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Surviving the stress of the session

By Becky Comet, AAC Member Benefits Manager

The new year brings a new Legislative Session. The months leading up to the session — and the session itself — can be stressful. Stress can wreak havoc on a person physically and emotionally, leading to various health problems. Thankfully there are more stress management strategies than you can “shake a stick at.” I will discuss three of those strategies, which can help you through the session as well as other stressful times.

The key to the following stress management strategies is planning. I am all for spontaneity. However, healthy habits do not just happen, and a lack of planning can create more stress. A little bit of forethought will go a long way.

Here are some suggestions and ideas to help you with the stresses of the session and life in general:

Be careful what you eat and drink. Your mind and body work more efficiently when you feed them nutritiously. Sugary foods and drinks may give you quick energy, but that is almost always followed by “the crash” that will leave you on edge. Caffeine in coffee, tea, and soft drinks can increase jittery feelings, impair your concentration, and keep you awake at night. Alcohol is a depressant in large quantities, but it acts as a stimulant in smaller quantities. Neither scenario is helpful in stressful times. Here are some foods and drinks that you may want to incorporate into you daily life and why:

Nuts — Stress depletes Vitamin B. Snacking on nuts replenishes those B vitamins. Potassium in nuts can lower blood pressure, relieving the strain that stress puts on your heart.

Bananas — Bananas are high in potassium and B6, both mentioned above. They also can calm sugar cravings.

Cashews — These nuts are high in zinc, an essential mineral that may help reduce anxiety.

Herbal teas — Chamomile, peppermint, and ginger are soothing to the digestive tract and can calm that “nervous stomach.”

Hard-boiled eggs — The yolk has the essential nutrient choline, which supports memory. Eggs also have tyrosine, an amino acid that improves alertness and memory.

Oranges — Oranges are high in vitamin C, a great cold fighter. Vitamin C can also lower the stress hormone cortisol by lowering inflammation.

Seeds — Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seed are great sources of magnesium, which regulates emotions, alleviating depression, fatigue, and irritability.

Water — Dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels, making it harder to deal with everyday issues. Stress can cause dehydration and dehydration can cause stress. Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily. (According to webmd.com, a good rule of thumb is ½ ounce to 1 ounce for each pound that you weigh. A person that weighs 150 pounds should drink 75-150 ounces of water daily.)

Physical activity is a stress reliever. Stressful situations increase stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body. Physical activity can break down those hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. Exercise increases the blood flow throughout your body and can help you think more clearly.

You do not have to take up some strenuous sport or activity. Walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing are good examples of exercise that will relax your muscles and your mind. Anything you enjoy and that gets you moving for about 30 minutes a day is beneficial.

Plan time in your day to get some physical activity. Your 30 minutes of activity is better if you can get it all in one setting. However, that’s not always possible. Sometimes carving out 30 minutes during those long days with a multitude of meetings and late night strategy sessions is simply not an option. Alternatively, you can plan to make the most of every opportunity that you have, no matter how long or short it is. Park a little farther away than usual and walk to your destination. If you need to meet with someone one on one, ask if they mind walking while you talk. If the weather will not allow you to walk outside, then walk around the Capitol or other indoor setting. If you have numerous phone calls to make, walk while you talk. If you are back in your county at your own office, you can still be active. Do not sit at your desk all day. Get up, walk around your courthouse, and say hello to people for a few minutes. Plan to do that every hour or two for the health of it.

Get enough sleep. When you sleep your body repairs, rejuvenates, and rebuilds itself. Experts recommend six to

eight hours of sleep a night. Healing cannot take place if we consistently do not get enough sleep. If sleep is difficult during stressful times, stack the deck in your favor. Avoid caffeine and alcohol if you know it disturbs your sleep. Make your bedroom as tranquil as possible. Do not take your work into the bedroom. Stop doing things that are mentally demanding at least an hour before you go to bed. Take a warm, relaxing bath. Listen to music. Read an undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes, and help you forget about the things that happened during the day.

As stated before, there are many stress management techniques and strategies. There are numerous books and articles available with more information than you can imagine. If stress is a problem in your life, do not take it lightly. Do something about it.

If you do not think you are handling your stress well on your own. If you need someone to talk to for more information about handling stress. If you are a leader in your county and you see your employees may need some help dealing with stress, contact the Southwest Employee Assistance Program (EAP). They have individual counseling services as well as group training available. County government employees may use their services at a discounted rate. Contact Terri Murphree at terri@southwesteap.com or Becky Comet at bcomet@arcounties.org or (501) 372-7550, and I will put you in touch with Southwest EAP.

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