April is Stress Awareness Month, and I encourage each and every one of you to take a moment to evaluate your current stress level.

We all have stressors in our lives, and we all deal with them in different ways. Some people shut down emotionally. Some put their heads down and trudge through. Some recognize it and find constructive ways to manage it.

Often, we may not realize how much pressure we are under. Take the everyday stress associated with parenting, working, paying bills, managing a business, traveling, etc. and then throw in a few other one-time stressors. It can quickly become overwhelming — depressing, even.

And it can become physical. Stress can manifest as stomach problems, elevated blood pressure, headaches, appetite changes, tension in your shoulders and neck, heartburn, and much more. (To view the 50 most common signs and symptoms of stress, visit www.stress.org/stress-effects.)


What stresses you out?

So, what’s stressing you right now? Are you short-staffed and making up the manpower yourself until you can hire another tech? Is the shoulder season a little slower than you anticipated so money is tighter than you’d like? Is something stressful happening in your personal life? If any of this sounds familiar, you’re definitely not alone.

The American Institute of Stress has aggregated several different online tests to evaluate your current stress level. To view and take the tests, visit www.stress.org/self-assessment. Knowing where you stand is the first step in relieving your stress.


Advice from the pros

Two of my good friends are practicing therapists, and they have given me more than my fair share of free guidance over the years. For this editorial, I asked them, “What is something you tell your patients they can do right now to relieve stress?”

Therapist-friend No. 1 says: “Laugh, work out with a buddy, and eat this damn delicious gluten- and dairy-free pizza.”

Mea culpa — I caught her in the middle of dinner.

“But seriously, about the laughter,” she continues. “It is the one sure thing that gets me to release the anger and frustration that leads to stress, and it makes me look at things from a new perspective.”

Therapist-friend No. 2 is also a yoga instructor who owns a company specializing in meditation and mindfulness. She oozes Zen. Here’s her advice.

“Stop and breathe. The ‘10% Happier’ app literally has guided breathing/meditations of 1-3 minutes. Or more, if someone wants. Also, physical movement. Go for a walk. Stretch. And write down three things you’re grateful for today — even small things, just this moment.”


Stress awareness at work

The plumbing and mechanical business can be stressful, as I wrote about in my December 2017 editorial on suicide in the trades. The hours are often long, customers aren’t always happy, and business isn’t always steady. That can lead to a lot of workplace stress.

Even the best and most enthusiastic employees can burn out on the job if they are subjected to high levels of stress on a regular basis. If you sense stress levels at your company are high — or even if you don’t, because being proactive is never a bad thing — there are wellness programs available, often through health insurance providers, that can help reduce workplace stress.

So take a deep breath (literally), evaluate your stressors, and start thinking about how you can minimize them. Your mind, body, friends, family and employees will all thank you.