Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stepping Off The Stress Train

You know those scary movies that come out this time of year, where there are frightening phone calls coming in, and the character discovers the chilling fact that the threatening phone calls are coming from INSIDE their own house? What if your stress set point works the same way, and you have to look at your own role in whipping yourself up into being "stressed out"? In reality, you are the main person who can decide to actively change your own thoughts that are keeping you stressed, and making active lifestyle changes to deal with stress more effectively.

The good news is that you have more power than you have realized in the past to effectively manage stress. You might start by keeping some notes in a stress journal. Note what is happening when you are stressed, what you are thinking, how you are feeling both physically in your body, as well as emotionally. Write down what you did in response to the stress. Record what made you feel better or get past the stress and let it go. There are valuable clues in a stress journal, by watching for patterns that may illuminate other healthier choices you can make.

Watch out for excuses. Some people blame other people or events for their own stressed out state, not taking responsibility for their own negative internal dialogue which makes them overreact to normal events. Try not to blame stress as an integral part of your personality, your work, or your family, which negates your own power to create healthier patterns.

It's better to build your awareness of what stresses you, and make an active plan to manage the stress.

In relationships, I try to get my patients to take responsibility for their own part, rather than blaming others. Make sure you are doing good self-care, including getting regular cardiovascular exercise (enough to make you sweat), eating to keep moods stable, and weeding out those negative  thoughts which make you believe you are powerless and helpless. You're not, unless you resign!

Take a look at your schedule as well. I am always concerned that my patients schedule with regard for balance, including regular breaks and time to connect with those you love, play, exercise, and have down time. If you don't take care to preserve time for these important activities, you are by default choosing to victimize yourself, and stay on the stress train.

Try to avoid unnecessary stressors. This may mean you need to be more careful about your boundaries, and learn to say "no" both at work and in your personal life if you are already fully committed. For example, make a commitment to yourself NEVER to work through lunch. Seek out people who don't stress you out, and in fact help you relax and feel good.

Try doing less. Some people just chronically overschedule, and need to create more realistic expectations for themselves. Practice under-scheduling if this is you, and experiment with how that feels. Scheduling yourself too tightly just makes your blood pressure boil.

Be in charge of not inviting stress in to your life. Turn off news before bed. Listen to soothing music in your car. Allow more time for things than you think it will take.

Be more communicative about expressing your feelings. Keeping them all tucked inside can amp your stress up further.

Be careful not to deal with stress by medicating it with alcohol, food, drugs, caffeine, oversleeping, over-shopping, or other unhealthy behaviors that end up creating more problems and their own stress. Passive stress reducers, like watching TV, are not as good as doing something active like taking a walk outside for 30 minutes and noticing nature.

You may also want to lower your standards. Perfectionism leads to more anxiety and stress. Take a more protective stance with your own emotional and physically. Give tasks only the energy they really deserve, and don't be a spendthrift with your own energy.

Reframing stresses can also be helpful. For those stressors that you can't escape, try to keep the big picture in mind. Some stressors are temporary and will pass. Reminding yourself to keep that big perspective in mind and try to laugh about it can make a big difference in how stressed you get. Try to see the positive in what you are learning from such stressors, and how it may be making you stronger as an individual.

Do something fun or enjoyable every day, even for fifteen minutes! Squeeze in some time to self-soothe with a bubble bath with scented candles, talk with a good friend, curl up with a great book, get outside to see what's blooming this week in your neighborhood, or play with a pet. You'll be surprised how you can lower your own stress set-point through self-care.

When it comes to stress, you are the conductor on your own stress train, and only you can decide to get off it. Life is so short, and we have so much medical evidence about how our own internal stress level leads to health issues like high blood pressure, hypertension, heart problems, and many others. Don't stay on the stress train any longer than you must! You will be happier, and so will those who care about you.

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