Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Going Against the Stress Grain

Stress is a fact of life. We can't avoid it but we need to learn to manage it because not to handle it properly means that it can affect our mental state, health, and long term happiness.  Our natural reactions to stress and/or depression are exactly the ones we need to avoid. The energy you DO have during these times needs to be directed consciously into the areas where it will do you the most good.

"In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive."  ~Lee Iacocca

Breathe: Western culture ignores intentional breathing entirely. Yet when under stress one of the body's first reactions is to have us hold our breath. We may breathe shallowly which means the body is taking in less oxygen.  A decrease in oxygen means more muscle tension which can bring on a headache or just increase the feeling of being uptight.

Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth as you count to ten. Taking a yoga class will help you become more conscious of your breath and how it affects your body.

Exercise: One of the things we often want to do when stressed is hunker down and be still, almost as if life's stressors can't find us if we don't move. Depression may actually have you spending large amounts of time on the sofa watching TV or in bed, sleeping.  Any kind of physical activity can seem impossible or physically draining.

Fight through your natural desire not to move. Do something small to start, just a walk around the block may help. Put on your favorite music and dance. Music is a very effective mood enhancer, just don't take Elton's advice and "Turn on those sad songs." Keep it upbeat and get moving.

Nourish your body: Face down in a tub of rocky road, when the road is already rocky is not going to help you. Sugar is particularly harmful and several studies have been done linking it to stress. You aren't going to feel better about any weight you put on, you don't want to give yourself one more problem to deal with. Your self esteem doesn't need anymore hits when you are struggling. The increase in cortisol when you are under stress makes it easy to put on extra pounds.

Use food as a way to love yourself. Choose foods that have a calming effect like avocados, blueberries, cashews, dark chocolate, green tea, and oatmeal. Focus on foods that have healing properties.

Pray and meditate: Our natural reaction to stress is worry. Worry is often so consuming we sit down and focus all of our attention on it. We imagine worst case scenarios and let fear drive our thinking. At times this can become all consuming, leaving little room in our minds for rational thinking and coherent planning.

Sit quietly someplace, breathe, and pray. Accept that the God of the Universe loves you, cares about what happens to you, and has a plan for your life even if you cannot see it. The God of hope will not leave you on your own in the midst of trouble. Take comfort in knowing that you are loved. When you don't know what to pray for, pray for wisdom.

Socialize: Another negative thing we naturally do when we are overcome by stress, grief, or depression is to opt for isolation. We don't want to see anyone, and depending on what's going on, we may not want others to see us. It is very common to want to stay in, watch TV, sleep or comfort ourselves with unhealthy food.

Resist the urge to isolate yourself. You don't have to be the life of the party, but if you get invited to one you should go. Meet a friend for coffee, or plan lunch with a small group. Even social networking can be put to great use to stay connected and encouraged when you are overwhelmed by a relentless schedule. And Facebook and Twitter are great tools to facilitate organizing face time with friends.

Create: I know. You want to lie on the sofa and watch trashy reality TV or your favorite movie. You don't feel creative and depending on the amount of stress from family obligations, work, or school you may feel you have expended every ounce of mental energy you have.

Make something. Write something. Grow something. Use journaling, blogging, painting, gardening,  or decorating to express yourself. You don't need to be talented to do this. If nothing else appeals to you, create a bulletin board expressing the life you want in images from magazines. Or create one using photos of all your favorite places or people. Creativity is a great stress reliever, and keeps you from feeling that stressed time is wasted time. Plus, you'll have something to show for it.

Move forward: When the stress piles on one of the things we naturally want to do is dwell on the past, either because we regret some decisions that brought us to where we are, or we long for a time when our lives seemed less complicated.

Focus on the future. The past is gone and you can't do anything about that. If you can take some time to take an honest look at mistakes you made and how you might avoid them in the future, that's fine. So is thinking happy thoughts about good times and things that made you happy. But it is an easy place to get bogged down in negativity and regret. Think about what you are going to do from here on. Concentrate on where you are going and how you are going to get there.

Life is stressful. Modern life adds to this in a lot of ways. Most of us have fewer support systems than our ancestors, we are on information overload, and our schedules throw us one curve after another. None of that is going to magically fix itself. You are going to have to take action, eliminate some things, and add others. You are going to have to make a deliberate effort to take care of yourself. 

Just go ahead and put that at the top of your to-do-list starting today. 
There are times in everyone’s life when something constructive is born out of adversity… when things seem so bad that you’ve got to grab your fate by the shoulders and shake it. ~Anon

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