Melissa Wilkes Donahue on Recognizing and Overcoming Chronic Stress

We all experience stress, and it can be a good motivator to get tasks done. But when stress lasts for weeks or months, it’s a chronic problem that should be addressed for your physical, emotional and mental health. To help you learn to recognize and overcome chronic stress, we talked with Melissa Wilkes Donahue, director of the CONCERN Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at Baptist.

Can you be under stress and not realize it? Yes! According to Melissa, this happens all the time in health care.

“We’re the worst. The types of folks working in health care have big hearts. Sometimes you’re giving so much that the tank is empty when it comes to taking care of yourself.”

It’s important to pay attention to the signs of problematic stress and take steps to take care of yourself. Here are some tips from Melissa on recognizing whether stress is a problem for you.

Ways to Tell if Stress Is a Problem for You

  • Noticing that relationships are strained
  • Exhibiting a lack of patience
  • Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep
  • Skipping meals or making unhealthy food choices on a regular basis
  • Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, upset stomach or muscle tension
  • Developing health issues like high blood pressure
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, angry or depressed

Sometimes we need to be reminded that mental health is just as important as physical health.

“In the same way you would go to the doctor for an illness, mental health is just another part of that. The pandemic has helped many people realize that we’re not in this struggle alone, and the stigma attached to getting help has been lessened even more,” said Melissa.

Keep reading for some practical solutions from Melissa for improving your mental health and overcoming chronic stress.

How to Overcome Chronic Stress

  • Find an accountability person – a partner who offers honest feedback about your behavior, which may be affected by stress.
  • Exercise regularly. Seeing a group class or individual training session through from start to finish can give you a sense of accomplishment, and endorphins released during physical activity can improve mood.
  • Enjoy time to yourself to do nothing! Yep, it’s fine to do nothing for several minutes a day. This means not looking at your phone.
  • Avoid doom-scrolling on your phone or other device. Scrolling through negative news can cause anxiety. Listen to music instead.
  • Transport yourself to your happy place. Also, keep a physical image of your happy place nearby!
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol to relax. Self-medicating can make your symptoms worse or create new problems.
  • Seek counseling to help manage your stress levels.

Ask CONCERN EAP for Help

If you’re struggling with chronic stress or another mental health issue, please contact CONCERN EAP at 901-458-4000 or 800-445-5011. We have resources to help! CONCERN EAP connects team members and their household members with the appropriate level of care, including counseling, inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient treatment.