  To this end, I’ve created an 8-week small group workshop on intimacy and vulnerability.
    • I’ve recently gone through a divorce and many of those people who had disappeared from my life many years ago have returned. It’s the end of some chapters of my life and the beginning of others.  There are clean slates.    Healing.  Faith.  And, most importantly, grace and patience for myself in my journey, and you in yours.
  • I’ve always been a crisis manager. I can think quickly and realize the long-term consequences.  I’m able to take lots of information into account when making quick decisions.  As of 2015 I had worked in residence life and as a non-profit executive director for a domestic violence program and shelter.  I was working on-call in life-threatening situations, literally.  The brain side of me loved the challenge.  The emotional side of me hated the self-destruction, the situations that caused emotional and physical pain for people, the systems that are hard to overcome, addiction, the mistreatment of children, physical violence, and the list could go on and on.  I found myself getting too involved, too invested both emotionally and physically.  I began to experience health symptoms and symptoms of burnout.  I left my job to pursue life coaching with the hopes of helping people find themselves and achieve their dreams.  I’m ready to help with “happy goals” that truly matter to people and improve their lives!

Reach Out!

Tell people how you feel. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it is, when you’re feeling good, happy, content…or faking it! We believe no one wants to know when we’re sad or struggling. But that ISN’T TRUE! Perhaps we think it’s weak to share our struggles. But it isn’t!

We grow up being taught to be independent. Then, once we start achieving this goal, we’re taught that we need to work well on a team, be a team player, support one another, and not be selfish or egotistical.

Geez. Which is it? Well, what if it’s both? Perhaps there is a time for independence and where we need to own our behavior, choices, thoughts, and feelings.

But when we’re hurting, one of the worst things we can do is act like a turtle and pull our heads, hands, and feet into our shell. The fact is that all that does is serve to paralyze us from moving at all. Then, whatever we perceive is the enemy GROWS!

When we’re hurting we need to *reach out* to trusted friends, our tribe, the people that love us who can take that journey with us. We don’t often need someone to pull us up, or out, or at all. We need good partners for the journey.

So–let me be super vulnerable here, with my tribe. I’ve been *struggling*! They say there’s nothing like being an entrepreneur to bring up your deepest insecurities. I’ve felt lately like a fraud and a phony. Who am I to be a life coach? No one wants to hear what I have to say. If my business isn’t where I want it to be it’s because I’m not good enough to be doing it. Maybe I should just get a j-o-b again.

But it’s a new day. It’s a new chance. There are things I need to learn. Muscles I need to strengthen. Resources I need to utilize. I DO have something to say. I have excellent and heartfelt testimonials from clients. I’ve worked in student affairs and as a non-profit executive director. I have managed major crisis and life-and-death situations. I WILL survive. I WILL overcome. I WILL be successful. I have data and evidence that I can be and do all of those things. So I’m going to work today to squelch the fears and the self-doubt. To disagree with the negative self-talk. And I’m going to continue to reach out to my tribe. I’m also going to continue to focus on my wellness and self-care. I am worth it.

And SO ARE YOU! Reach out for yourself. Reach out to someone else. Be interdependent. Because it’s our relationships that matter when we’re hurting, not our pride!

Tell People How You Feel