The phone kept ringing, emails were coming in and patients needed to be checked in at the front desk for appointments.
It was a typical day for Melissa Chapin, patient account associate at Duke Integrative Medicine, but she had a new way to handle the demands. She paused and took three deep breaths, a trick she learned at a program offered by her department on cultivating resiliency.
“It just helps your whole body be still and slows your mind down if you feel yourself getting anxious,” Chapin said.
By finding positive outlets to combat stress, you can live healthier and improve your quality of life, which is the aim of the Healthy Duke initiative.
Here are five tips from Duke experts for managing stress.
Recognize the signs
Redford Williams, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, has studied stress since landing in a behavioral science class as a first-year student at Harvard University. He’s developed five questions to determine if you’re stressed. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions then you should seek resources for help.
- Does the stress cause problems with how well I do my job? Is it hard to focus?
- Do my co-workers feel the same way?
- Does the stress trouble my relationships at home? Do I snap at family members, avoid friends, and argue over little things?
- Does it affect my physical health? Do I get sick more often, feel tired all the time, eat or sleep poorly, or drink more than usual?
- Do my friends and family tell me I’m not my usual self?
Williams said leaving stress untreated can lead to depression, frequent bouts of anger and high blood pressure.
“You can get help,” Williams said. “You don’t have to try to solve it all yourself. You shouldn’t feel like you’re the only person who can deal with the stress you’re having.”
Practice meditation, gratitude
Janet Stolp, a nurse clinician for Duke’s Department of Advanced Clinical Practice, takes a moment every day to be grateful.
In order to handle stress, she practices gratitude by valuing the relationships in her life with family and friends, knowing she has a place to live or just admiring the sunset. Stolp also takes five minute breaks to concentrate on her breathing or release tension from the body.
“Stress management does require daily practice,” Stolp said. “Focus on a positive word or phrase that gives you a feeling of peace and well-being.”
Another practice she recommends is living in the present and learning to let go of past mistakes or worries about the unknown future.
“It can rob us of today’s joy,” Stolp said.
Change up your scenery
Cassandra Callas, a health education specialist for LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke’s employee wellness program, said even a five-minute break from a computer or task can help you feel better. And add in neck and shoulder rolls during breaks.
“I like to keep props or reminders at my desk that I can use while I’m taking a break,” Callas said. “I use a tennis ball as a massage ball or squeeze a stress ball. It’s helpful to take a break to relieve stress.”
She also suggests taking a 10-minute walk, getting out of the office for a lunch break or scheduling a time to de-clutter a workspace. Callas has an appointment about every month to tidy up her office.
“If you have papers everywhere, your stress is already triggered by the clutter when you walk in,” she said.
Unplug and have fun
Andrea Savage, a counselor for Duke’s Personal Assistance Service, recommends disconnecting from social media from time to time, including leaving technology behind over meals.
“People are more exposed with social media to the news and other things they find as stressful topics,” she said. “You carry that stress with you.”
Savage goes to the movies weekly, sees a play about every month and uses all of her vacation time. In the past two years, she’s visited England, France, Vietnam and Panama. Traveling and indulging in hobbies helps keeps her work-life balance in check.
“Seeing and living in other cultures allows me to see how other people live and this helps me decide how I want to live,” Savage said. “Taking time off can help hit the mental reset button so you feel fresh and focused.”
Get professional help
At Duke, there are a number of options for counseling.
Duke employees and immediate family members can make up to eight appointments for a concern with counselors at no charge with Duke’s Personal Assistance Service.
Employees can participate in Success Over Stress, a self-paced program hosted by LIVE FOR LIFE. The program provides stress management resources to help individuals manage anxiety, handle responsibilities and find more balance between work and life.
You can also sign up for Duke Integrative Medicine workshops like “60-Second Stress Relief” and the retreat Chapin attended, “Cultivating Resiliency: Harnessing Your Body’s Adaptive Response to Stress.”
“I’m always striving to make a better me,” Chapin said.