My client's husband was leaving her. And she was very worried. In fact, she worried all day long (and most of the night). There were some very real concerns. She had a lot of problem-solving to do in a very short period of time, and needed to make a lot of life-changing decisions. She was not doing well. This was probably the worst time in her life to be making decisions.
When we're in a stressful situation, it's difficult to sort things out and to make good decisions. Yet, all of us must do this at one time or another. Let's talk about some of the things that can make this process a little easier.
My client was forecasting a dismal future for herself. None of us know what the future will bring. But awfulizing about what might happen doesn't help. And worrying is like spinning your wheels when you're in hub-cap deep in mud; it gets you nowhere. It makes things worse, in fact. Accept the fact that you're making some changes, and those changes aren't necessarily negative in the long run. Here are some steps that can help:
WRITE DOWN YOUR WORRIES
Rather than have all those random worries floating around in your head, write them down. Keep coming back to the list until you have most of your worries on paper. Here are three of the worries that my client wrote:
1. I'm afraid that I won't have enough money.
2. I'm afraid that I won't be able to afford the house payment.
3. I'm afraid that I won't be able to find a good job.
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
The next step is to take those worries and write them differently--stating what you need. So, here is what she wrote:
1. I need to have enough money.
2. I need to be able to afford the house payment.
3. I need to find a good job.
LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS
Brainstorming is the next step. Take your list of needs and think of possible solutions. Not all of the solutions will work for you, but write them anyway. You can ask for help from friends, neighbors, your therapist in helping you to think of possible solutions. When you're brainstorming, write down every idea, even if you doubt that it will work out for you.
1. I need to have enough money. I guess I either need to make more money or reduce my needs. I can always work more than one job. People have offered to pay me for my knitted sweaters. I could knit sweaters. I could ask my old boss to take me back. I could move in with my parents.
2. I need to be able to afford the house payment. I guess I could sell the house. I could give the house back to the bank and walk away. I could take in a roommate. I could offer the house to my husband. I could camp outdoors all summer. I could look for a small apartment to rent.
3. I need to find a good job. I have many talents. Perhaps I can create my own job. I can always clean for others. I could take care of an elderly person in exchange for room and board.
PREPARE TO MAKE SACRIFICES
This, of course, is the difficult part. Sometimes we need to sacrifice some comforts as life steers us in a different path. Rather than kicking and screaming against change, sometimes it just feels better to accept the change, let go of the past, and move on. Here's what my client finally decided:
1. I am staying in my low-stress, low-paying job. I can even knit while answering the phone at my job. Since knitting is fun for me, I will experiment selling sweaters and scarves on a website as well. Maybe it will work out; maybe it won't.
2. I am putting the house up for sale. If it hasn't sold in three months, I will rent it out or take in a roommate.
3. I may look for another job when I'm feeling less stressed and more confident. Now is not the time to be looking for a better job.
PRACTICE RELAXATION SKILLS
Relaxation skills are important, especially when you're stressed. Now is the time to practice yoga, breathwork, hypnosis, guided imagery, and other proven techniques to help you to relax.
Research has proven that aerobic exercise will help diminish anxiety and depression. Try it!
Good luck, and call a therapist if you need an appointment.
Need some help right now? Here are some proven techniques that can help.
1. The 72-hour letter.
Write a letter that you do not send….at least not for three days. Get your feelings out. Vent. Fume. Explode. But only on paper. This is a great stress reliever that I love. If you absolutely must send the letter, have someone else (like your therapist, counselor, pastor, or best friend) read it first. This is often a good first step.
2. Give yourself a “timeout.”
Go do something else. Go somewhere else. Get your mind focused on something else. Play some music you love. Give it a rest. Get some space. Do not be in the physical presence of the person who is pushing your buttons. Get away from that person. Go outside or to the grocery store and push a cart around for an hour.
3. Resist the temptation to get wasted, drunk, or loaded.
Self-destructive habits won't help you in the long run. In most cases, these habits will make things worse. We do stupid things when we're wasted.
4. Get some exercise.
Hard physical exercise will help the adrenaline overload that frequently occurs when we’re angry. You’ve heard the urban legend about how a little grandma lifted a heavy car to save her trapped son who was underneath the car? That’s the adrenaline fight-flight response. We need physical activity to burn off the extra energy. People tell me that some of their best workouts occurred when they were angry. They could run faster, climb higher, lift more weights, and feel more exhausted afterward. It's good and it helps a lot.
5. Brainstorm for solutions.
If the problem is still nagging at you and you feel like you just can't let it go, write down at least three possible solutions to the problem. Go over the solutions with a third party who wants what is best for you., such as your therapist or best friend. Read about "your legitimate rights" and talk about them with another person.
6. Use humor.
Watch a funny movie. Read jokes. Hang out with your funny friend who always cheers you up. Get some emotional distance from the situation by making a joke about it. This is how comedians get their best material....from painful situations that they could eventually joke about.
7. Practice relaxation skills.
Do some breathwork. Listen to a hypnosis CD. What is relaxing for you? What puts you "in the zone?" Some people may want to watch a yoga DVD and practice the deep relaxation at the end. B-R-E-A-T-H-E.
8. Let it go.
Let it go. Don't hold a grudge. Let it go. When your mind is tempted to ruminate over the same situation, say, “Stop!” Change the subject in your mind. Holding a grudge won't help you and it certainly doesn't hurt the other person.
9. Use “I statements.”
When describing the problem, own your part. “I feel upset when you….” Own the fact that you are angering yourself. No one else can make you feel upset, hurt, little, or insignificant without your permission. Doing this will help you to claim your power over your feelings.
10. Talk about it later.
Express your feelings when you’re no longer angry. “Yesterday I felt disappointed when…” In this way you’ll prevent yourself from exploding, yelling, blaming, criticizing, or doing something totally irrational. When we’re no longer angry, we don’t say things like, “I’m furious….” It’s more likely to be heard by the other person when you’re saying something less frightening. People don’t become quite as defensive when you say something less toxic. So, it’s OK to say that you were disappointed or hurt or irritated. But you may not get a sympathetic response either way. So, don’t expect it.
Some of these techniques will work better for you than others. Pick and choose. One time you may need one thing; another time another thing. Practice, practice, practice. Remember that your brain's chemistry is off when you're angry. And that's not fixed overnight. So, give it some time.
What does it mean to take good care of yourself? From my point of view it can mean all of these things:
- Putting yourself first sometimes
- Enforcing healthy boundaries between yourself and others
- Taking the time to nourish your soul--doing what you love
- Taking the time to nourish your body--with healthy foods
- Taking the time for relaxation techniques to reduce stress
- Claiming your power. If you claim your power, you speak up for yourself in a kind, but firm way
- Taking the time to exercise
- Loving yourself enough to address self-destructive habits
Although these are common sense things, we often have to train ourselves to do these things in our adult life. I have found that I tend to do better if I keep a journal of what I'm doing to take good care of myself. It helps me to be more self-aware. This whole web site is dedicated to helping you to take better care of yourself. Remember, it's a journey, a process, not a destination.
Relaxation techniques are a form of stress protection and can help you to enjoy a better quality of life. These relaxation techniques are so much more than sitting in front of the tv, enjoying a hobby, or talking with friends. The techniques in this article have been proven to help decrease the wear and tear of life's challenges on your mind and body. They will help to reduce anxiety and depression.
Benefits of Relaxation
- Slowing your heart rate
- Lowering blood pressure
- Slowing your breathing rate
- Reducing the need for oxygen
- Increasing blood flow to major muscles
- Reducing muscle tension
- Fewer physical symptoms, such as headaches and back pain
- Fewer emotional responses, such as anger and frustration
- More energy
- Improved concentration
- Greater ability to handle problems
- More efficiency in daily activities
Types of Relaxation
- Tai chi
- Listening to Music
Even looking at a beautiful photo can help to relax you. It doesn't matter which form of relaxation you use. What matters is that you do something for stress protection often.
You cannot manage what you don’t measure. So keeping track through a journal or diary is essential. You can keep this simple or you can get fancy. I keep track on my computer. But when I’m on the road, I carry a little notebook in my purse. It's especially important to journal your progress if you're in the process of recovering from an addiction. Your journal will help you to see where you're doing well and what you need to avoid to do even better.
Here are the things that I write down every day:
*the date and my morning weight
*the amount of water I drank during the day
*What I ate, the amount I ate, and the time I ate
*What kind of exercise I did–strength training, aerobic, or stretching and how long I did it
*How long I meditated
You can also measure other things like your mood, your level of energy, your mental clarity, your motivation, or your stress level. I find it easiest to use a simple one to ten scale with ten being the best and one being the worst. I also like to give myself a little smiley face if I did well that day. Positive reinforcement can be just that simple.
There are a number of free online journal sites. I like several formats at Bella Online.
At first I found it a bother to journal. Now it takes less than 5 minutes a day and it keeps me on track. I highly recommend it!
The stresses associated with daily living can add up. People who experience chronic work stress are 68 percent more likely to have coronary heart disease. 68 Percent! This was one of the findings of a 12-year study conducted through University College London. Also contributing to stress are lifestyle habits such as poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and a negative attitude.
Over time, stress disturbs the autonomic nervous system (that system of your body that controls involuntary bodily functions). This can cause "cardiac instability."
Stress is a killer
In a study conducted at the University of Iowa, researchers found that police officers have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease than that of the general population. They attribute this to the day-to-day stress of their jobs.
Becoming less stressed
What you want to do is promote parasympathetic system dominance. In simple terms, that means feeling less stressed. When our sympathetic system is dominant (the fight-flight response), our bodies wear out.
Techniques that promote parasympathetic nervous system dominance include:
- Listening to relaxing music
- A long bath with the door locked—especially combined with music, and candles.
- Bodywork involves some form of touching, energetic work or the physical manipulation of the body—massasge, reiki, yoga, Feldenkrais, rolfing
- Get out into nature
- Locomotion in nature—walking, skiing, rowing, running, hiking
- Exercise--like dancing, treadmill, basketball, swimming
Equally important is good nutrition. It's so important for stress management to eat healthy foods and stay away from junk food--like soda pop, sugar, "empty calories." Your body will thank you.
Stress can impact your health. So, it's important to add stress protection to your life every day. Carving out time to relax is important! See our articles on relaxation, breathwork, and meditation.
Our bodies don't work well if we don't move. There's plenty of research on the benefits of exercise--particularly to lift one's mood. Although all types of exercise can help, the type of exercise that is recommended to treat mood disorders is vigorous aerobic exercise. And it only takes about 20 minutes before serotonin and dopamine, the "feel-good" hormones, kick in and help you feel happy and calm. Since you'll also look better if you exercise, your confidence and self-esteem will improve. Whoo hoo!
Examples of aerobic exercise include dancing, brisk walking, cross-country skiing, jogging, and cycling. There are many machines that simulate the movements of running, walking, rowing, skiing, and stair climbing. Before you spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars, go to a gym for a while and see what you enjoy. And there's nothing quite like walking outside.
Many of my clients use the same excuse that I have used: I don't want to walk outside in bad weather. To quote my friend Kristen, "There's no such thing as bad weather. There's only bad clothing." Point taken.
You'll still get the benefit of a serotonin release if you do something less vigorous like strolling, stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, ballroom dancing and gentle weight lifting. Do something that you enjoy!
The medical benefits of exercise are numerous. You'll lower your cholesterol, prevent certain cancers as well as chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. You'll be able to handle the stress in your life more easily. It puts the spark back in your sex life. Your heart and lungs will become more efficient, and you'll have more energy and endurance. You'll probably sleep more soundly and wake up more refreshed. Convinced? Wait, there's more...
If you've ever struggled with depression or anxiety, you'll find that exercise works better than any antidepressant. Naturally, you should always consult with your doctor. However, many of my clients have been able to gradually reduce their antidepressant usage by following a vigorous, regular exercise routine as well as eating healthy foods. They find that exercising a minimum of an hour a day helps their mood.
Not only does exercise add years to your life, new evidence tells us that it can reverse the aging of the brain. Professor Art Kramer of the University of Illinois, a top cognitive neuroscientist, argues that a large body of evidence shows the benefit of aerobic exercise and physical activity on the aging brain. Any exercise which leaves you breathless can increase both the volume of brain tissue and the brain's ability to perform executive functions, such as task coordination, planning, goal maintenance, memory, and the ability to switch tasks.